My American Dream: The Story of a DACA Recipient

    17 to 1, it’s the ratio of how many years I've lived in the US compared to my birth Country of Colombia. It may seem obvious to which I would identify as my home. Sadly, I feel as I can truly never say I am home. This concept may perplex many but for a group of DREAMers this may be a reoccurring and all too familiar story.

    Growing up my parents provided for me all the necessities I would need to have a joyful childhood. I remember my mom teaching me how to spell, L-I-T-T-L-E, she would say out for me to repeat. Even though she herself was just learning English she made sure I didn't fall behind. This was the family I was blessed to grow up with. Ones who gave anything up for me just to see me smile. I thank them for the little blessings they have given me but I am still trying to find a way to thank them for their biggest sacrifice. I was a year old and my older brother was two when this whirlwind journey began. 17 years later and I'm still trying to find my way through this complex situation. At times I feel hopeless, but who am I to give up when my parents invested so much in me. I have lived here all my life and I still struggle to be comfortable where I grew up. For many DACAmented students this feeling lingers, especially now that our future is uncertain.

    As I have grown up my legal situation has taken over a larger portion of my life. When I was a little girl I was able to not think about it because my parents did a great job of just handling it themselves. The only time I remember worrying when I was a little girl is when my parents had to go to their court date. I would sit in my third-grade class and wonder what news my parents were receiving. After school when I was picked up, the only phrase to escape my lips was always, “Que Paso?” I remember being confused about where I came from and how but I never really questioned it. I was able to just be a kid. I started to become curious when my school friends would question me and I realized I did not have the answer. I tried to make sense of it myself but the facts were all jumbled in my head. Resident, citizen and lastly a word I have come to loathe- “alien”. I tried to figure out what these meant in relation with me but I always came up blank. Sadly, to this day I have a difficult time explaining to people my situation. I can never find the words to fully encompass my situation, the sacrifices and the struggles that have come with it. This process has consumed my life. I have gotten in the habit of saying in the next two years this will be resolved, but I am still left with the uncertainty. The not knowing if all the hard work was for nothing if our sacrifices will go to waste is what haunts me.

  I always knew I was different. When I was little I always tried to blur this line that separated me from everyone else in my class. The process of assimilation began for me and I didn’t mind. I started to lose my Spanish; Full sentences never would flow effortlessly out of my mouth anymore. I was starting to belong. This seemed to me to be a solution to that feeling of being different. However, as I got older I began to dislike how I had tried to erase my culture. This is an imbalance I have always felt. Wanting to assimilate to your home but never wanting to lose my culture because that is all I have left. As friends visit Colombia I envy them because it's an experience I haven't been able to have. I don't remember anything, I can only think of the stories my parents tell because I can't recall personal memories.

  I live with a constant feeling of anxiety because I depend on one program for everything in my life. I do live a normal life the only difference is I have to deal with these obstacles to get where I want to be in my future. DACA provides me with the ability to work and study all through this one document. A worker’s permit. However, there is a struggle through all the paperwork and fees of this process. To get my driver’s license, which unlike normal licenses they are “temporary” meaning they must be renewed every two years, I first have to file for my workers permit which comes at the expense of my parents. There's the lawyer's fee, the renewal fee for the permit, and then another fee for the license. This must be done every time our license expires and most important the workers permit. It's not just the financial side that is the struggle, with it comes the worry over the wait. This summer I filed for my DACA and worker’s permit to be renewed before the expiration. I needed this to be able to start my first semester at the University of Central Florida. Once the paperwork was finalized, I waited and waited. My brother got his but mine had not appeared. I began to worry and question why mine hadn’t come through if we filed it at the same time. After over 6 months of waiting and panic, it finally came in. I was in relief because without this little plastic card I wouldn’t have been able to pursue my studies. Through this program, I am given the opportunity to receive higher education and also my brother is able to work to support his career. Just like everyone else we will pay taxes in April, the only difference is that we are not eligible for federal aid. That is just one aspect of what has made the college process a nightmare.

  I remember the countless hours with my counselor as we contacted school after school on the phone. Somedays I had to miss lunch because I needed help on how to fill out my application. I bombarded her with questions, some which she didn't have answers to. She provided me with as much guidance as she could but DACA was just an all too new process and she wasn't always able to help. I knew I had to go to college because that is what my parents sacrificed for. I was not going to give up. My motivation for this dream began when I was young. When I was young and had to see my mom miss her parents which she hadn't seen in over 10 years, or when I struggled to recall all my aunts, uncles and cousins because I had truly never met them. When my parents would rejoice over the food back home, the sights or the people. This is when I knew that I was on a mission and I could not fail. I worked to maintain my GPA and test scores for when the time came to apply for college. Once the time came I encountered many obstacles where I just felt like I was being hit with a ton of bricks. I stared at the applications as I tried to make sense of how to answer all the questions regarding my status. I remember the excitement I would get when I would see a school that had the DACA option or simply other listed. The process of applying to college was nerve-wracking enough but on top of that, I had fear over how the whole thing would lay out regarding my situation. My brother went through the same process as me and I saw how difficult it was for him regarding in-state tuition, financial aid, and having all the paperwork necessary to begin enrollment. As the college application process began to finally resolve, I had just a moment of relief before I was faced with my next hardship. Deep down I felt the pressure rise as I met myself with another mission. I was going to do this as a simple way to repay my parents. I wanted to finance my own college career. I knew this was a constant burden for them especially with my older sibling in college. I didn't want to tack on another stress for them. I devoted myself to scouring the web for scholarships. I would search for days with futile results because there were no scholarships for my situation. I was stuck. All I wanted to do was sit and feel sorry for myself but how could I do that when leading up to this moment was all we had worked for. I studied hard all my academic career, it wasn't going to be for nothing. My parents leaving their home wasn't going to be for nothing. I have determination that persists over everything because I have a great motivator. All DACA students thrive for success because we share this common drive that propels us to keep doing better. I can finally look back on this grueling process and say I achieved my goal, mi meta. I will never forget the look of happiness and joy on my parent's faces. That is why I worked for so long, so hard.

  Being a DACA student has shaped me as a person in greater ways than I can name. I have persisted hard to get ahead because I have seen that nothing worth having is ever made easy. I am appreciative of all the blessings and opportunities I have because they come from a source of deep struggle. I maintain myself to high standards because I am privileged to be here. I don't belong here in legal terms but I am a foreigner to my own home. We, DREAMers, struggle with this but at the same time, we are blessed with this. We are blessed with the opportunity, the inspiration, and the spark inside that drives us to reach new heights.

 

All photos used with permission by the author.