Fear has been a consistent companion throughout my life. Hiding in shadows had become synonymous to existence since the day light was shed on the intricacies of my immigration status. I spent my early years in an aura of blissful ignorance that I lost at the age of 15 years. After all, we cannot stay ignorant of truth forever. Retreating into an abyss of confusion and despair, I lost all hope of a future for a long time and left my dreams to the discretion of others. At some point after my father’s deportation, I grew weary of this underground lifestyle and took action.
Cradled in my mother’s arms, I arrived in New York City at the age of 12 months from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil unaware of the major changes that my parents had made. I was raised for the first half of my life in the city oblivious to all the challenges my parents faced as immigrants in a foreign land. A straight “A” student in school, I was an over-achiever and took my studies seriously, especially when my parents stressed daily that education was the lifeblood of a successful future. Looking back on those younger days, I wasn’t worried about not achieving a successful future; I knew I was American and I was equal to my fellow students. The wheels of change started to turn on September 11th, 2001 after the terrorist attacks. This was the year that the immigration laws began to change from opportunity to oppression and the year my parents resolved on moving to Florida.
Continuing my academics in the Sunshine State, I maintained excellent grades through my completion of middle school. I began that arduous and compelling journey through high school ready for the challenges I would face, or so I thought. It was my sophomore year on my 15th birthday that the ugly face of truth was unmasked. I remember that morning like it was yesterday when I shot out of bed and ran to my parent’s bedroom as though I had wings on my feet, unaware that those were my last moments in that blissful ignorance. Pushing open the door I exclaimed, “I’m ready Mom and Dad! Let’s go to the DMV and get my driving permit!” Glancing furtively at each other, my parents said, “We’re sorry, you can’t go. You don’t have papers, you are not American.” As the truth began to sink in, I returned to my bedroom and sat on my bed. The tears began to fall in torrents as a tornado of thought raged in my mind. “How am I not American as I was alphabetized in English? How am I not American when I cannot write or read Portuguese? Why am I being punished for a decision I did not have any input in making?”
Lies had become my scapegoat throughout the rest of my high school career as my friends were beginning to drive and enjoy other privileges I could not partake in. How could I explain to them that I couldn’t do these simple things because the law states that I am a criminal? I continued to focus on my academics, but there was a turning point at the onset of my senior year that left me with no hope for the future. I met with my counselor and later with a few immigration attorneys who expressed that I could not attend an institute of higher learning because of my status. Crushed by the prospects of not attending college, I lost interest in school and was forced to graduate in the summer of 2006. I graduated with a 3.6 GPA, although I knew I could have done much better if I would have had the proper motivation. I sat with my graduating class that summer holding back tears at the prospect of not moving forward with my education and the inability to exercise my dreams.
The last five years that followed high school were spent working in the underground economy of undocumented immigrants. Living in a tourist city, I worked mostly in retail where speaking Portuguese was a requirement. Two years ago my father was detained by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents after he was arrested for driving without a valid license. His deportation after 10 months in prison left my family in shambles and constant fear. I continued to work with no hope for the future as my family continued to face the difficulties of day-to-day life. About three months ago, I began to follow immigration news through the Twitter profile of an organization called United We Dream (UWD). I was intrigued by UWD and its mission of fighting for the rights of immigrant youth. Soon afterwards, I came into contact with Timothy Farrell, who got me involved with the immigration movement.
Today, I am a member of the Florida Immigrant Youth Network, a coalition of different organizations fighting for the freedoms of immigrants around the state. I stand with confidence of a better future today because I have chosen to shed my fear and take up arms for the families and youth that live in fear and hide in the shadows. I cannot sit idly by as we are oppressed by the current immigration laws that are separating our families and destroying the hopes of our youth. Tired of lying, hiding, running, and crying, I choose to fight for the people that suffer. One day, Timothy called me and forwarded me the information of the Campaign for an American DREAM. As I read over the materials, my heart began to pound and I knew this where I needed to be. So, in January 2012, I will start a trek of 3,000 miles across the country with my fellow brothers and sister not for me, but for you, the people.