Have you ever felt fear? Felt your lungs freeze, body still, heart pound? I have. Not at something as inconsequential as a horror movie, or a spider. They possess no real threat to my body, to my mind, to those I care about. Those fears feel trivial to me — especially when there are tangible threats in the world that hold the potential to harm me and my family.
My fear came in many waves at random times. Sometimes it came as a suffocating worry, and sometimes it created a sort of tunnel vision that forced me come face to face with my deepest fear. I would find myself in the cafeteria in high school, eating my favorite nachos, and my thoughts would travel to that place, and for a couple seconds, I would feel trapped. My friends who chatted amicably around me wouldn’t notice, they probably thought I had zoned out. I had grown skilled in hiding it. A smile here, a smile there, I shielded myself from having to address my pain openly.
I told myself I was fine, because that was all I could be. I felt I couldn’t express my feelings and thoughts to anyone. I couldn’t tell my parents I was scared for them. I couldn’t tell my little sister I worried for our parents. My fears over the security of my family, and the uncertainty for my future would only pile more stress onto the already immense load on their backs. It seemed unfair to add this on top of their worries to put food on the table, deal with conflicts at work, and keep our greedy landlord happy. I refused to give them more to deal with, so I put on a strong face for many years.
This distress turned into hurt after hearing vicious political discourse vilifying undocumented immigrants. Then the hurt manifested itself into pain, a pain that reared its ugly head at inopportune moments — when I watched my father walk our dog, or my mother cook my favorite food, or my sister read her favorite book. But I got used to it, I recognized it when it came, and I became superb at hiding it.
When I got into Harvard, the hurt lifted slightly. But a few months later, DACA was repealed and it returned in full force. This weight of fear has fluctuated over and over again: It lifted when the federal judge allowed for DACA renewal applications, and returned when families were tear-gassed at the border. It lifted when my DACA renewal was approved, and returned with the news of human rights atrocities in detention centers.
Much of my life has been dictated by these waves of ups and downs, and it is immensely frustrating to have these feelings caused by people who I do not know, who do not know me, and who will never know me, yet by some backwards design have the power to impose fear directly onto my life. Though I purposefully did well in school for myself and my family, my life did not feel like my own — not when my options were limited by people who did not care about me at the Capitol hundreds of miles away, not when my identity was attacked every time I turned on the television.
All these years, I suffered quietly. I realize now that this practice was dangerous. As I write this with tears clouding my eyes, I see that there is much that I still have to come to terms with, much introspection that I have left to do. But, while writing this brings up memories that hurt, I feel more liberated than I have ever felt before. I am choosing to write this and I am choosing to take steps to lift the weight and keep it off. It is my choice.
Much of it is attributed to the immigrant community at Harvard, the fearless student leaders I have met, and the personal growth that I have undergone on this campus. The worry is still there, and it will remain there until my place and the place of my family in this country is secured, but I’m not holding my tongue anymore. I am talking about my experiences more openly and addressing the issues that plagued me head on, and I have never felt more liberated in my life.
So, here’s to lifting my fear, and addressing it. I am an undocumented immigrant, living with DACA. And I am here to say goodbye to the fear that has ruled my existence for long enough.
Emily A. Romero ’21, a Crimson Associate Editorial Editor, is a joint concentrator in History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Cabot House.