Earlier this summer, I read the book: We Are Americans: Undocumented Students Pursuing the American Dream by William Perez and Daniel G. Solorzano. My intention was to broaden my worldview, as I truly believe it is the responsibility of student affairs professionals to continually do so. The book mainly contained narratives of real-lived experiences that were each only a few pages in length.
I encourage anyone without personal experience with the process of documentation in the United States to read the book. I know the book is not the end all, be all, of the naturalization process for those who experience it. However, I do believe that the more educated we become about the topic, the better. If you’re like me and had the privilege to become a citizen simply by being born here, this is especially true.
That said, I am someone who has only ever considered the citizenship process from a distance. I’ve known three people who went through it and none of them are Mexican. I raise that point because I often only hear about undocumented people in relation to people who come from Mexico. Thus, it was a bit unsurprising that this book contained all stories of Mexican (or American depending on your perspective) people and their path to citizenship in the United States. Even with this limited scope, there was a lot to learn.
All of the narratives were of individuals who came to the U.S. as children WITHOUT choice and are high achieving. High achieving, that is, until we (the U.S.) get in the way. For example, one student wanted to become a doctor, another a lawyer, another a teacher. They all have the skills and abilities to do so. These professions seem admirable to me and each of them paid their own tuition. The trouble comes when they graduate and need a social security number to either continue their education or seek employment.
Furthermore, the individuals shared that they were encouraged to work hard, and did, but without knowing what the next step might be. Often, only after they completed high school and wanted to attend college or fulfill a job application, they found out they didn’t have the proper documentation. I had not given much thought to this before and it certainly caused me to reframe what it means to be undocumented. Yes, I’m certain that there are people who are fully aware that they are undocumented, but I learned there are often people who do not know. I can only imagine what it might feel like to suddenly be told that news. This is a more complex view of a narrative that is placed in our minds by society.
A final surprising point that has hung in my mind all summer is how many of the stories noted that school in the US was easy compared to Mexico. Yes, they found the English language, and later not having the proper documentation, a challenge. But beyond that, schoolwork wasn’t hard. This point stuck out to me because it further highlighted some potential concerns with our current educational system. It underlined the importance of asking ourselves what we are doing when we think we are helping students to learn.
Perhaps you were already aware of the points I raised. If not, I certainly encourage learning more about the undocumented student experience for all within higher education in general. If nothing else, it can expand our viewpoints.