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I had several DREAMers participate in a project a while ago that involved answering questions about themselves, their lives, fears, dreams and hopes as undocumented students.
This interview is with K.B., who is currently in university and fighting deportation to Nigeria and has lived in the United States since she was four years old.
Do you identify as American?
Yes, I consider myself to be 100% American, in every way except by birth. On the same note, there are people who, even though they were born in the United States, do not consider themselves American. We do not choose where we are born, so why be punished for such a mundane matter as location?
Describe your feelings about being ‘undocumented’ in your home country.
This is from one of my blog posts: “This battle is not simply over just a piece of paper, but the things that piece of paper represents. You see, without that piece of paper, living life is simply hard to do. You are suddenly not 100% human, as if humanity is something that can be rationed. Suddenly, your voice is harder to hear, as if expression is something to be looked down on. Your face is ripped of its defining features, as if your identity is something to be erased and forgotten. Slowly but surely, faced with rejection day by day, pieces of your being are torn away, until nothing is left but your body, now an empty shell. Tell me how do you love when love has been denied to you? How do you live when your fate rests in someone else's hands? How do you laugh when your voice has been silenced? How do you hope when your future seems bleak at best? How do you jump, shout, play, or dance? How do you be when your very being is on trial?”
Why did your parents come to the United States? How old were you and how old are you now? Share as much of your background as you feel comfortable.
The lines of communication b/t my parents and I are somewhat closed, so I lack knowledge of the exact details and reasoning of why we came here. I do know that my mom and sister first came to the U.S. on medical visas to receive medical treatment for my sister, who has cerebral palsy. I came here on a tourist visa on my own when I was six years old, and I’m 19 years old today. From what I understand, my mother was a doctor in Nigeria, and my dad’s family was well to do, so I’m not sure of the underlying reason to come, and subsequently stay.
How do you feel about their decision, given your present circumstance as an undocumented student?
Understandably, there are days when I get angry, not so much as the decision that was made back then, but b/c of the decisions my parents have continued to make, and their apparent refusal to accept the gravity of the situation at hand. But most of the time I am reminded that, had I not grown up here, I would not be the person I am today, and there would be a whole realm of opportunities that I would not have known existed. If I had not grown up here, I’m not sure what I would think about the person I would have become, but my life would probably be less complicated as a result. Therefore, it’s really pointless to revisit past decisions, because the consequences exist only in the here and now.
What is your country of birth and do you remember anything about it? How are conditions there? How would you feel about being sent back?
I was born in Nigeria. I don’t remember a single thing about my country of birth, and sadly everything I know about it has been thanks to Wikipedia. The information I have found on Wikipedia is enough to make me never want to set a foot on Nigerian soil: “Health, health care, and general living conditions in Nigeria are poor. Life expectancy is 47 years (average male/female) and just over half the population has access to potable water and appropriate sanitation; the percentage is of children under five has gone up rather than down between 1990 and 2003 and infant mortality is 97.1 deaths per 1000 live births. Nigeria, like many developing countries, also suffers from a polio crisis as well as periodic outbreaks of cholera, malaria, and sleeping sickness. Education is also in a state of neglect, though after the oil boom on the oil price in the early 1970s, tertiary education was improved so it would reach every sub-region of Nigeria. Education is provided free by the government, but the attendance rate for secondary education is only 29% (average male 32%/female 27%). The education system has been described as "dysfunctional" largely due to decaying institutional infrastructure. 68% of the population is literate, and the rate for men (75.7%) is higher than that for women (60.6%).” en.wikipedia.org
My family and I are currently in removal proceedings, and our chances apparently are very slim, so the prospect of being sent back is a very real one indeed. However, I just don’t see myself willingly spending even one voluntary day there, so I’ll have to fight as hard as I can to at least be able to stay in the U.S. until I graduate from college, then hopefully find my way to another country by then. The only thing that’s sure in my heart is that if/when I am deported, I’m never going back there, unless it’s to pick up a visa on my way to somewhere else. It might sound harsh, but I am just so different from their cultures and values that I would not thrive there at all.
What sacrifices have you made along the way and what opportunities have been lost to you?
