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“Number 13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?”
I read the question out loud from the New York Times’ “36 Questions That Lead to Love,” as a bonding exercise for our small group of leaders. As we prepared to welcome freshmen to campus, some of us prepared to enter our last year of college. Reality was hitting that we were now seniors and we’d have to figure out post-grad plans.
I looked around the group to see if anybody else had an answer. I knew mine immediately, but I had to think about how to accurately phrase it. A few others responded before I gave my answer.
“I would want to know when I’ll no longer be undocumented.”
The first thought that came to my mind was when I would get my green card but I held off on saying that because I honestly don't know if I ever will get a green card or a path to citizenship. No longer being undocumented for me could mean a path to citizenship, but it could also mean leaving the United States, either willingly or forcibly, due to inhumane immigration policies or continued inaction.
“Do you think you would do things differently if you knew?” My co-leader followed up with her own question.
“Yea,” the question caught me off guard because it opened up what paths I might take if I had the privilege of more stability in this country and the possibility to leave knowing I’d be able to return. “I think it would help me form a plan for graduate school and could give me a better idea if I could do something with international studies.”
I thought more about what even knowing would mean. It would provide a sliver of stability because nothing is guaranteed.
One of the first things I learned to do when looking for scholarships, jobs, fellowships, etc. was to find the section for eligibility requirements. That’s how I knew if I should even bother reading the rest of the ad or website. I had to make sure I qualified first — before I got my hopes up, before I got too excited about the opportunity.
When you’re undocumented you put up your own walls to daily conversations that remind you of what you can’t do. Put your walls up to friends’ vacations or trips abroad. Train yourself to respond without showing too much emotion when people ask you if you’ve been back to visit your home country since you came. Keep a smile on your face when they find out where you’re from and try to connect with you by telling you about the time they visited the country you can’t go back to.
At Harvard, it means being met with constant advertising for studying abroad. It means not knowing what to respond when asked if you’d like to register to vote. It means hearing about all the great things your friends are applying for that you convince yourself you weren’t interested in anyway. It means people assuming every door will be open for you once you get your diploma. But you can’t find the door. You don’t see an opening. All you see is a wall.
My undocumented community has thrived in this country with the scraps that we have worked so hard for. We find ways to survive and take our lives into our own hands. We learn to find a home in our liminality. We find ways to take control when everything feels so out of control. This is our reality that often feels very lonely and hopeless.
The future remains unknown. My future is still uncertain as I feel the pressures around me to have a plan for what to do after I graduate. Time is ticking for seniors everywhere, but the anxiety about the future hits differently for us.
Laura S. Veira-Ramirez ’20, a Crimson editorial editor, is a joint concentrator in History and Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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