03 June 2011 ~ 37 Comments

Deconstructing the Dreamer Status

Angy’s post over at DreamActivist on D-Identity made me feel really proud today. It’s heartening to know that the spaces you have established and fueled are constantly refueled with critical thought and an honest accountability that is missing from most other movements. Here’s a small snippet:

During the battle for the federal DREAM Act last year many of our youth felt excluded and isolated themselves from the fight. The definition of dreamer became a 4.0 GPA valedictorian student who was part of every club/team, received every award and every scholarship. Senators presented these students during their floor speeches and those were the stories shown in the media, excluding all of our other youth. Where were the stories of the LGBTQ undocumented youth? The day laborers that qualify for the DREAM Act? When did they mention the mommy and daddy youth? What about the high school and college drop outs who can still apply? Did I miss the stories of the G.E.D holders?

There’s a clear tension between immigration reform advocacy and the movement for immigrant rights. Angy represents one of the few places where the circles intersect.

I remember when U.S. News and World Report came to my house back in 2007 to take some snapshots of my life for an accompanying article on the DREAM Act. The photo of an “ego wall” with plaques, degrees and medals is now infamous. But the photos that depicted my cultural background and tastes were discarded, and lost out to a constructed “Dreamer” identity, an identity that leaves out the parts of me that make me a complete human being.

A photo from US News and World Report photoshoot, not used for publication

A photo from US News and World Report photoshoot, not used for publication

Over time, I saw how parts of me were similarly discarded and truncated to fit a certain non-profit industrial complex (NPIC)-driven narrative. Editors would take out any mention of my love for Fiji (my place of origin) in my own story. Reporters would push me to narrate a linear “rags to riches” story. Most recently, I was told to produce a photo of myself that looked like a victim since it would help my deportation case. I’m constantly made out to be someone I am not. It’s racist, sexist, and homophobic. And it stops here.

I love Pakistani music. I’m utterly in love with the music, melodrama and attention to beauty that is prevalent in most commercial Bollywood movies. Hindi beats English as a language every second of every day–after all, we have twice as many alphabets and sounds. I am only three generations removed from Indian indentured servants in Fiji who were often treated worse than slaves. I was a city person raised in a farming village with lots of animals, a pious Hindu kid before my teenage years and I usually reduce it all to mean no red meat in my diet but poultry is great. When I was 13, an astrologer told my mom that according to my Hindu birth chart, I am half-man, half-woman. I struggled to understand whether I was transgender and straight or a plain old cisgender gay for a really long time. I’ve stopped trying to figure it out and constantly annoyed by those that ask me to pick a box.

I hold a cricket bat in my left hand, a tennis racket with my right and score on the soccer field with both feet. I have written 40 chapters of an epic love saga. My first job was at Taco Bell when I was 15 and my second one was as a janitor that continued till I was 24. I studied political economy and post-colonialism in graduate school and maintain membership with the American Association of Geographers and the Union of Radical Political Economists. If Michel Foucault and Karl Marx could conceive a brown lovechild, it would be me. I was raised by a married woman, who is a single mother and the sole-provider in my life. And I’m fighting to live in a country that I loathe because my parents brought me here for a better life, and I am now married to a wonderful American woman, and her entire family lives here. We cannot leave even if we want to leave. These facts are far more important to any narrative about me than my undergraduate G.P.A. or law school credentials.

Love is the only thing that drives and inspires me to do grand things. I helped form DreamActivist not because I care for some grand legalization project but because I made some awesome friends who I wanted to help. I wanted to be a computer engineer but I never took a single computer class. I taught myself how to create successful online communities because I harbored a huge crush on this Indian TV star back before the DREAM Act was a topic of household discussion. I aspire to be an island beach bum. But more than that, I just want love in my life.

Not everyone has the same linear trajectory of immigrant success packaged as the “American dream.” Some of us don’t even want any part or parcel in the nationalist project. Most of our lives don’t follow those trajectories. Every story is unique. Every story is important. The journey is more important than the destination.

Don’t count my diplomas. You’ll lose count. Listen to my heart-beats per second. It tells you all you would need to know.

