Sign: if the culture dies, the people die
Sign: if the culture dies, the people die
Photo by Julie Leopo

Winning Immigration Reform for All Beyond Assimilation and Dreamers

By Jessica Gallardo

Our parents always want what’s best for us, but that doesn’t always mean it’s what’s right. Mine raised me to be unaware of the traditions or customs of my rich, Mexican culture. My parents migrated to the United States when they were both in their teens in the 80’s, a very fortunate time because they were able to obtain residency in 1986 through the Immigration Reform and Control Act. As a result, like many that are grateful for a chance to grind it out in the U.S., they began assimilating and losing touch with their roots.

I found that to be especially true with my father. He always disregarded Mexican traditions and pushed me to conform to gringo ideals. I attended middle school in a "good" area and was mixed in with white and Asian kids who sported the newest Blackberries and Volcom designer jeans. There weren’t many kids that spoke Spanish to me and much less revealed that they celebrated Los Reyes Magos in January or ate rosca with plastic baby Jesus dolls crammed within it. My parents never introduced these things to me as a child. All I knew was Santa Claus during Christmas.

It wasn’t high school that my narrow view of the world began to expand. My new classmates were predominantly Latinx kids who spoke Spanglish with ease. The music was different, too. The loudest corridos and banda imaginable blared during lunch time. It was culture shock like I’d never experienced, and it was my culture that was shocking me. My dad taught me to refrain from speaking Spanish at school and to only ever use it at home or with the elderly that spoke in Spanish to me. He didn't want me to be concerned about immigration issues because we were lucky enough not to have to worry. He was a resident and I, una Americana.

But in college, my cultural awakening continued. Exposure to undocumented activism and the explosion of immigration as a national issue forced me to open my eyes. My dad and I got into heated debates about why it is important to recognize our roots and validate the importance of it. We’ve yet to see eye-to-eye, but since the Trump regime rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, my parents huddle in front of the television most nights worried about the "Dreamers." They watch news reports of DACA recipients who are valedictorians, professional fighters, and even paramedics saving lives in Houston. But they’re not hearing the voices I hear.

While I sit in meetings with Orange County Immigrant Youth United and protest with them, I see a group of people who've overcome a divisive "Dreamer" narrative and are unwilling to be anyone's token again. They're unwilling to throw their parents under the bus and realize that a path for "Dreamers" only will lead to further separation of families. I see youth willing to take heat from people like my parents who want what’s best for their kids even if it means putting themselves at risk, like the youth in San Francisco who shouted-down Nancy Pelosi, demanding a clean bill that didn't expand the deportation machine that targets those left out of DACA.

We can't afford to forget about the other 10 million immigrants in this country that programs like DACA don't protect. We must remember that there are people who get left behind because they don’t fit the mold that the U.S. demands of those that have been displaced by imperialism. Being in a space like OCIYU has broadened my view even more about the importance of preserving our culture and the people behind it. It emphasizes undocumented youth using their voice and setting a platform that's inclusive to all, not just the "Dreamers." 

After all, undocumented students and the youth aren't the only ones who carry dreams in their hearts.

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