Letter to my parents
Dear Mother, I remember when we first came to this country. I hated it. I cried. I wanted to go back. You promised me we’d go back in a couple of years. It’s been 19 years.
Dear Father, I remember when I used to wait for you to come home after a 16 hour shift late at night, working for 3 dollars an hour, so you can help me with my homework; I was 7 and I was struggling with English. We used to stay up till 1 AM reading stories about characters I couldn’t relate to.
Dear Mother, I remember reading Dr. Seuss books with you. I remember when I started reading faster than you. I remember when I started to translate for you at the store, at the doctor’s, and when the landlord came to pick up the rent. I remember how I used to feel annoyed that you held on to our language, and it would bother you when I insisted on speaking English.
You have always wished for the chance to go to college. You wanted to be a lawyer. I remember how you used to push me to work hard. You wanted me to go on to high school and then college so much. Your support and encouragement are the reasons I have accomplished everything good in my life.
Dear Dad, I remember when you gave your future and your life to your children. I was thirteen and you weren’t yet 40, we were driving in the car at night when you told me “This is it. We’re done. We have nothing left to live for but you and your siblings.”
Dear Mom, I remember I was so caught up in trying to assimilate and be part of the in-group, I forgot/didn’t care how it would affect you. I remember how I considered you and dad as people who “get in the way,” who just don’t “get it.” I forget what “it” was.
Dear Baba, you gave up so much. You gave me so much more. I always thought of you as a strong man in control, until I saw your eyes widen in fear when I told you I wanted to come out and tell others about my status. ICE put such a fear your heart. You and Mama lived in anxiety but I didn’t see it, I didn’t know, I was too busy chasing somebody else’s definition of success.
Dear Mama and Baba, you signed away your lives to us, threw yourself in debt for us, became desperate to make sure to educate us, and I repaid you in silent treatments, mockery, stubbornness, and arrogance. I just wanted to be left alone while you scrambled to make ends meet.
I grew up a little, and I tried so hard to make you proud, but I never put you first. I put my needs first. And I never stopped to think how it might affect you.
Dear Baba, I remembered how I yelled at you for getting me in debt with you. Ten of thousands of dollars in debt because you were trying to get me an education we couldn’t afford. You were desperate to make sure I got the education I wanted. Instead of thanking you, I asked you if this is something you thought about before you decided to drag us to this country. If you had any foresight that your two undocumented kids would need work permits one day.
I wonder if I had any heart for telling this to a man whom years of hard grueling work aged him 20 years older than he actually is, who gave up on his life to give his children a better one, who ended up in the hospital twice before we came to America because he couldn’t provide for his family at the time.
Dear Mama, I know I can never make you proud the way other girls make their mothers proud. You spent your life making sure we had comfort, encouragement, and love. You sold your jewelry to help Baba make ends meet, you supported everything I ever did, including, my organizing, even when you didn’t agree, even when you wished I would just stay home like those other girls. You spent so many nights talking to me trying to see what was wrong, what I needed, why I had a tendency to isolate myself. But I had walls around me, I was too proud to ever open up to you, and the walls grew thicker.
I remember when I called you to tell you I was denied a job because of my status (two jobs in two days in fact), you sighed heavily, and told me “If I knew coming to this country would have done this to you, I would have rather starved than come here.” Because you understood how humiliated I felt. You understood this wasn’t about a job. It was about my dignity.
Because being undocumented stunts your personal growth.
It sucks your soul. It leaves you empty. It leaves you frustrated.
It leaves you angry. It puts you through waves of unforgiving rage.
It leaves you depressed under a cloud of fear and shame.
It makes you question yourself and what you did wrong. What you could have done better.
It makes you question your worth.
It makes you feel guilty. It makes you feel alone. It makes you feel tired. So tired. It’s a damn miracle undocumented people get up at all in the morning.
Because it makes you question your parents. And their sacrifices.
Because it makes you feel all this while useless politicians and fake allies debate and ponder the political climate, and if they can afford to “risk” to support and hire undocumented youth.
I thought my organizing would help me find answers. Would help me find a way to make you proud. But I realize now my organizing wasn’t about you. It was about me and how good and empowering it made me feel. While I declared loudly in media interviews, speeches, and meetings that we are unapologetic, we will not apologize for our parents’ sacrifices, you were home, unaware, and extremely distressed. Again and again, how I felt was simply more important to me than how you felt.
I wasn’t being unapologetic. I was being a hypocrite. This isn’t organizing. I’d say as if I’m some kind of veteran organizer that the organizer’s job is to empower and help people grow into their own leaders, to give people the strength and motivation to conquer their fear and shame about their status. But I couldn’t do it for you, my own family. To the contrary, with every action, every event, and every meeting, you grew more afraid and more ashamed.
We weren’t getting stronger, we were becoming weaker. Things didn’t get better. They are worse. And I am more tired than before.
Dear Mama and Baba, I can’t stop organizing. Organizing is the reason I get up in the morning. I have to, need to organize because the alternative, doing nothing and staying silent is more oppressive than the immigration system itself. But I’m fighting it the wrong way.
For an organizer, I have no idea how to organize. Organizing starts at home. It starts with my family, it starts with trust, honest communication, and an open heart. It expands to my friends, my neighbors, and my community. How can I empower strangers when I can’t empower those closest to me? I cannot empower myself, feel good, pat myself on the back for putting together an event or two and call it a day. Organizing only works when we’re both benefitting. If I’m the only one benefitting, then you are left out. If only your needs are met, then I’m left out. Uplifting my dignity does not mean compromising yours.
Organizing is balance, personal development, growth but most of all, organizing is love.
Dear Mama and Baba, I understand that now. I won’t stop organizing, but I will organize to make sure everything you gave up and sacrificed is not in vain, and I’m starting right here, at home.
With fearless, sometimes apologetic love,
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