Ever since I "came out" as undocumented, people have been telling me how brave I am. They tell me that they admire my strength. They ask me how I found the courage to put myself in that spotlight. But here's what I want to explain. I am not braver or more courageous than others who choose to keep their status a secret. I am just someone with an incredible amount of luck and privilege.
Had I not been a Harvard student, it would have taken me a lot longer to publicly acknowledge my undocumented status. I came out as undocumented knowing I had the Harvard title to back me up. I have the world's most prestigious institution as a security clutch. I am not brave. No, the brave ones are my parents. My parents who left their native country, who left everything they know, in order to give me a better future. My parents who drive my siblings to school, despite not having valid licenses. My parents, who despite the many injustices they face, still choose to pay taxes to the country that still does not recognize them as contributing members of society, but instead portrays them as criminals in the media.
When I was in second grade, I first learned about taxes. My parents had just started paying taxes and I didn't quite understand why. I have a vivid memory of my dad dropping me off at school one morning. As we walked to school, I turned to my dad and asked him "Why are you just giving money to the government? Wouldn't it be better if we just didn't pay any money?" My dad said that it was because I went to a public school and we used the roads so we had a duty to pay taxes. My undocumented father, who is continuously, framed as being a lazy, welfare abusing, criminal. My father feels a duty to the very same country that dismisses him as subhuman and rejects his personhood by demonizing his character. Everyday, my dad works in an enclosed space where he inhales dangerous chemicals in order to put food on the table and pay the taxes he believes he owes to this country. My father is the brave one.
I remember the first time my mom got pulled over by a cop. We were both on our way to pick up my dad from work. She accidentally went the wrong way on a one-way street. A cop saw her and pulled her over. My mom started crying. She was petrified that the cop would see her expired license and that we would get deported. Luckily, my mom only got two tickets. She cried for 30 minutes, then we continued on our way to pick up my dad from work. The next morning, she drove my dad to work, drove me to school, then drove to work herself. 12 years later, my mother continues to drive my dad to work and my siblings to school. My mother gets in that car everyday, knowing that there is a possibility that she could get pulled over, detained, and deported just so that my siblings can have a proper education and my dad can work to pay the bills. My mom is the brave one.
Everyday millions of undocumented parents around the U.S. risk deportation when they drive their kids to school. Millions of parents avoid going to the hospital even when they desperately need to, in order to avoid "medical repatriation," a lesser-known practice of sending undocumented immigrants back to their native country while they are unconscious. Millions of undocumented parents try to lead a normal life but at the same time live life under the radar. Silencing their voices in fear of deportation. Living in shadows so dark that even they do not recognize each other anymore. These people, who wake at 5, 4, 3:30 in the morning to go to work so that their kids can have access to things they never had access too. The parents who work 12 hour shifts just that their kids can buy that book they needed for school. These silenced individuals are the brave ones. These undocumented individuals are real American heroes.
On February 17th, hours before it went into effect, a federal judge in Texas halted the progress that President Obama made last November in expanding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) as well as the implementation of DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability). DAPA would have given millions of undocumented immigrants a chance to finally come out of the shadows. DAPA would have given parents of U.S citizens a chance to be formally recognized as individuals by giving them a work permit to legally, although temporarily, work in the U.S. It would have allowed millions of undocumented parents a sigh of relief. My parents were counting on that relief. My heroes were counting on that relief. Millions of undocumented American heroes were counting on that relief.
I am not brave for sharing my story with the world. I am not brave for speaking about my experiences as undocumented when I know I have a voice that will be heard. I am protected by DACA. I have Harvard to back me up. The brave ones are people like my parents, who go to work everyday, who risk deportation everyday while driving their kids to school everyday. Those who risk deportation everyday just so they can create a better future for their families. The real brave ones are the millions of undocumented parents who risk themselves everyday for the sake of their families. Yes, they broke the law. But I ask you. What is a law to you, when your family is starving? What is a law to you when your children are being requited to join gangs?
It is these individuals who are brave. They are the courageous ones. It is these individuals, people like my parents, who have risked it all by coming to the United States in order to give their family a better life., who are the real American heroes.