Immigration: The Search For Clarity

With comprehensive immigration reform a real possibility this year, we look at how our broken system affects Colorado—and how things could come into focus in the near future.

April 2013


In Her Words

An open letter from an undocumented Denver high school student.

I am 17. I am a junior at Cherry Creek High School, a very white, high-performing school in Denver. And I am undocumented.

My given name is a Hispanic one, but no one calls me that. I go by an American name my parents gave me when I was young. I’m the oldest child in my family—and the only one of four siblings born in Mexico. I didn’t have a choice in coming here. My parents brought me when I was just four months old. And every single day of my life since then, I’ve struggled to figure out who I am, where I am going, and how I will get there. For me, these basic questions are not easy to answer. My parents brought me here so that I could have a better future, so that I could fulfill the “American Dream.” But is there actually an American Dream? My answer is no.

To me, the phrase American Dream has turned into a description of a lifestyle many people see as the “proper” way to live. Instead of the American Dream, I believe we should call this ideal the “Me Dream,” because that’s what can be great about America: People can decide what they want their dreams to look like. Right now, though, my dream is difficult to see. My dream, simply, is to be able to live in the United States without being scared every time I step out of my house.

If someone were to ask me where I want to go in life, I would tell them that I want to go to college to be a nurse and then get a job. But I worry that will never happen. I wish that I could have the same opportunities the other kids in my class have. They all talk about going to college, being able to go around the world to study, and visiting their family or going on vacation out of the country. But I see the other side, too: American kids not caring about their educations and quitting school. Yet, they still somehow have the nerve to say that people from Mexico are ruining their lives. What hurts me the most, though, are the stereotypes. I’ve heard teachers say things like, “Mexican girls get pregnant,” or, “They just end up working in McDonald’s.” These comments make me both sad and angry. A teacher is someone who should motivate her students to do better, not make them feel bad about themselves.

At home my dad compares me to my younger sister, an American citizen, who is in honors classes. He doesn’t understand that I didn’t get the educational opportunities she did (like enrolling in preschool) and that I don’t have the same opportunities in front of me either. It’s hard to keep doing schoolwork—keep my grades up—when there’s no reward for doing so. But I am trying.

My parents brought me here to have a great life and to be able to be better than who they were. Some kids don’t know how to appreciate what they have until it’s gone. In my case, it could all be gone in a flash, so I truly appreciate what my parents did. They’ve done what they can. I am doing what I can. But, now, so much of my future is in other people’s hands. Maybe they’re your hands.