“Herein lie words” of an uncompleted movement and unresolved struggle, “that if
read with patience,” yet due diligence, shed light on the present condition of two million
undocumented youth – so called DREAMers1
– that today demand most earnestly and doggedly
to be fully recognized as human beings (Du Bois: “The Forethought”).
To become an undocumented immigrant requires very little but is a result of
tremendous social, economic, political and environmental forces; I offer my story as example:
My family had been farmers for millennia – ever since first setting foot on this continent. We
had settled in a small village (San Miguel Ahuhuititlan) located in the rugged southern state
of Oaxaca where the Sierra Madre Sur and Sierra Madre Oaxaca – the unconnected southern
spine of the Rocky Mountains – unite. The place, until recently, spoke mainly mixteco – the
native dialect – and possessed little in roads, potable water, and houses with more than a dirt
floor – save for the Catholic Church at the center of town. The church and the villager’s last
names – for only those that fled to higher uplands were able to keep their native family names
- are vestiges of Spanish colonization. My ancestors remained in that village through the fall of
the Spanish Empire and Mexico’s first hundred years as a sovereign nation.
What finally made us flee north was the start of a new era – unfair and unbalanced
neoliberal trade agreements between Mexico and its richer neighbors destroyed our ability
to sustain ourselves. Our market – we were told – had become global, and, after a period of
transition, would eventually ensure a more vital nation and people – where wealth trickled
down to fulfill the needs of all classes. Needless to say, such wealth never came and, moreover,
the hunger, debt, and suffering of the nation increased.
I was born on a cold January day, on the dirt floor of my grandmother’s house, where
only nana was present to aid my mother in the delivery. Lacking any soap with which to wash
me, my mother laid me on her to avoid the ants which would’ve been attracted to our blood.
Two years later my parents would leave for America, leaving me and my older sister of four
behind to be under care of our maternal grandparents. A year of separation proved too much
and eventually my parents thought it best to have their family here in America with some hope
of an education and decent living rather than in Mexico where life was increasingly scarce and
the outlook grim.
NAFTA and other trade agreements provided and continue to allow free flow of goods
and capital across borders; unfortunately my family’s attempt to seek a livelihood which was
no longer feasible in their home nation was deemed an unlawful act2. I, at the age of three,
knew nothing of my actions or their repercussions, and today at the age of twenty am no longer
ashamed of all past experiences that brought my family and me to this place in time.
However, my story is not unique. In fact, two million narratives share the same plot
under similar circumstances. Stories of economic displacement, political asylum, and spiritual
refuge are particular to the souls trapped in similar predicaments. What these sojourners have
begun to organize around is the DREAM Act – a proposal that would provide temporary legal
residence of undocumented youth who came to this nation as minors, have resided in America
for five continuous years, possess good moral character with no criminal record and have
graduated from high school or the equivalent. Having met these initial requirements, recipients
would have six years of temporary legal status to complete two years of military service or
college to earn permanent legal residence (National Immigration Law Center, 2010: Dream Act).
Nearly a decade has passed since the bill was initially proposed, without much success.
The students continue to grow in number and strength, yet they prove to be of little or no
match to the cowardice and fear hovering in Washington. Years of bickering and blaming have
yielded little to no relief while students struggle to continue their education to ultimately be
denied legal work and have the “doors of opportunity” shut in their face (Du Bois, 1903: 3).
What these students ask might pique the curiosity of intellectuals, critics, and the
opposition alike. What is an American? Who sets the standards? Can our definition of America
change? – Shift? Who decided who gets to participate in democracy? Who is represented
in the legislature? What views or priorities shape the discourse of our nation? How does a
personal narrative become political? What does it mean to live in the most powerful nation at
the start of the twenty-first century with little to no rights to claim.
This present plight is of most concern to you and me, oh “gentle reader,” for the tragedy
of these young folks is a tragedy of our age, holding ransom our collective humanity (Du Bois,
1903:1). Lastly, it is worth repeating that you, I, and them – we – are all “bone of the bone
and flesh of the flesh” of the same human body and that our communal subsistence depends
on whole and unequivocal justice (Genesis 2:23). Now that I have laid down before you the
foundation of our current crisis let us delve deeper into the pain and beauty which two million
of our brothers and sisters experience each and every day.
1.There is an estimated 2.1 million undocumented youth population that could benefit from the DREAM Act -
Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (Migration Policy Institute, 2010:1).
2. Mexico is currently one of the most accepting nations of neoliberal trade agreements (Villareal, 2010: Summary).