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Losing My Breath

reflection Jun 18, 2018

Growing up an immigrant of color in the U.S. can be full of challenges and trauma.

My family came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic in the late 80s. I was four. While I was born there and have dual citizenship, and can’t deny the island breeze in my veins, I’m also very American. I grew up here. I only visited the D.R. in summers and other family trips. There was the stint where we tried to move back and I was there for a year and studied in school and all, but I vaguely remember that.

We were “documented.” I use quotation marks because that’s all just a bureaucracy. It’s simply a piece of paper that someone printed and handed me. It can be ripped. It can be crushed. It can be gone. And that finite truth of it is fear-inducing. That my stability and life at home depends on a piece of paper that someone can trash is unsettling. Yes, I know that it’s “in the computer” and that it’s more than just a piece of paper. But when you’re in middle school and walking through the airport and all that stands between you and heading home is that green card, it feels like that paper is the whole world.

When I turned 12, I needed a new picture (per regulation) but my green card hadn’t expired so they wouldn’t let me get a new card. This meant that whenever I traveled back into the U.S. from wherever, or whenever I needed an ID (which meant my green card) I had a problem. When traveling I had to come back to the U.S. with all kinds of “proof” that I was a good resident and worthy of being let in. This was humiliating. It was painful. It was embarrassing. I’d travel with my library card, report cards, pictures and would do the best respectability dance when I was put into rooms with other folks who could have actually been criminals; my family members always away in another room waiting for me…

I’ll never forget being in college and struggling with obtaining a student loan because of this ID issue. When I told the representative that I needed this loan and that I was okay and that this wasn’t a problem, she insisted that she couldn’t help me. Out of frustration, I exclaimed, “Well, what am I going to do? I have one semester left!” Her answer? “Drop out and leave the country.” I WAS LIVID.

I share all of this because as I watch the news and read about children being separated from their families and am reminded of the brokenness of our immigration system, I can’t help but feel triggered. All those fears of separation and deportation and questioning and insecurity and distrust for this American government that was supposed to be home, spring up again. I think of my kids and sheer panic ensues within me when I think of the idea that someone would take them away from me.

Seeing this news ALL THE DARN TIME is triggering. It’s painful. I can’t see the pictures. I can’t watch the videos. I can’t read the stories. I can’t know the details. I’m living each day trying to breathe through it. I’m praying and hoping and calling and voting and advocating and praying some more so that this ends NOW. I’m begging us to be better. I’m losing my breath praying.

And of course, this is part of the impetus for my teaching. I teach so that our students never see another human and deny them their humanity. I try to teach in a way that empowers us to celebrate one another. I want to teach so that we can relate and love across differences. I am losing my breath teaching, too.

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