Wednesday, February 4, 2009

02 - Sixteen Weeks

By El Clandestino

Sixteen weeks.

It is the dawn of the spring semester and the first week of school has just ended. I’m scheduled to graduate at the end of this semester, but I'm no longer sure if that’s what I want. Sixteen weeks and counting.

I’ve decided to start counting down the weeks until the day of my graduation. I do this to remind myself that my college career is almost over. Something to remind me that there is still time to enjoy and revel in the merriness of youthful exuberance and enjoy the good times while they're here. It is a reminder to immerse myself in my education.

But I also do it because I need to remind myself that I will soon dive into the "real world" headfirst and that life will never be the same. Like it’ll never be this good and this easy again. Like a masochist, I want to remind myself of the pain and mental anguish that will form by the struggles and tribulations that lie ahead, taunting myself with the usual haunting questions. Once I graduate, then what? What am I supposed to do now? Such questions linger in the back of my head, quickly edging to the forefront as the week pass.

As of now, my future is a myriad of uncertainties. My brown eyes are wide and solemn. I lack the clarity of a preacher and only wonder what dreams may come. I want to smile, but I can't.

I'm about to graduate with a bachelor's degree in journalism, a feat that should be the highlight of my life thus far. But the truth is; I'm not happy. As I type these words, solitude engulfs me. I haven't felt this lonely and melancholic in a long time.

Everyone around me -family, friends, peers and my closest confidantes- are all very proud of me. And I'm proud, too. I'm proud to be the first in my family (maybe even my entire bloodline) to ever graduate from a university. I'm proud to attain such a high achievement even with an immeasurable amount of obstacles before me. I'm proud to look myself in the mirror and see the person I've become. I'm proud.

But I'm not happy.

I'm not looking forward to graduation day. I'm not looking forward to the day when I will grace a podium, shake hands with some forsaken administrator and receive a diploma with my name on it. For all my successes, I do not share the full-bodied exuberance of the many graduating seniors who will march abreast a friend or graduating classmate into The Pyramid at Cal State Long Beach, stomping their feet to the beat of drums and Aztec dancers at the Latino graduation ceremony. I'm not filled with glee nor do I have the urge to celebrate.

No. I'm not really excited.

And yet, I never thought I would get this far. From time to time, I catch myself off guard and do a double take because even I can't believe that I will be getting a bachelor's degree.

It's all about where I've come from.

I've come a long way from the little boy born one cold November night in Jalisco, Mexico some twenty-five years ago. Far way from the kid raised in Tepatitlan who played in the streets with his brothers and childhood friends a las canicas, los trompos o a la cascara.

Sixteen years of solitude. It's been a long, long journey from that fateful October morning sixteen years ago when my parents woke me up, along with my brothers, and we embarked on this trail of tears from Mexico to the United States.
The odyssey of this plot only thickened.

My mother wept the entire train ride from Guadalajara to Mexicali. She tried to hold it, but she wept and wept over our departure, leaving behind four of my brothers scattered amongst relatives. I think back to such moments in my life and then flash forward to the present. It's moments like these when I think that never in my wildest dreams would I ever be so privileged as to be a college graduate. On the day that I was born, if someone -maybe the doctor or nurse inside the delivery room- would’ve said, "One day, this kid is going to be a college graduate," nobody would have believed them.

But here I am.

College has been a great experience. As I sit in class, I try to capture every word my professors are saying and make note of them. I think to myself that I will no longer be able to relish in the simple and frugal act of acquiring knowledge in an environment that has been so instructive. I've not to take it for granted. It's true what they say; you can't put a price on a college education. College has not only given me the academic skills to succeed in a profession, but it has also given me a different set of lens for looking at life. The most valuable lessons I learned while in college did not happen inside a classroom. College has taught me to look at the world with a conscientious perspective. It has taught me about people and how much we, as human beings, have in common. That education is the key for social change and the betterment of our communities.

While in college, I've done some really great things; I've met really great people and I did my part -as small as it was- to create change. And even though I am not looking forward to it, I just want to be done.

But like many other undocumented students, I may also elect to prolong my studies to stave off an uncertain future.

When you're in school you have a place in society: you're a university student. When you graduate, you're just an immigrant again. Now that I’m here, I understand why so many undocumented students decide to stay an extra year or two. It is not supposed to be honorable or pretty. Living off academic stipends, scholarships and a steady diet of ramen, some of us are destined to play out an endless "Groundhog Day" script of school applications, research projects, and degrees. Same old shit.
I'm not scared though. Even if my future is uncertain and my aspirations may never be realized to their full potential, I keep my head high. I'm ready to confront anything life throws at me. No one said life was going to be fair. No one said life was going to be easy. I look for inspiration in me and in the people that I love and care about and who have been there for me when I needed them. That's my motivation. That's what keeps me going.

