This is a guest post from my friend Jesus Vital. I’m sharing my space on Prodigal this month because he has a remarkable story and I didn’t want you to miss a chance to hear it.
I was an illegal immigrant for most of my childhood. I grew up with all the new privileges that America had to offer — a safe home, healthcare, and schooling. We weren’t rich, but we felt rich, just to be able to live in dignity and support our family.
At first glance most people would never guess I am a first generation immigrant. I don’t look like one, I don’t sound like one, and some might say I don’t act like one.
But looks and assumptions can be deceiving.
I am a first generation immigrant from Mexico.
I was born to two natural born Mexican citizens. Shortly after my birth they decided Mexico was no place to raise a family and, despite the obvious obstacles in front of them, set out for the “otro lado” (the other side).
Their transition to America was not an easy one. My father moved first, and began working at a meatpacking plant in rural Kansas. My mother followed after him and was able to attain a Visa to work at the plant with him. For two people who lived under the poverty line in Mexico, minimum wage felt like a killing.
Unfortunately, the crossing was too dangerous for a newborn infant, so my mother left me with family in Mexico. It broke her heart, but she knew it was what she needed to do. She swore she would come back as soon as she could establish a life that was safe and stable enough to support me.
A little more than a year later, she came back to get me.
The first time my mother saw me I was sitting on a small kid’s chair in a storefront beneath my grandparent’s home and she ran and held me like any mother would. Unfortunately, I didn’t respond to her right away so, rather return to the US right away, my family decided it would be best to wait until my mom and I could bond.
Years before my uncle had returned to Mexico for his son and hadn’t taken the time to wait, and his son died in route to America.
They did not want the same thing for me.
When the day came to make the journey, my mom was nervous but her cousin promised everything would be okay. He gave her the rundown. She would board a commuter bus in a Mexican border town and go through the American checkpoint. There she would present me to border patrol as her nephew (my cousin had legal status) with documents saying that she had permission to have her nephew in Mexico.
If all went well she will stay on that bus until she got past the next checkpoint somewhere in Texas. Her cousin would follow the bus, just in case anything went wrong. After the last checkpoint she would get off in San Antonio where we would all be reunited and he would drive us to our new home in Kansas.
The plan went accordingly thus beginning my life here in America.
My parents understood that if we were going to continue to live in America they needed to solidify their residency in the country. This process can be long and strenuous with no guarantees. A recent article in Time Magazine titled “We are Americans: Just not Legally” gives great information on the process of securing at least permanent residency (green card).
In this particular article I realized that I myself had a 26% chance of securing residency.
It helped that my dad’s father was citizen. From there my dad secured residency then citizenship which then helped out my mother and me. The process to become a resident took about 12 years and it took 17 years to become a citizen.
This is the reason some families choose to stay under the radar.
I still remember my first opportunity to vote in a primary election, in 2007. It was then that my status as an American Citizen became real to me. It was such an overwhelming feeling. This served as the beginning of my American Dream for my own family that I will have someday.
People have asked me what I think about issues of immigration, and I tell them that I understand both sides.
And, at the end, ignorance is really the enemy here.
I say this to Mexicans who participated in the marches of the last decade. Even I took part in these marches but what I realized as I was marching was that I was not educated. So I stopped marching and started reading. I learned there are a lot of reasons why New Immigration Reform needs to take place.
I believe that America needs to do a better job securing the borders, but I also believe we have a responsibility to find solutions for honest, hard-working families seeking a better life. We may be decades from that ideal reality, but we can be working toward it just the same.
It’s the right thing to do.
My challenge to you is to pray. Pray for the safety of people, father and mothers, sons and daughters, facing dangers in the harsh deserts of the southwest. Pray because our God has a plan for them too.
Second, get educated. Read, watch documentaries (Great ones on Netflix), and talk to someone who you know that is (or might be) illegal. Ask them why. You might be inspired by their journey to America. Not every immigrant is dealing drugs or apart of some gang organization. Most of them are people, just like you, who are desperate for opportunity.
Not an opportunity to become rich, but a chance to properly provide and feed their family.
The journey that my family has had to travel to get to this point has been long, but very much worth it. I have a great honor being able to serve and contribute to this great country that has provided so much hope and opportunity to my family.
Do you know others with stories like mine? How has my story surprised you?
[Photo: Vox Efx, Creative Commons]