Every time I say those words people stop and stare at me, as if I said something new or foreign to them. The first thing they say is “Oh are you Italian?” (that one always shocks me) or “but you don’t have an accent!” (that comment never gets old). My story as an immigrant to the United States is one that is not too common, but there are sentiments along the way that all immigrants share. With that said, here is my story of how I am an immigrant.
|That's me visiting the United Nations in 2009 part of Rotary International Day|
When I was little (even too little to remember) my parents moved from Venezuela to Kalamazoo, MI to study at Western Michigan University. Both of my parents spent several years busting their ass off to obtain their PhD’s as my brother and I played on Howard St. family homes playgrounds with all of our other Venezuelan friends that by coincidence were there with us at the same time (and that now are people I call my “cousins”). At that little ole age, I had everything! Tons of friends, my parents, my stinky older brother, fun teachers, and of course a lot of play time. But then it was time for us to head back to Venezuela since my parents accomplished what they were looking for.
At the age of 10, my mother received an offer from Northeastern Illinois University that she could not refuse. But within that offer was a chance to change our lives and become “resident aliens” to the country that offers a lot of opportunities. So I started to pack my bags and always kept on thinking “I’m coming back, I know I am” and never stopped to think that 19 years would pass and I would be a citizen of The United States of America. As I said my good byes, I was still in denial that this move was going to be my forever but that slapped me right in the face when we landed to Chicago O’Hare.
|credit: Hispanically Speaking News|
Our lives had completely changed…the extended family we had lived 2.5 hours away and our roots were left behind in Caracas, Venezuela after many tears were shed. Speaking Spanish at home was a mandatory but don’t you dare speak Spanish at school missy “We are in America, not in Mexico.” At 10 years old I didn't know why these people were constantly telling me I was Mexican—I am Venezuelan damn it!— but I grew to change certain things about me to become assimilated into the American culture so I wouldn't have to worry about the kids in the playground making fun of me. Such as not telling the kids that for the first month we moved to Chicago we were sleeping on the floor because my mom couldn't afford beds yet, or that I was from South America not Mexico (they still didn’t understand the difference, I don’t think I did either at that time), or sitting in front of a mirror every day and listened to myself speak in English when I heard my accent come through I would correct myself so I could avoid having the kids make fun of my “accent” (which I now regret so much! I love my mom’s accent it’s unique to her and makes her the coolest mom out there!).
|Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. |
This monument for me has a lot of American sentimental value.
But these are things that I can share and sit here on a plane to NYC and not be worried that I won’t be able to ever see my family again. I can just hop on another plane, with my blue passport, and head over to Venezuela when I feel like it (well almost, too bad airfare is super expensive) and see my family. But there are many other people whom I have met (and may be reading this) who fled their country and came to the U.S. under a tourist visa (or none at all) to start a new life. These people who make these decisions will not be able to see their family for at least 10 years. These people are hardworking and are doing jobs not many Americans want to take on and are constantly working several jobs to make that extra dough so they can send back home. These people are considered by some “illegal” but for me these people are undocumented and have given up so much back home to start a better life since the conditions of their countries won’t allow them to do half of the things we take for granted here in the U.S.. These people deserve to have a path to citizenship versus having them deported and leaving their entire life behind (AGAIN!).
I am in full support of the movement many organizations are taking on right now to bring attention to the pain deportation causes to families. I know there are people out there who might disagree, but as an immigrant who had it “easy” (no illegal documents, no juggling several jobs to send money, no access to travel freely) I wish to offer the same experience (minus the pain of missing my family all the time) so they too can become successful and have access to the unlimited services this country has to offer for those that want to achieve the “American Dream.”
I know I normally write stories about travel and keep it pretty fluffy but this story is one that I just had to share. This post is in conjunction to a retreat I am participating in at the United Nations in the next couple of days along with the rest of the class of 2013 LATISM’s Top Bloguera. The topic of immigration is one we are all going to be covering and will be discussed during our time at the UN.