  • Flavia Delafuente

    I love this so much. 🙂

  • Flavia Delafuente

    I love this so much. 🙂

  • Flavia Delafuente

    I love this so much. 🙂

  • mo god

    <3 great write up

  • mo god

    <3 great write up

  • mo god

    <3 great write up

  • Always enlightening, Prerna.  What do you think the response should be to this narrowly constructed sometimes suffocating identity?  Should we discard the term ‘dreamer’ or seek to expand what it means?

    • Hello Kyle. I don’t understand the need to truncate or narrow our unique and diverse lives into a singular categories. Some may prefer to be called “Dreamers” rather than undocumented (and illegal), because it removes the stigma of their immigration status. Others simply don’t want to be defined by their immigration status at all. It’s always nice to expand categories to be more inclusive, but maybe we ought to get rid of these arbitrary categories all together.

      • Is that realistic to expect, though?  I’ve had my own problems with identity, which I’m sure you’ve witnessed in some senses from afar.  I don’t pretend those problems can compare to what undocumented youth go through, much less what you’ve gone through, but it certainly was confusing growing up in Guatemala and having people deny my Guatemalanness.  The only way I could prove myself was through my Spanish, and growing up I can’t tell you how anxious I would get speaking Spanish sometimes.  

        I don’t worry about it so much anymore, and I’ve happily settled on a sort of hybrid identity as a Chapringo (Chapin for Guatemalan, and you know Gringo), which interestingly is very different from my sister who identifies very strongly and exclusively as a Guatemalan.  

        There was a time when I guess I wish could get rid of all of these arbitrary categories, but I’m not so sure anymore.  I think it’s important to recognize that these identities don’t define us, that they’re more like foils which reflect the different facets of the diamond that is the self.  And while these foils aren’t the actual diamond, we can’t deny that they shape us, sometimes in harmful ways and sometimes in beautiful ways.  

        Am I boring you and talking jibberish?  I guess I just see trying to eliminate categories altogether as tossing the baby out with the bathwater.  They will always be necessarily limiting but that doesn’t mean we throw them out.  There’s a danger of leading to nothingness there.  

        • There’s an essential difference between self-identifying with something and casting yourself in a state-constructed box or category. I neither appreciate nor care for the latter.

  • Always enlightening, Prerna.  What do you think the response should be to this narrowly constructed sometimes suffocating identity?  Should we discard the term ‘dreamer’ or seek to expand what it means?

    • Hello Kyle. I don’t understand the need to truncate or narrow our unique and diverse lives into a singular categories. Some may prefer to be called “Dreamers” rather than undocumented (and illegal), because it removes the stigma of their immigration status. Others simply don’t want to be defined by their immigration status at all. It’s always nice to expand categories to be more inclusive, but maybe we ought to get rid of these arbitrary categories all together.

      • Is that realistic to expect, though?  I’ve had my own problems with identity, which I’m sure you’ve witnessed in some senses from afar.  I don’t pretend those problems can compare to what undocumented youth go through, much less what you’ve gone through, but it certainly was confusing growing up in Guatemala and having people deny my Guatemalanness.  The only way I could prove myself was through my Spanish, and growing up I can’t tell you how anxious I would get speaking Spanish sometimes.  

        I don’t worry about it so much anymore, and I’ve happily settled on a sort of hybrid identity as a Chapringo (Chapin for Guatemalan, and you know Gringo), which interestingly is very different from my sister who identifies very strongly and exclusively as a Guatemalan.  

        There was a time when I guess I wish could get rid of all of these arbitrary categories, but I’m not so sure anymore.  I think it’s important to recognize that these identities don’t define us, that they’re more like foils which reflect the different facets of the diamond that is the self.  And while these foils aren’t the actual diamond, we can’t deny that they shape us, sometimes in harmful ways and sometimes in beautiful ways.  

        Am I boring you and talking jibberish?  I guess I just see trying to eliminate categories altogether as tossing the baby out with the bathwater.  They will always be necessarily limiting but that doesn’t mean we throw them out.  There’s a danger of leading to nothingness there.  

        • There’s an essential difference between self-identifying with something and casting yourself in a state-constructed box or category. I neither appreciate nor care for the latter.

