The following was written by a Friday Harbor High School junior. All FHHS and Griffin Bay School students write a personal essay as part of a Washington state public school requirement.
As I stare at the TV watching the news on what’s going to happen next with the Latino community, I can hear my parents taking a deep breath. I can’t help but think what’s going to happen to me and my little brother. I’ve grown up my whole life living in fear of what is becoming a reality. Never in my life have I thought about what it’s going to be like without my family support as I get older.
Growing up as a Mexican-American was really difficult. Discrimination was a big part of my childhood. As I was growing up, I had to face being discriminated against almost every day. There was not one day in elementary school that my friends and I would be yelled at for speaking Spanish. Since most people here couldn’t speak Spanish, they would get quickly offended, thinking we were talking about them when we weren’t. I remember being in first grade and getting pulled out to go somewhere else. I didn’t know where I was going, but when I entered the room, I saw all the Mexicans in there. At the time, we didn’t know what “ELL” was. When we were younger, we didn’t think much about it … until now that we are older. Looking back, we realized the teachers thought we couldn’t speak English. However, I wasn’t just discriminated against in the broader American culture, but also in the Mexican culture. When we couldn’t pronounce something in Spanish or didn’t know what a word meant, we were quickly judged by Mexicans. It was seen as bad to embrace one culture more than the other.
There is not one time in my life that I don’t remember being scared of deportation. Growing up, I remembered that my siblings, friends and I were missing school because we were in hiding. I remember this one time that I thought that I was never going to see my dad ever again in my life. In 2005 one night, I remember my mom grabbing my siblings and me around midnight and taking us into hiding with her in her room. I saw the fear in her eyes, which made me question where my dad was. My mom told us he’d be back, but something made me and my siblings not believe her. We started crying and then we heard a knock outside. We instantly started crying more when our mom left to answer the door. No one knew how much a knock on the door would terrify us. I remember seeing my dad with holes in his clothes from running away. Whenever the immigration enforcement agents were on the island, we had family and friends bring us food from the store because all the adults were scared to leave the house. Being a child, the only thing we looked up to was praying to God that our family wouldn’t be separated.
Raised by immigrant parents, I now know education is more important than what people realize. Ever since we started our education, we were always told by our family members to do well in school and not take it for granted. You never realize why they always say that until you learn they didn’t get the opportunity to study the way we do. Most of the time, the eldest kids only go to school until fifth grade because they have to help support their family’s household. The one thing that our parents want for us is to succeed in life. Our parents are literally risking their lives so we can get a better shot in life. In some cases, our parents have not seen their family in over 20 years just so we don’t suffer like how they did. The struggle of having family in a different country is not being able to be there when tragedy strikes.
In April of 2016, I recall how scared my siblings and I were for my mom. Her brother was murdered, and she was the closest to him out of all her siblings. I remember having to beg my mom to stay here and not go to Mexico because if she did, she wouldn’t be able to return. Seeing her going through that emotional trauma makes you realize how much they are suffering here for us. My whole family in Mexico begged her not to go because if she did she wouldn’t be able to see us again. As a child, you don’t realize everything that your parents have sacrificed for you until you question why they push you as much as they do to succeed in life. Coming to a new country with a new language would be hard for anyone to adapt. Since we are bilingual, our parents rely on us more than a typical family. When it comes to scheduling meetings, appointments, and so on, no one expects, nor realizes, that it’s a 13-year-old behind the phone. Never in my life did I think that I had to be mentally and physically prepared for the dangers that may await us.