What It Means To Be First Generation

Guest Writer: Juanita Doe


“Pase lo que pase cuidame a tus hermanas. Y recuerda, solamente la muerte nos puede separar.” Whatever happens take care of your sisters for me. And remember, only death can separate us.

The only other time I had ever heard “only death can separate us” was in a wedding, a bride and groom reciting their vows to each other. Now it was a parent to their teenage daughter, in fear that they might be forced to leave their child behind in another country.

Being the child of an undocumented immigrant is like being a fugitive on the run. Fear follows you, constantly reminding you that neither you nor your family are safe. It means living with the worry that you might never see your parents again, thinking that every day you are with them is a blessing, and knowing that every time a cop doesn’t pull you over is a lucky escape.

My father moved here from Mexico at the age of 20. In Mexico he had attended college for three semesters, and his home life was chaotic; moving to the United States was his ticket to a fresh start. He left his home country, entering on a travel visa intending to never go back. His uncle had already been living here and convinced him that moving to the U.S. was the best decision he could ever make. Life just seemed so much better, filled with so many opportunities he couldn’t find at home. But moving here was not easy. Trying to find a place to stay, he was bounced from relative to relative He was forced to move from job to job when employers realized he was working illegally. In 2004 he decided to start his own painting company resolving the issues he had with finding a stable job.

In 1990 he decided that buying a home would be the best course of action. He began paying it off, and two years later, he met my mother. After agreeing to not marry until their home was paid off, they married in 1997. One year later I was born.

Contrary to popular belief, most immigrant couples don’t come here just to have children, more commonly referred to as “anchor babies.” In Louis Jacobson’s article that fact checks claims about ‘anchor babies’, Lauren Weber, a midwife in San Diego, shared her experiences and “estimated that only one third to a quarter of her patients come to the U.S. for the purpose of having children while the rest stay for a longer term.”

One of the biggest struggles first generation babies have to live with, is being thought of as an excuse for couples to obtain legal status. It’s disappointing to hear that people believe that I wasn’t a product of love but more like a product of benefit; however, from the moment we are a born, the burden of our parent’s legal status weighs heavier on our shoulders with every passing year until we become adults.

Struggles faced by children with undocumented parents interfere with even our most basic rights as humans and U.S. citizens. Initially my parents applied for their driver’s license and were able to drive legally for years,but in the state of Michigan the law states that the driver’s license expires at the same time as the visa. Once their visas expired so did their license, this simple change interfered with the life of my youngest sister several years later. My sister was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of nine and was prescribed ritalin, a common drug for treatment. In the state of Michigan, it is required to present valid ID in order to obtain prescription medicine. Since neither of my parents had an up-to-date license, my sister was not able to receive her medication which subsequently caused her to fall behind in school.

Our rights as citizens never fully kick in until we are independent adults because our guardians don’t have the same rights as us. I could go on about all the struggles we face as children of undocumented immigrants, but it would never sufficiently grasp just how difficult our life can get.

With so much going on in our government today, I hope people continue to keep an open mind and empathize with those who are struggling to keep their grasp on hope. We are all human beings, and we all deserve a chance at a good life.

Photo: © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

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