From Undocumented to Community Advocate
By: Lorena Lopera
I was four years old when I came to this country. I was undocumented and unaware of what my family was risking or sacrificing. In conversations between my parents and their friends, they often spoke about needing green cards because we didn’t have them. As a child I was unable to fully comprehend the magnitude of the fear my family was living. One day I pulled out green construction paper and made green cards so we wouldn’t have to worry.
Today, I have a better comprehension of what my parents may have felt. I am a Latina who grew up undocumented, an education advocate, and a mother of two children.
With the targeted racism we as the Latinx community are experiencing, I accept it is my responsibility to model and elevate our culture. The separation of families, be it at the border or by ICE, is inhumane and a form of torture on children and families. It is the type of treatment that as a country we claim to condemn when others participate in, yet when they are our own actions, we turn a blind eye and even attempt to justify it because “they are ‘illegal.’” According to a UnidosUS report, Toward a More Equitable Future: The Trends and Challenges Facing America’s Latino Children, 95% of Latinos in the U.S. under the age of 18 were born in the U.S.
The campaign of racism and hate we are allowing to happen is disheartening. Hate towards people of color, hate towards the Latinx community, hate towards my very family and friends. After years of trying to get a green card, my parents managed to get actual, non-construction paper green cards for our family. A piece of paper finally deemed us “legal.” As if a piece of paper should legitimize that people should be treated with dignity and respect.
Years later while I was in college, my mom forged the path for all of us to apply for citizenship. Let that sink in for a minute. My mother, an immigrant, with a high school diploma, with limited command of the English language overcame every single obstacle telling her she did not belong, and she led us to citizenship. Imagine what she would have been capable of if she had the resources and the support systems propelling her to success – unstoppable.
These days I feel conflicted about the country I call home. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I was able to access, yet I am growing increasingly disappointed and frustrated that people like me are walking around with targets on our backs. As we learn more about children separated from families at the border, children jailed in cages, left behind to fend for themselves as their parents are taken in ICE raids – I am disgusted.
When I imagine children coming home to no parents, it breaks my heart. I think about my own children who have never experienced trauma yet still sneak into my bed at night, still cry when I get on a plane for a work trip, and still call me incessantly to ask when I will come home. It is disheartening to know there are other children who are alone with so much more to worry about and no warm arms to hold them and to care for them. We are torturing children and families.
I am an immigrant. I am a valuable contributor to our country and we, the Latinx community, are an important segment of ensuring this country stands tall for generations to come. The narrative that immigrants are a drain to our country is fake news.
The Peterson Institute for International Economics found, “the Hispanic community in the United States has contributed significantly to U.S. economic growth in recent decades and will continue to do so over the next 10-20 years.” Latinos are making significant contributions to our society, whether it’s my brothers who work as engineers, friends who are providing social services to veterans, or people like me working to ensure our children – yours and mine – have access to quality educational opportunities regardless of race, creed, or socioeconomic status. We are contributing as active participants in our society and are keeping the economy moving forward by producing quality work and by our sheer numbers in purchasing power.
When we fail to see these contributions and demonize our community, we allow hate and racism to dictate our actions. The thousands of families at the border sacrificing their lives in search of an opportunity to work tirelessly to provide their families and communities with brighter futures embody the American Dream. Yet, we fail to recognize their stories are our stories. My parents are not and have never been bad neighbors, criminals, rapists, drug dealers, etc. They are hardworking people that did everything they could to provide for my brothers and I, and it is because of them, “those immigrants” that I like so many others, contribute to our country today.
We can do better, we can vote better, we can demand more from our government – and not doing so is being complacent in allowing this to continue to happen, in our name, in the name of our children, and with our hard-earned tax dollars.
About Lorena Lopera
Lorena Lopera is Executive Director, Massachusetts at Latinos for Education. Previously, she served as Director of Development at BES, where she led fundraising efforts for the organization nationwide. Prior to this, Lorena worked with various national and local organizations including City Year, The Posse Foundation, Epiphany School and Sociedad Latina, leveraging relationships to resource quality educational opportunities for youth and families. She graduated from Boston College and holds a B.A. in Hispanic Studies.