What is home? What is security? Nowhere more than in this story by a young Dreamer are these questions illuminated in this poignant piece published anonymously to protect the writer’s family. In this moment, when the notion of “Homeland Security” is being used as a whip against those who are creating the most essential roots that allow us to call ourselves human, we have to ensure that both home and security remain high on our list of human rights.
“Nuestro Hogar” (Our Home)
The home my mother and father built is beautiful. The couch took three years to break in, but through endless movie marathons and The Walking Dead Sundays, we got there. The kitchen is stocked with at least 13 placemats, filled with family dinners and delicious home cooked meals. The yard filled with flowers delicately tended and stray balls that our dogs grew too tired to fetch.
I doubt one could tell that our home was so dutifully constructed by people who lead their lives as shadows on this earth. Although our home is filled with equal parts love and nurture, it has an underlying aura of fear and dread.
This was the aura I walked into after I came home from work one afternoon. I found my parents, my sister and her husband sat in the living room. There were papers scattered all around the floor, the mustard yellow of crumbled Post-its standing out against the white of the carpet. Laptop screens illuminated the room. My sister sat on the floor, a pen between her fingers as she absentmindedly fiddled with the cap while she was looking at a piece of paper, the concentration etched on her forehead.
The tension was so thick, you could cut it with a knife. I knew, before even glancing at the passports and money orders, that they were in the middle of filling out their paperwork to apply for residency. “Hi,” I said quietly. The only response I got was a side glance from my mother.
I walked around them, careful not to step on any of their papers. My mom’s eyes followed my movement from above her reading glances.
“We’ve been working on this all day, desde las ocho de la mañana.” Since eight in the morning. I nodded, knowing nothing I could say would possibly help this situation.
The exhaustion and stress was evident in the way my father looked down at his application. They’d spend a few more days filling out endless paperwork, before finally going to a lawyer with any questions they had.
“What did the lawyer say?” I asked my parents when they got home.
“Nothing important.” My father answered. Behind him, my mother gave me a wide-eyed look. He walked past me and into his room, shutting the door.
“It wasn’t good,” my mom informed me. “The lawyer said your dad shouldn’t apply for residency. He said that his record wasn’t good for the application, and that if he applies he will most likely get deported.”
When I was little, my father had gone to North Carolina, a state where they would still give drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants. However, in order to get that license, he had to lie and say he lived there. He got caught and they charged him with fraud. We were lucky then that they didn’t deport him. He had just wanted to find a way to be safe somehow, and now it was coming back to him.
There was nothing I could say to my dad to make him feel better. My dad, like many other brave immigrants, deserved to be a citizen. It didn’t seem fair, that after 17 years of hard work, my father could get deported just for applying for residency.
A few weeks later my father handed me a thick yellow envelope. “Marcela, drop this off at the post office tomorrow. Make sure they track the package,” he told me.
I looked down at it, realizing what it was as soon as I laid eyes on the address. It was marked to go to Chicago.
“What if…” What if it doesn’t go well? What if they decide my father no longer has a place in this country? A place in our lives?
“It’s a risk we’re going to have to take,” he told me. I nodded at him. Risks weren’t new to us. Everything he did each day was a risk. Working was a risk. Existing in this country as undocumented immigrants was a risk.
My house no longer felt warm and inviting after that. We all spent our days like zombies painted with stress and exhaustion. Checking the mail and my parents’ emails to see if maybe they would hear back sometime soon. Would my mom be approved? Would my father be deported?
“Pepe,” my mom pleaded, “You have to go to the doctor.” The pain in his knees, hips, and chest had been getting a lot worse lately. Most likely due to how hard he was working.
“When I’m a resident with health insurance I’ll go,” he would reply. My dad always said that he would be accepted, even though we all knew he was scared too. For months we had this conversation.
We’d watch the elected president of this country on TV with heavy hearts, mourning the damage he had already done while dreading the damage that was to come. Elected by people who lived their lives without seeing their shadows. Without knowing our stories.
Almost one year later, we finally got our answer.
“No way!” he’d cry. The smile on his face was contagious. You could literally see the tension leave his shoulders. “Oh my God,” he kept saying.
He’d been accepted.
That night we toasted to his safety, and to the idea that eventually he could petition for me to be safe as well. We toasted to our own family, which had yet to see an answer in sight. We also toasted to those not as lucky as my father. To the 12 million or so undocumented people still waiting. Waiting to be heard, waiting for an answer. Hoping. Praying.