As we close out Immigrant Heritage Month this June, TCP staff celebrates by sharing their personal immigration stories in this two part series. Below, you’ll hear from our Community Engagement Manager, Aurora Garcia-Barrera.
Share your story with us here!
I am an immigrant. I came here in 1989 when I was 2 years and 4 months old. My dad left us and his home in October 1988 and my mom followed him that December, leaving me to the care of my grandma. Politically, I am identified as a DREAMER but the original dreamers were my parents. They dreamed of having a home of their own, with a big backyard with a swing set for me and my then-hypothetical siblings to play in; with a big garage for my dad’s dream SUV and space for my mom to have her sewing machines. They dreamed of having more kids and keeping us away from the hardships other kids faced back home. They dreamed of making the US our home.
Being an immigrant was a fearful thing to proudly identify as. As such, my parents hid from me that I, too, was an immigrant. When my two brothers were born a few years later, my parents taught me to identify in the same way as my siblings: as an American. They even told me I was born in a hospital in Torrance, CA. Up until my junior year in high school, that was my identity. American. Mexican American. I traveled to Mexico and the folks there saw me as an outsider, as a gringa, and at that age, I
believed it was true. But it also made me sad, because I loved being in Mexico. The culture, the food, the people, the colors. Everything was so beautiful and lively; it felt like home. But I felt like I wasn’t able to call it that.
At 17, I thought life was simple. My dad worked two jobs but didn’t complain. My parents bought their first house and my dad finally bought his dream SUV, a 2005 Lincoln Navigator with the Eddie Bower interior (“the good stuff”). I was aware that we were going to low-income schools, but it didn’t bother me because I was a college-bound student, visiting universities since I was in middle school and on track to attend my dream school, UCLA. Life was simple; resources were limited, but it was good enough.
When it was time to take my SATs for college admission, my world changed. I asked my parents for my social security number to complete the fee waiver application and learned I didn’t have a social because I wasn’t born here and did not have legal status. I remember feeling so much shame. I was old enough to understand that being an immigrant came with many challenges, and I always saw everyone else keep it a secret. I thought my friends, my teachers, everyone would reject me if they found out.
My mom, the most amazing mom in the world, was the first person to tell me to not be ashamed of my “new” identity: to be proud. She told me that the only thing that would change was that from then on, every single thing I accomplished would hold all the more pride, because I would achieve it despite the adversity. I was still scared and ashamed, I told her, and she responded that we immigrants are hardworking, resilient, and strong people. She said to
me in Spanish: “Are you scared of driving and being pulled over and having your car taken away? It happened to us already; you witnessed it and we overcame that.” “Are you scared of not being healthy? We have always figured something out and we just had to work a little extra hard to get your asthma medicine and your heart condition monitored.” “Are you worried about getting an education? You’ve already put the hard work to earn that.” “Are you worried about getting a job? You’ll figure it out, too, just like we did.” She was right. I had to work hard, make a lot of sacrifices, and overcome challenges. I wanted to give up many times. But I couldn’t. It wasn’t in me. Being raised by immigrant parents taught me that. Without knowing it, I was raised to be a survivor, to navigate the systems that were not created for me, to create my own path and show myself and others that what we didn’t think was possible actually was. I graduated from that dream school, UCLA, and decided to work to create change for and support immigrant and low-income individuals like me – work that continues today.
I am now beyond proud, unashamed, and unapologetic about being an immigrant. I am blessed for the heritage that my parents passed on to me. I inherited their strength, perseverance, pride with humility, acceptance, problem-solving skills, resiliency, and love for all the parts of me and them that contribute to the greatness of this country.
When I start my own family, I plan to pass this onto my kids as well: Spanish fluency, Mexican culture and history, food, and a deep love and value for everyone we meet. We hope to teach them to value diversity and equity. These are the things that we learned from our immigrant heritage, not because we had them, but because we had to survive without them; without equity in opportunities and services, without being valued as anything other than a dollar sign, without acceptance for who we are and where we come from. Yet we learned to create it for ourselves and offer it to others.
I know that it is hard to feel like we are being celebrated this Immigrant Heritage Month. We feel attacked, and in this anti-immigrant political climate, we are being attacked, constantly. But that resilience that my immigrant parents instilled in me is in all of us immigrants. That is our heritage. Together, we can fight this, and continue to demonstrate that as immigrants we need to be celebrated for all that we bring to this country. We’ve been fighting since we left our homes to create a new home. We do it when we struggle to find a job, then find one in harsh conditions, pay our taxes, and don’t get any benefit from it. But we keep doing it. We do it when we pursue an education, with little to no help, and graduate. We do it every time we hear the news that something else is going to happen to our communities, and we keep going. My family did it when my dad was deported, and we lost everything. Somehow, we found the strength to keep going. You all do it when, despite hearing about possible raids, you go to work and school and church. The kids in detention, in concentration camps, those that are alive, are doing it too. I cannot imagine what they are going through, but somehow, they are doing it; they are taking care of each other. Because taking care of each other is what we do and that is worth celebrating, not just during Immigrant Heritage Month but every day. To my beloved immigrant community, we will overcome this. Stay strong. It will not be without challenges, but we can overcome this, this strength is what we have inherited from all who came before us, and all who are around us. This is what we will pass on. This resilience and fight is what we will continue to inherit.