This Immigrant Celebrates Living to a Quarter of a Century

Claudia sits with legs pulled to her chest, one hand raised to her cheek, and one hand on by her elbow.
At L’Enfant Plaza in Washington, DC.
Photo Credit: Kenrry Alvarado

Becoming an immigrant is a story of facts. I can point to my immigration papers. I can point to a passport and a birth certificate that are referred to as foreign. I can point to the gaps in my childhood memories. I can point to the phonetic cues my tongue misses when reading a new text. I can point to the year I learned the term eligibility: the right or the option of yes, you can.

Becoming a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) immigrant is a story of facts: a war zone that ended in 1992, a U.S.-funded war, thousands of refugees fleeing El Salvador, an earthquake in 2001, designated humanitarian relief.

Becoming a Temporary Protected Status immigrant is a story of resistance. This immigrant population wasn’t supposed to survive in the U.S. We hold no voting power. We don’t qualify for financial aid in college systems. We were limited in healthcare options. With a work authorization card, we were set up for one thing: to pay income taxes and invest in a capitalist economy. As a child and TPS immigrant enrolled in elementary school, I invested in something else, the genius of America. I was phenomenal, an overachiever. Once in high school, I passed a pencil to a friend during a test, and my teacher misinterpreted it as a code for cheating. I was reprimanded. I wouldn’t stop crying. My teacher immediately wished he could rewind the scene. There weren’t enough Claudia’s in the school classroom.

Not one of my teachers knew who I was to the Department of Homeland Security, or that I had regular appointments for fingerprints. The word “undocumented” wasn’t whispered. It wasn’t a thing. In other words, not knowing how documents curbed a person’s life, it wasn’t scary. I knew I wasn’t undocumented. I knew I wasn’t a citizen or a permanent resident, and yet, I had no idea who I really was.

Years later, I adopted a misinformed concept of immigrant. TPS isn’t a status; it’s a state of being, it’s a temporary condition. It’s a conscious that devasted me. I didn’t know how to begin dreaming again. I was still this great brain, but without the ambition of a sun. I set out to complete college because I knew it was something I owed to my mother and my younger self.

My college degree does not mean the world to me, even though for many years, that was the thing that drove me. A degree alone doesn’t land someone a job, and my having one as a TPS holder sometimes feels like a practical joke. My bachelor’s degree is the product of three different colleges because that’s how I worked around limited scholarship opportunities. I have the arduous degree, and who’s going to hire me? That’s a real question. I have lived a life by 18 month increments which isn’t sustainable in a workplace with year-long projects and goals to meets. I figured a way around these expectations through contract work. On my resume, my struggle reads as work ethic because it is. I have navigated limitations without a road map or directions.

My family is one step away from disaster. I have a teen brother, an American citizen, who already knows the definition of racial profiling and a mother whose right to an education was interrupted by family, childbirth, and a border. I have a sister with a story that is not mine to tell. My father is a presence marked by chaos, an absence that is not enough absence. I am one step away from disaster.

Last month, I renewed my driver’s license with documents that carry an expiration date of September 9 because USCIS can’t be bothered to send updated forms with the extended January 2, 2020 date. At the DMV, I was told I had to wait for Richmond, another processing center, to call me to complete my transaction. I knew Richmond wasn’t going to call me. I waited. I watched others complete their transactions. Then I called Richmond myself. Three hours later, I had completed the transaction for what may or may not be my last state identification in a state with limited support for its immigrant population.

I’m a transaction. That’s what the immigrant is to the U.S. That’s what people are sometimes to each other. A client with a credit card. An employee in payroll. A something that gives or takes.

The other day, I was passing through security, which is to say the other day I was in Washington, DC, and had to place my bag and my laptop on the conveyor belt and pass through the metal detector. Once cleared, I took my bag and walked away. Several belated minutes later, I noticed the lightness of my bag. I had forgotten my laptop. I went back and told the security guards that I left a laptop. The security guard that attended me responded briskly, “No, you didn’t!” I stood and stared until the other guard told this one to check the machine, and in fact, the laptop was still in the machine. I got an apology that didn’t make me feel any better.

I was hurt at the blatant, happy negation of my words. No one’s called me an illegal to my face. I hope that day doesn’t happen. The closest I’ve come to that is the indifference from a state representative who said a variation of the words, “I don’t care about you” which honestly, is what’s people are saying when they use racial slurs.

Today, I’ve made it to a quarter of a century, 25 years of age, which is exceptional. Below is a sampling of people who share the melanin in my skin and who died at a young age:

To survive childhood, to survive an oppressed body for any number of years is an accomplishment. I’m not set up for survival, and yet, I’m still being human things: a breath, a pulse, a heartbeat, a blood, a cell. In the fall, I will start graduate school, which is one way I’m navigating being without health insurance this year. With the teaching assistantship that comes with my acceptance into graduate school, I qualify for employee health insurance. Graduate school also means I’m being what I am, a poet, and not allowing the expiration date around TPS to deter me from dreaming.

I should be scared. I don’t know what next thing I am supposed to navigate. Being undocumented? Another 18 months of temporary, of mocking relief? Deportation? I am scared but fear has shadowed my dreams. I’ll be spending the year pushing my fears into a shadow. I am a life and alive. Happy birthday to me!

If you have the capacity to go beyond reading this post, as a gift to justice, please play a role in the immigration cause. Below are some ideas to ensure Latinos are given a fair chance at living:

  • Raise funds to support families affected by recent ICE raids in Mississippi through an ActBlue Charities donation page.
  • Raise funds and support young TPS holders for their Summer of Action around the country through their GoFundMe Me campaign page.
  • Travel to Pasadena, CA and rally with the National TPS Alliance in front of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for the August 14th hearing on the future of TPS. Learn more on the Facebook event page.
  • Volunteer at local nonprofit that supports underserved communities.
  • Call and/or write your state assembly and Congress representative and hold them accountable for protecting the community.

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