    • Hello Kyle. I don’t understand the need to truncate or narrow our unique and diverse lives into a singular categories. Some may prefer to be called “Dreamers” rather than undocumented (and illegal), because it removes the stigma of their immigration status. Others simply don’t want to be defined by their immigration status at all. It’s always nice to expand categories to be more inclusive, but maybe we ought to get rid of these arbitrary categories all together.

      • Is that realistic to expect, though?  I’ve had my own problems with identity, which I’m sure you’ve witnessed in some senses from afar.  I don’t pretend those problems can compare to what undocumented youth go through, much less what you’ve gone through, but it certainly was confusing growing up in Guatemala and having people deny my Guatemalanness.  The only way I could prove myself was through my Spanish, and growing up I can’t tell you how anxious I would get speaking Spanish sometimes.  

        I don’t worry about it so much anymore, and I’ve happily settled on a sort of hybrid identity as a Chapringo (Chapin for Guatemalan, and you know Gringo), which interestingly is very different from my sister who identifies very strongly and exclusively as a Guatemalan.  

        There was a time when I guess I wish could get rid of all of these arbitrary categories, but I’m not so sure anymore.  I think it’s important to recognize that these identities don’t define us, that they’re more like foils which reflect the different facets of the diamond that is the self.  And while these foils aren’t the actual diamond, we can’t deny that they shape us, sometimes in harmful ways and sometimes in beautiful ways.  

        Am I boring you and talking jibberish?  I guess I just see trying to eliminate categories altogether as tossing the baby out with the bathwater.  They will always be necessarily limiting but that doesn’t mean we throw them out.  There’s a danger of leading to nothingness there.  

  • Always enlightening, Prerna.  What do you think the response should be to this narrowly constructed sometimes suffocating identity?  Should we discard the term ‘dreamer’ or seek to expand what it means?

    • Hello Kyle. I don’t understand the need to truncate or narrow our unique and diverse lives into a singular categories. Some may prefer to be called “Dreamers” rather than undocumented (and illegal), because it removes the stigma of their immigration status. Others simply don’t want to be defined by their immigration status at all. It’s always nice to expand categories to be more inclusive, but maybe we ought to get rid of these arbitrary categories all together.

      • Is that realistic to expect, though?  I’ve had my own problems with identity, which I’m sure you’ve witnessed in some senses from afar.  I don’t pretend those problems can compare to what undocumented youth go through, much less what you’ve gone through, but it certainly was confusing growing up in Guatemala and having people deny my Guatemalanness.  The only way I could prove myself was through my Spanish, and growing up I can’t tell you how anxious I would get speaking Spanish sometimes.  

        I don’t worry about it so much anymore, and I’ve happily settled on a sort of hybrid identity as a Chapringo (Chapin for Guatemalan, and you know Gringo), which interestingly is very different from my sister who identifies very strongly and exclusively as a Guatemalan.  

        There was a time when I guess I wish could get rid of all of these arbitrary categories, but I’m not so sure anymore.  I think it’s important to recognize that these identities don’t define us, that they’re more like foils which reflect the different facets of the diamond that is the self.  And while these foils aren’t the actual diamond, we can’t deny that they shape us, sometimes in harmful ways and sometimes in beautiful ways.  

        Am I boring you and talking jibberish?  I guess I just see trying to eliminate categories altogether as tossing the baby out with the bathwater.  They will always be necessarily limiting but that doesn’t mean we throw them out.  There’s a danger of leading to nothingness there.  

        • There’s an essential difference between self-identifying with something and casting yourself in a state-constructed box or category. I neither appreciate nor care for the latter.

  • thejval

    🙂 awesome post, Prerna! Also, I now am totally jealous of your impressive poster collection.

    • There’s more on the other wall 😛

  • thejval

    🙂 awesome post, Prerna! Also, I now am totally jealous of your impressive poster collection.

  • thejval

    🙂 awesome post, Prerna! Also, I now am totally jealous of your impressive poster collection.

  • kemee

    How did I miss the awesomeness that is this? <3 <3 <3 

  • kemee

    How did I miss the awesomeness that is this? <3 <3 <3 

  • kemee

    How did I miss the awesomeness that is this? <3 <3 <3 

  • gurleen

    totally in love with this post! <3 

  • gurleen

    totally in love with this post! <3 

  • gurleen

    totally in love with this post! <3 

  • gurleen

    totally in love with this post! <3 

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