This week, I found this article on my facebook newsfeed and I knew I had to blog about it: My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant
In summary, the article is about Jose Vargas, who gets sent to the US as a child with false documentation (basically as an illegal immigrant). He lives his whole life in fear of being deported back to the Philippines, whether it involves getting a drivers license to proving citizenship for jobs as an adult. He attempts to legally find ways to convince America that he is an American but the article ends with his admission of his illegal status to the New York Times in a very “come what may” expose. I got to the end of that article and felt so deeply for how hard he fought for something that comes as a birthright to American born Filipinos like me. And I won’t ignore the fact he’s Filipino and his talk about his “Lolo and Lola” pulled at my heartstrings.
Everyday, I take for granted that I can live in a country, legally work a job and own a drivers license knowing that America is my country. Growing up as a Filipino American wasn’t always easy. Financially, my parents always found a way to take care of me and we didn’t struggle in the typical immigrant sense. But culturally, I struggled finding who I was as a Filipino . In elementary school I used to tell people I was ethnically American, which of course sounds ridiculous. My grandparents who can speak English but prefer Tagalog, always tried to teach me vocab and I fought them tooth and nail. I pretty much completely denied the cultural existence of being Filipino for the better part of my childhood
Then high school comes along and I stumble upon the Pacific Islanders Club (PIC), which 4 years later I become President of. I finally found a balance between a Filipino identity and my American background. But Jose’s story touches me because he worked so hard doing the opposite of me, trying to convince a country that he was one of them. The liberties I have being both culturally Filipino but an American born citizen, I take for granted everyday. Even worse, I tended to be slightly judgmental of the other cultures that immigrate illegally, assuming that because my family did it legally, they can too. I realized in reading the article, I know so little about immigration and the struggles people endure to become legal in the U.S. The terrible discovery that I misjudged the situation of many illegal immigrants hit me hard, and I’m happy to have greater insight into my own prejudice on this topic.
That being said, I won’t ignore the fact he was an illegal immigrant. I do believe laws are in place for a reason but I also believe there are reasons for change. Jose paid taxes, has no criminal record and is culturally as American as anyone can be. He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner and had contributed to society in a meaningful way. His inability to obtain American legal status is unsettling. I don’t want to get political because I’m not as informed as I should be, but there should be incentives for not coming to the country illegally and doing it through the correct channels. Those channels should also be more accessible to immigrants and I think the Dream Act is something I can stand behind.
Laws and all that aside, Jose’s story touched me because I realized I have so much to be thankful for. Whether it’s the colored paper that is my birth certificate or my ability to call this country my home, I realize citizenship is a gift. Will this mean I won’t ever complain about the government or taxes again? Probably not. But I will be sure to appreciate all the things that make America, the home it is.