I had to hide who I was for a very long time because living my truth and acknowledging it might have put my family in danger. Recently, I had the opportunity to publicly declare something I’ve always had to hide about myself: I am an immigrant. I moved with my family to the United States from Peru when I was 8 years old.
Growing up, I had a relatively normal childhood but there were a few differences from my classmates. There were things connected to health care that I thought I would never have like braces or a cast for a broken arm. I thought I would never have a real American childhood because I could not afford those things. My family was low income, the four of us lived in a one-bedroom apartment all of us sleeping on the same bed. My parents had many jobs to make ends meet.
Everything changed when I turned 11. It was only three years after we had moved to the United States and my mother’s father became very sick. I had never seen my mother so distraught before and I wanted to fix everything for her. I suggested that she go back to Peru to say goodbye before he passed away. My mom tried to tell me that going back to Peru was impossible, and I just thought it was because she could not afford it. I quickly learned that it wasn’t economic troubles; it was because we were undocumented.
I was very young so I didn’t entirely know what this meant. To me it just meant that my mom couldn’t say goodbye to her father before he died. As I started high school the meaning of undocumented started to take shape. During election seasons I would hear snide remarks about people like me and my family being described as ‘illegal’ and ‘alien.’ Those words still make me emotional to this day. I couldn’t say anything about it, I had to hide in the shadows and pretend I was not feeling the burden of my immigration status.
The pressures of hiding in plain sight and carrying the burden of an uncertain future caused me anxiety attacks and depression. I didn’t even know if I could go college because I knew that the costs of being charged as an international student would be too much. It broke my heart. I would see my friends worry about college applications and I would have to pretend and play along but I was one of the only people who had this big secret.
The summer before my senior year, Obama passed an executive order for people they call DREAMers. Its was a protection for people like me who grew up in the United States and consider this country their home. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) changed my life. I was suddenly able to do normal teenage things like get a license, get a minimum wage job, and the opportunity to actually go to school. Most importantly, DACA gave me a voice. I held my newly found voice close for a long time, for over 4 years.
Until this recent election season I was sure that my future was no longer uncertain. But as the political climate changed, I started to feel that my immigration status had to be a secret again. I had privileges though, I was college educated and I knew I had a voice that others may be too afraid to use.
Last semester I started interning with Planned Parenthood and it was one of the most rewarding things I had ever done. I was able to be more intimately connected with my community. South Florida has one of the highest percentages of low income, people like me and my family who are living without health care and without access to resources many Americans take for granted.