Updated: May 7
I was brought here as a child and lived an extremely privileged life. During my childhood I wanted for nothing. A beautiful home, a dog, private education; life was so easy. Unbeknownst to me, I was only attending private school because I did not have a Social Security Number. Around 2006, a legislative change occurred that no longer required public schools to check SSNs and so I was transferred to public school. Even at this time, I did not find anything odd about this. Around this time my parents had told me I was undocumented but I did not really know what that meant by any means. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school, after my father’s death, that I discovered how truly limited I was as I transitioned into adulthood.
As part of the gym class rotation we were required to take driver’s education and then take the written driving exam. At the end of class one day the teacher announced that we would be required to show our Social Security Card to take the test and I remember my heart dropping. I pulled him aside after class and told him I didn’t have one. He looked at me with empathy and said I couldn’t take the test. I still had to go to class and watch as my classmates received their permits. But I moved on. For the next ten years I would use a combination of buses, trains, ubers and friends to get around. This would be the first of many times I would be knocked down only to get up and find another way.
As we moved into our senior year, we started talking about college! Such an exciting time to not be an undocumented immigrant as I again watched everyone around me apply for financial aid and apply to their dream schools. It was around this time I discovered I wasn’t eligible for most private scholarships either. There was nothing more nerve-wracking that having to tell an adult that you couldn’t go here or there and that you couldn’t afford it and trying to tip toe around the “undocumented” conversation with complete strangers.
No one really understood and this became clear to me when I was pulled out of class and brought into the principal’s office where I was interrogated about why I wasn’t applying to more prestigious schools. At this point I was an average student, I wasn’t going to be a neurosurgeon or anything extravagant so I was shocked that I was being pulled in and basically told that I was wasting my potential already. I had decided to go to the local county college because it was all I could afford and even then New Jersey still had not passed the bill that allowed undocumented immigrants to not be treated as international students so even going to county college, I would’ve been paying triple the price as everyone else even though I’ve lived in the county for basically my entire life. I am extremely grateful for the few scholarships I did receive and that they did not have a citizenship requirement. I remember standing in the guidance office flipping through the folders that held the scholarship information and desperately searching for ones that made no reference to citizenship. It was a time where I felt truly isolated from my peers and the adults in the room only made it worse with the tactics they were using to push kids into paths they couldn’t afford.
Provincetown, Cape Cod