12/10/2014 05:00 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

Undocumented at Harvard: Grieving Across Borders

La Abuelita Maria

It was not supposed to be like this. She was supposed to wait for me at the airport with my favorite Bon-Bons. She was supposed to take me to la quinta, the park, where I used to play. She was supposed to show me the toys that I used to play with, the toys that she's saved for almost 15 years. She was supposed to wait for me. I was going back soon.

"La Abuelita Maria is not doing well, you should call your mom."

"What do you mean?"

"The doctors said 1 or 2 days tops, you should call your mom, she's really upset."

Growing up, I always knew her as mi Abuelita Maria. Even though she was technically my great grandmother, I always thought of her as just my grandmother plain and simple. Mi Abuelita Maria had a small store in the front of her house. She would sneak me candies and chocolates when my mom wasn't looking. When I was born, she put me in the breadbaskets so that when all the neighbors came to get their bread, she could show me off as her first granddaughter. We shared a room in her house so my parents could have more privacy in the small room next door. Our beds were next to each other - less than a foot of space separated us. It didn't matter though, my fear of the dark meant I always ended up in her bed. It was not supposed to be like this. I was supposed to be there. She was supposed to wait.

Going Home

About a month ago, I got an email that changed my life. It was from the lawyer who helped me fill out the application for Advance Parole, a feature of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) that would allow me to travel outside of the United States for study abroad purposes.

Hi Lisette, Great news, USCIS has approved your Advance Parole for your Study Abroad program in January!

Life stopped existing for a moment. I could not believe it and I still don't. Just like that, I would be going back to Chile, for the first time in 15 years. I would be seeing old family members, I would be meeting new family members. Younger cousins, old friends, and mi Abuelita Maria.

I can't adequately explain how I felt in that moment. How can people who are not undocumented understand how much this trip means to me? This wasn't like visiting home or going on vacation. It's about visiting the country that gave birth to me. This trip is about returning to the only country that considers me a full-blown citizen, despite my 15 year absence.

A couple of days before I got that email, I was procrastinating and I decided to watch a rerun of the Chile V. Australia FIFA World Cup match from this summer. I watched the whole thing, from beginning to end. I watched as 40,000 Chilean spectators stood and belted the Chilean National Anthem. I watched as they continued to belt even though they stopped the music about one minute into the song. I felt the tears streaming down my face as I mouthed the words to a song I thought I had forgotten. Advance Parole was making my dreams come true. It was going to allow me a freedom I'd never thought possible.

Straddling Two Worlds

As an undocumented individual I constantly exist in two worlds, only one of which recognizes me as a citizen. On one hand, I exist in a blend of two culturally different worlds that have slowly intertwined over the past 15 years: the United States and Chile. On the other hand, only the Chilean part of me is recognized. The American side of me is hardly recognized, let alone defended. Whilst filling out an application the other day, I was asked to pick a country of citizenship. I cannot even begin to tell you how strange it felt to fill out just Chile. When I got the email that told me I was able to finally, finally return to the country that validates my existence as a human being, it felt incredible.

My dream of finally seeing and hugging mi Abuelita Maria has been shattered by a cruel twist of fate. It hurts. It hurts more than I ever imagined it would. I have seen many undocumented friends lose loved ones back home but I never truly understood the pain until now. It's not just the pain of losing a loved one. It's the fact that I won't be there to honor her life or to attend her funeral. I cannot grieve properly, with family and friends who are in Chile. It's about the pain of hearing my mother cry on the phone because she cannot travel outside of the United States to say goodbye to a grandmother she considers a second mother, without destroying her own life and family here in the United States. It is yet another reminder that I am not wanted here, that we are not wanted here, and that we don't belong. It's a reminder that no matter how hard we may work in this country it is not enough to be considered American. It does not matter that I have spent the majority of my life here or that I have siblings who were born here. It does not matter that my family has worked tirelessly and that we have given our blood, sweat, and tears for this country. At this point, I am doubtful that I will ever be able to call myself an American without feeling uncertainty and disbelief.

It was not supposed to be like this. My return to Chile was supposed to be a bright moment of euphoric bliss. I was supposed to be greeted at the airport by my grandparents and my cousins, the whole of my extended family, and of course mi Abuelita Maria, even though she could barely walk towards the end. It was supposed to be a celebration with laughter, joy, and tears of happiness. I can't stop thinking about what could have been, and where my Abuelita Maria would have stood in the line of hugs at the airport. I cannot stop thinking about how this moment in my life could have been different had I simply possessed a thin piece of paper that recognized my citizenship to a country I have always felt a part of, yet a country that continues to show me how much it does not want me.