Stories For Liberation: I Know What You Are…

(Painting/"I Know What You Are"/Gwynne Duncan)

In the world of DACA Dreamers and their families, with the constantly shifting sets of rules, nothing is ordinary.  Nothing is safe. This story of a college girl striving to mark her coming of age in the way that all deserve, sheds a particularly poignant light on the disparities within families and communities, and the pain that is caused even when people are trying to do the right thing.

“I Know What You Are…”

There were only a small number of times where I ever got to see my mother quiver in fear. For the most part, she presents herself as the most calm-minded and prepared person in any situation of crisis. I remember calling her once I got home from class and found out that the administration had ended the DACA program. I felt as though I was going insane over the fact that I would never get to visit Peru to see my recently deceased grandfather’s grave the man who raised my brother and me while my parents were balancing numerous jobs to afford to rent a small basement apartment in a dangerous dead-end street where gang members, drug dealers, sex offenders, pedophiles and convicted felons lurked.

I called her when I felt as though my life was threatened by the presence of dangerous people in my life. The older women in my family have acted as the rocks in my life whenever I endured any hardships.

My mother rarely panicked over any hard situation she had to face. It was her duty to evoke in me the strength of the women in our family. We weren’t prepared to exert that confidence when we were only at the bank to complete a simple task.

Most young adolescent girls would cherish their memory of opening up a bank account. It signifies one of many experiences in life where young people can prove to their parents that they are responsible enough to lead themselves in the world: a “coming of age moment” as they call it here.

We had entered the building through tall glass doors with the bank’s logo on the handles. The main lobby seemed very welcoming from the large array of windows that made up the walls, to the lollipops sitting on top of the main counter, and the middle-aged white women holding the hands of their young children. This day was supposed to be like any other.

A middle-aged black woman was eager to attend us once we entered. The meeting was simple at first: the woman had us sign a number of documents, gave us a brief overview of how personal financing worked and asked whether I wanted to set up a savings account. Once we decided to make a joint account, the lady asked us each to give our social security numbers. This is when my mother, the most resilient human being I have ever known, started shaking in her seat. The last time I had seen such an expression of anguish on her face was when I was merely 6 years old sitting on the kitchen floor, begging her to tell me when we would go back to see La Mama Rosita , el Abuelo Pedro and mis tias, relatives who we hadn’t seen in years. We were confined in a society where simplicity and comfort is only a dream.  

“Any form of state identification would also work ma’am” the lady told her once she realized my mom had been fumbling through her wallet with no result. She handed her non-compliant driver’s license that she got from Maryland, which is when the consultant decided to ask: “Ma’am do you work in this country legally?” No answer.

“Oh, I know what you are. Trust me, my cousin is an illegal and he has the same exact type of card.”

I realized at that moment, that she tried to come off as an ally, but I also understood that this was a common situation that we were put in which has always managed to cause enormous discomfort among my relatives and me. This happens particularly when a stranger tries to approach us in such a direct manner that for some reason, must focus on our citizenship in a country we’ve been wanting to leave for years anyways (at least temporarily…).

It was moments like these that reminded me of the numerous conversations I’ve had with strangers who would directly ask me if I was a citizen in this country because apparently, that’s a great way to introduce yourself to another person:

“Hello, my name is [redacted] and I have no idea whether or not I’ll be able to work or live in this country next year even though I’ve been living here for over 17 years. NO, I CAN’T VOTE IN ANY ELECTION, my parents might be deported at some point, and I haven’t even graduated college yet. Nice to meet you!”

That would definitely steer the conversation away from the anchor that all of my cousins living in this country and I have had to carry for basically all our lives, but our anchor is nothing in comparison to the massive ship that has weighed our parents down. It is unimaginable to begin to conceive the heartache that they’ve gone through in not being able to be with their own parents, two of which have since passed away.

…And here I was sitting in a small brown chair, next to my panicked mother trying to set up a simple bank account to use for my college expenses. Anyone could have been listening to our conversation at that point. Everyone in the room could have known by now that we were illegals, but that didn’t matter to me anymore so I simply got up, grabbed my mother’s hand and addressed her:

“Thank you for all your help ma’am. We’ll be coming back another day”

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