This little piece of freedom to be almost normal, like my peers
By Shahrzad, guest blogger
FEBRUARY 22, 2018
My family applied for visitor visas in the early ’90s, and by 1996 we were granted a visa to come visit my grandparents in Chicago from India. It was a really big deal for my family, and the fact that I hadn’t seen my grandparents in three to four years only added to the excitement.
Once we got here, my grandparents felt strongly that my siblings and I would get a better education in the USA and convinced my parents to leave us here to be raised by them. My parents went back to India, and my siblings and I were left behind in pursuit of higher education and a better life.
I was a sophomore in high school when I first realized that I didn’t have a nine-digit Social Security number and therefore my options were super limited. Unlike in Latino communities, where there is a bit more openness regarding one’s status, in Indian (South Asian) communities there is nothing but fear and stigma.
I never told any of my friends that I was undocumented. I always made an excuse as to why I was not planning to go to college or why I couldn’t apply for certain jobs like my peers. In my senior year, I finally confided in one of my high school teachers, and she was able to find sources for me to be able to go to college.
I’d attended one semester of art school when 9/11 happened. All of a sudden, the school started questioning my immigration status, and I had to drop out. It was the worst feeling to know that I couldn’t continue with my education. I went into deep depression and started self-medicating through alcohol and partying.
A few years later, I finally got myself together and went back to school. I started in community college and took one class at a time. I was able to get my associate’s in 2008. I applied to four-year university to get my bachelor’s in sociology. Toward the last semester of school, I started getting depressed and feeling anxious that even after getting a degree I would continue to work at a dead-end job.
However, that summer President Obama announced DACA. It changed my life. I finally was able to hope and plan for my future. As soon as DACA came out, I applied and was granted approval to be able to work. It has been five years since I got DACA; I will be renewing it in the next few weeks. Having DACA connected me with a job I love. My income went from living paycheck to paycheck to something substantial. I purchased my first car earlier this year, I have health insurance through my work, and I can travel within the USA. The feeling to be able to travel even within the USA is a small freedom, but it’s everything I can ask for: This little piece of freedom to be almost normal, like my peers.
But most importantly — this is gonna sound crazy — but I love paying income taxes. I love taking my shoe box to H&R Block and doing my taxes every year. It confirms my belief that I am a contributing member of this country. And, yes, sometimes as a DACAmented youth it feels like “taxation without representation,” but it is still something that allows me to be part of this country.
I belong here. I don’t remember anything about India except what I hear from my family members who get to visit or still live there. My Hindi is terrible, my sense of independence and feminism too strong that I know, if I am to go back, I will not survive in a culture/country I no longer belong to.
“Shahrzad” is a pseudonym. She is a DACA recipient from Chicago.
To learn more about what you can do to help people like Shahrzad, visit www.nilc.org. And you can do more: Call Congress at 1-478-488-8059 and insist that your senators and representatives support and vote for the bipartisan Dream Act now!