Being undocumented is hard. But it's not the worst tragedy in the world. I always count my blessings whenever I am down. I have good health. I still have my mother, my father, my brothers, good friends, people whom love and care about me, and my dreams.

I still have my dreams. //

Thursday, January 8, 2009

01 - Preface

by Ed Zack Lee

I probably should’ve started to write these blogs years ago. I thought about it many times. On numerous occasions, I forced myself in front of my computer to type out my thoughts, experiences, and frustrations. But… for some reason, something inside of me wouldn’t allow my fingers to outline my concerns coherently. Something kept psyching me out, trapping these incidents deep inside of me.

I felt caged by fear…

Fear of running into the no-man’s land of this entire immigration debate and stepping on a landmine. Fear of attracting the spotlight onto my own personal plight and having to become an advocate for the millions of folks who lead lives like mine. Fear of being uncovered and crucified. Fear of opening my life to outsiders and closing myself to those dearest to me, endangering them by speaking up and out. Fear of losing control of my words and message.

I’ve lost many nights to insomniac whispers in my head that sustain my eyes open to dreams and possibilities, and closed to the reality and gravity of this entire situation*. Every so often the constraints in my life overwhelm me, so I drift into fantasies of simpler situations. But I’m not concerned over losing sleep during those long dark nights of prayer and meditation. I am more enveloped by the frustration that I feel over the many days that I’ve lost waiting for my life to continue.

You see, as an undocumented individual living in this country during these crazy times, my life has been on pause. For many years. The clock has been ticking, I’ve been getting older, and the situation hasn’t changed. According to popular American sentiment, I’m still the same criminal that I was when I crossed the U.S./Mexican border 22 years ago – I was not yet 3 years of age- and only a few politicians have been brave enough to dare inconvenience the American order by speaking up on behalf of individuals in my situation. It’s understood that the U.S. is in trouble right now, and scapegoats are necessary to uphold American confidence. As a result, millions of folks like me are forced to build their lives in the shadows of failed bureaucratic policy, entangled in an American nightmare.

But no more. No longer will I bear this cross alone. No longer will I endure in silence, afraid of recounting the reality of my situation. This experience is not one to be swept under the rug any longer. Being “illegal” won’t stir any shameful thoughts in my identity anymore.

I am one of millions of golden eagles who flew from the valley of the Aztecs, uprooted by relentless drafts of economic uncertainty. Once perched proudly on a cactus with roots that stretch deep into Mexican past, I now brave gusts of political turbulence with my wings spread, my talons ready, eyes focused and sharp. I soar over borderlines, peering into a frontier of hate and anxiety, navigating through memories of devastation that my forefathers attempted to leave behind or exonerate, flying blindly toward mirages of prosperity.

Every passing day is a possibility lost. The list of negative stereotypes attached to the wrap sheet of undocumented immigrants grows daily, the walls between Mexico and the United States rise higher and bulge thicker at the end of every work day, the American national debt skyrockets with every proposed media threat, the Arizona deserts grow hotter with every passing summer and the border-crossing body count multiplies with every treaty signed. Days merge into nights, nights merge into daydreams, and opportunities continue to pass us over like jet planes heading home.

And I wait. We all wait.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not putting these words out there in an effort to stir pity, instill guilt, or inspire sympathy. These writings are simply testaments of our lives, episodes of struggle, perseverance, growth, and injustice that individuals like myself undergo on a daily basis. This nation is no longer who she used to be, and to ignore the major transformation that the American population has undergone in the past three decades takes a whole lot of self deception. The Bush administration did very little to address the huge tubby brown elephant standing in the middle of the Oval office. This immigration issue is a very pressing matter that must be dealt with and we're simply asking for a just resolution.

All that I want is change. Kind of cliché, I know… but it’s true. I wait for a change that transforms each and every one of us so that we no longer hold each other back from attaining our dreams. We all have them.

Some may say that such a hope is idealistic and that human beings are naturally territorial, along with all those other primitive animalistic characteristics of life-forms that survive solely on instinct. But I disagree. I believe that we’re all capable of communicating and understanding.

That’s my D.R.E.A.M. anyway.

This blog is dedicated to the tens of thousands of undocumented high school students who graduate from high school every year, to the hundreds of these students who proceed into institutions of higher education, and to the few who graduate into THE ultimate dead-end of American irony. To the millions of exhausted hopes of tireless parents who dream alongside their children and to the many sleepless nights those parents sacrificed so that their children might dream.

To those who made it, those who fell through the cracks, and to those who were pushed into the cracks.

To anyone who dares dream and aspire in times of widespread fear, misunderstanding, hopelessness, and silence.

Sí se puede.


* "Situation" is the single stand-in word used by many undocumented folks I know to refer to their non-legal immigration status in the United States.