This list could stretch on for pages. Up until my senior year in high school when I was 17, I honestly felt like everyone else and was treated like everyone else. My immigration status was “pending,” and that’s all I knew. Throughout my education, my teachers had all encourages me to do more, b/c they thought I had the potential to go far in life. I was one of the “smart kids,” and I didn’t have that many friends or much money, but I had my brain, and education was going to take me places! Sound very Dr. Seuss doesn’t it, à la Oh The Places You’ll Go. My grades in high school only made me more confident in my educational abilities, and I went on to score a 2190 on the SATs and graduate in the top 1% of my class of 1,000. My dream schools were Stanford and Yale and I was excited to begin college applications. I soon came to the inevitable question about residency. I looked at the options: U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or alien with a visa. I realized that I was none of the above, and I soon saw my college dreams crash around me. I was forced to downgrade to a school in state, so I chose the University of Texas, still a reputable institution. But senior year, our petition was denied, and all of a sudden, our murky future was even cloudier. I was forced to downgrade once again to the University of Houston, so that I could commute from home. I had been fed the message that with my good grades and hard work, I’d be able to get into the best schools with enough scholarship money to pay for everything. I believed in those promises, but when it came time for me to reap my reward, I found there was none. I see kids around me who could care less about school that are receiving grants and scholarships left and right. They drive new cars and wear nice clothes b/c they don’t have to worry about how to pay for school. They get internships to gain work experience that I can’t apply for. They have the option of working on campus, or working part-time for a little extra beer money, but I don’t have that flexibility. My life is consumed with school, work, and commuting, so I don’t have time to enjoy the college experience. I can’t join a sorority or play sports or join organizations and gain leadership experience b/c my life is filled with much greater responsibilities. I’m so young, yet I feel much older; I feel I’ve been robbed of an adolescence I’ll never be able to get back.
What is the highest level of education you have achieved? Have you faced obstacles to achieving your educational aspirations?
I am currently a college sophomore, and am majoring in math and finance. It will either take me three or four more years to graduate, depending on how my life goes from here. As of now, it does not seem that I will even be here in three or four years, and that’s the greatest obstacle to my educational career thus far. It’s one thing to take away my right to call the U.S. home, but it’s entirely different to rob me of an education that I’ve worked so hard for, therefore disabling me from succeeding anywhere else in the world I go without a college degree.
Describe the daily obstacles you face in the United States.
Every day I drive to school I drive in fear, not b/c I don’t have a license or am uninsured, but b/c cops remind me of INS officers. Every day I hope my car won’t break down, b/c it is my only means of transportation, and there’s barely any money to fill it with gas, not to mention expensive repairs. Every day I hope I can get up on time, b/c working all the time for minimum wage leaves me exhausted and unmotivated. Every day presents a series of mini-obstacles that result from being undocumented.
How do you deal with being “American” and not having the rights granted to American citizens? Are there any activities you partake in or anything you have done (or not) because you are undocumented?
There really is no way for me to deal wi
eing treated as a lesser being. It makes it so much harder to get up and face the world everyday, but you do it simply b/c you have no choice, and b/c maybe one day, things will be better. I have educated myself more about immigration as a whole, and it has really opened my eyes to the bigger picture, even beyond the DREAM Act. There are so many things I have not participated in b/c I am undocumented. Even mundane things, like subscribing to a magazine b/c I’m not sure if I’ll be deported soon and won’t be at the same address, or trying to make new friends in college, b/c new friends lead to questions about your life. There are so many things I cannot do that it simply isn’t beneficial to dwell on the matter.
Do you self-identify as a DREAMer? How else do you identify in your daily life?
I definitely self-identify as a DREAMer, even though I might not be able to take advantage of it once, not if, it passes. I identify as American, not African-American, or Nigerian-American, but simply American. I consider myself agnostic at the moment b/c it’s been hard to believe in the greater good and have faith when I’m being treated as if I’m less than human. I identify as a female, and aspire to be a strong, driven, independent female one day. I identify as a student, but not completely sometimes. I identify as a caretaker for my sister. Most importantly, I identify as a voice that has been silenced, as a forgotten victim of a very flawed system.
What are your greatest fears? My greatest fear, the one that consumes my thoughts incessantly, is that I’ll be deported. Even worse, I fear I’ll be deported even before I graduate from college. Even worse than that, I fear I’ll be deported without a degree and will have no other place to go than to my country of birth. It’s even more than a fear b/c it’s a very likely reality. Now it’s more a question of “when” than “if,” and the clock is ticking in my head. I also fear what my sister’s fate will be. Medically, I’m unsure (and doubtful) if Nigeria has the resources to sustain someone with such a complicated medical history as hers. I wonder what will happen to her as she grows older if she’s forced back to Nigeria. I wonder if my mother will ever be happy, and I fear that the alarmingly high levels of stress she’s lived with all these years will become so overwhelming they’ll cause serious damage. I fear for my future, or rather my lack of a future. I fear that I’ll always be the story of unrealized potential. I fear I’ll be another lost statistic.
And last but not least, what are your greatest dreams and hopes?
I have a policy these days of not thinking about what will happen if I’m ever legalized one day, b/c just the act of being legalized would be miraculous. I only hope to be able to graduate from college unencumbered, and for my life to be easier and less burdened than it is now. My dreams don’t involve cars or money, only the freedom to live.