- Posted June 28, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Your immigration stories
I'll never be American enough
by Jorge Sanchez 06/28/2014
In 1971, I was born in Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, Tamaulipas, Mexico. My parents, who were undocumented migrant farm workers, crossed into the U.S. through the Los Ebanos, TX Ferry. A.K.A. as "El Chalán", this crossing is the only hand-drawn ferry in operation along the U.S./Mexico border. Upon arriving to south Texas, my parents completed resident alien applications and paid fees to be granted this status so we could legally reside and work in the states. It's true; you can eventually buy your U.S. citizenship. However, this initial process was temporary and just the beginning of a long journey. Although my family members were issued valid social security cards, we faced deportation if our temporary resident alien cards expired or if we broke any U.S. laws. My parents truly believed we could become Americans one day. In their minds, it was about receiving rights and privileges that undocumented citizens could not. Were these cards dealt to us the first step in our transformation? From the ages of 3 through 16, I struggled with my family working in many farm labor camps. For example, we harvested asparagus, apples, cherries, etc. in Washington State. We usually moved from one farmland to another in search of seasonal work. Migrant Head Start, bi-lingual special-education programs and also night school played a huge role in my formative years and education. I acculturated to my new American way of life very rapidly. Yet, I felt all this hard work was not making me American enough. So, I decided to work harder. One way of compensating was to teach myself what I heard other school kids my age were learning and experiencing. Fortunately, my parents instilled and maintained the importance of my Mexican culture and language. To understand Americans, I read magazines, books, listened to the radio, and watched television often mimicking the sounds of singers and TV personalities. I never talked to my peers about my farm working life nor did I reveal my resident alien status. It was my dirty secret. Although I hated being a farm worker, I knew it was required for my family's survival. I knew early on that farm work was not for me. I disliked waking up at 4:30 am in an awful labor camp. I cursed having to report to acres of fields with their nasty odors of invisible pesticides. As a teen, I learned that school would be my only way out, my future. Growing up, I was bullied and called a "wet back" or "mojo". So, like many immigrants and “illegals” do, I quickly learned the art of assimilation. My English was being perfected despite my unflattering code-switching (or my Spanglish phase) during my middle school years. "Si, let's go amigos!" My parents reprimanded me if I spoke English in our living room while my teachers threatened to suspend me if I spoke Spanish in the classroom. When I was 15 years old, my parents applied to become permanent resident aliens. Were we any closer to becoming American? I don't know exactly how much we paid an immigration attorney but months later we received new ID cards. My parents expressed their relief. For them, there was an indescribable stress about losing our American residency status. In1986, I changed my wardrobe to reflect what other American high school teens were wearing. My grooming and hygiene changed, including my diet. I knew about the power behind consumer brand names. However, all these attempts would not blur my Mexican (foreigner) features. Many times, I’ve said to myself, “I'll never be American enough because of the way I look”. So I began focusing all my energy in my education. My mother always said I must learn everything about computers, history, health, culture, and art in America in order to be accepted. But I didn't want to be accepted, I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to be an "Americano". I felt mom was giving me mixed messages until she told me never to forget who I was or where I'd come from. She also made sure I respected everyone regardless of race, religion, sex, etc. During my senior year in high school, an academic counselor advised me to apply for college. I’d not thought about a higher education because of my resident alien status or eligibility. I had never showed anyone my alien card because I was embarrassed. There was an underlying shame in me about being an immigrant in the U.S. After researching, I learned that I could go to college; I was legally required to register with selective service. Thanks to financial aid and equal opportunity programs, I was accepted at the University of Washington and later obtained my Masters degree in Social Work. While I was living in Seattle, my parents strongly encouraged me to become a Naturalized U.S. citizen. What, another process in transitioning? It became evident that even though I was climbing the ladder of success, I was not quite yet that American. In 1995, after completing an application, passport photos, paying a $90 fee, and passing a U.S. History test, I was granted U.S. Citizenship via the Naturalization process. Had I finally earned my “license” to become more American? I wish more Americans realized the advantage of being born on this side. No fingerprinting, no test taking and no increases in fees. In my mid-20’s, people were still asking me where I was from. Although I'm currently a U.S. Citizen and possess all the rights of a "natural born" citizen, I'll never be perceived as one. After all, I'm not eligible to become the U.S. President or vice-president. I'm 42 years old and still not American enough. Sure, I only get stereotyped once in a while, and discriminated against less but that comes with the U.S. territory. Worthy are those Mexicans who look White and can fly under the American radar after citizenship. I've accepted that my Mexican, physical attributes and characteristic may cause racially profiling, and this reinforces within me that I’ll never be American enough. Who cares if I have a U.S. passport? I can tell border patrol agents, “I’m an American citizen” and show them ID as I’m returning to my country but I'm really another Mexican who is re-entering the U.S.A. I just happen to be one of the lucky Mexicans who navigated through U.S. immigration and naturalization laws successfully. I jumped through the systems’ hoops at the right time as required by law. Most importantly, I was introduced to other Americans who saw opportunity and hope in me so that I could continue dreaming about becoming one of them.