LAS VEGAS, Nevada – I didn’t actually hear President Obama when he first said my name. And then he started to tell my story.
Mine is a story similar to millions of other immigrants. It’s the story of a four-year old little girl traveling with her family on a tire raft from Mexico, chasing the hope of a better life in America. He got one detail wrong – in addition to my cross, I was also carrying a Ken doll.
I didn’t actually hear President Obama when he first said my name. And then he started to tell my story. Mine is a story similar to millions of other immigrants. It’s the story of a four-year old little girl traveling with her family on a tire raft from Mexico, chasing the hope of a better life in America.
He got one detail wrong – in addition to my cross, I was also carrying a Ken doll.
As the president broke, tears came to my eyes, and I looked at my parents and I think we shared the same thought: Look how far we’ve come.
I grew up in a two-bedroom apartment, with the Las Vegas Strip gleaming in the distance. My mom cleans houses and my dad’s a landscaper. I shared a room with my brother and didn’t learn English until I went to kindergarten. I loved school and I even won the top student “gladiator” award in seventh grade. With the award came a trip to Washington, D.C. I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing the nation’s capital, but my parents said no.
They said no when I wanted to be a cheerleader. They said no when I wanted to attend a magnet school. They kept saying no. In my teen angsty way, I was annoyed. I thought they were being unfair. As I grew up, I started to understand that they weren’t being unfair, they were afraid. They were afraid they’d have to show papers and people would discover we were undocumented.
I ignored their last no – their order not to attend the magnet school – and was accepted. I graduated at the top of my class and was filled with dreams for the future. I wanted to become an architect, but I knew that a four-year college and graduate degree were out of my reach. Cost, for sure, but more significantly, my immigration status.
Instead, every day for almost five years, I worked at a babysitting job that helped me pay for classes at a community college where I wasn’t afraid that my undocumented status would be revealed. I earned two associate’s degrees in arts and political science, and along the way that babysitting money also helped my family move out of the two-bedroom apartment into a larger home.
But for all of my individual success, my family still lived in fear that we would be separated. In 2001, my father received a deportation order. He was detained in 2011 but ultimately his order was stayed until 2014. My father is my rock, our family’s rock, and I can’t even think about the pain and devastation I would feel if this man who has given up so much for me was taken away from us. Now, because of the president’s administrative reforms, he won’t be.
My grandmother passed away several years ago. She was my dad’s rock. And my dad couldn’t leave the U.S. to travel to Mexico to attend her funeral. It was heartbreaking. That’s when I realized I couldn’t sit idly by and watch families being torn apart because of our broken immigration system. I knew I had to act. With my friends, we created a DREAMers group, Dream Big Vegas, to fight for comprehensive immigration reform. I fight because I know that families like mine, families that have worked hard and played by the rules, deserve a fair chance to have a good life in America. This is our home, this is where we have built our lives, this country is where we want to build our futures.
When the president told my story, I looked at my dad, and then over to my mom, and I started crying with relief. President Obama’s bold action means that millions of families like mine will no longer live with the perpetual anxiety that they may not be together to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and holidays.
The president’s administrative reforms are only a temporary fix and we desperately need Congress to pass comprehensive immigration legislation that will grant permanent security to the millions of immigrant families who love this country and want to become citizens.
But for now, we celebrate this historic victory. Thank you, Mr. President, for sharing my story. I hope it will help people realize that immigrant families are just like theirs – striving to make better lives for themselves, their parents and their children.
[team title=”” subtitle=”” url=”” image=””]By Astrid Silva[/team]
<I>Astrid Silva is the immigrant organizer for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. This op-ed first appeared in USA Today.