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Guests in Our Country

“We still feel that we’re a guest in someone else’s house … that we can never really relax and put our feet on the table” —Ronald T. Takaki

“Uno siempre anhela tener una sala bonita con un comedor bonito y, pues, no. Tampoco se arriesga uno a comprar una sala bonita porque de pronto hoy estamos aquí y mañana no.”

And so my mom recounts her feelings to me one day, of not being able to fully settle in our home. She has not been able to buy the furniture she desires for so long because our future is uncertain. New furniture is an investment we can’t risk.

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“No puede uno vivir, en ese sentido, tranquilo porque no sabe que va a pasar mañana.”

My family still resides in the same apartment we moved into when we first came to the United States. We’ve been here for over 16 years now. But we have to take it as it comes. I see my parents’ gratitude in what we have. We’ve been able to have a relatively peaceful experience, taking it day by day, week by week, year by year.

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I remember conversations of other housing options we could have. I remember talk of moving to another state or looking for an apartment with more space. But the conversations never developed into anything bigger. We take it as it comes.

“En ese sentido uno también se sacrifica. Pero eso lo escogimos.”

My mom sees all this as a sacrifice she made for her children. My parents immigrated in search of a better future, not necessarily for them, but for their children. They have been stuck in place, following their routines for years so my siblings and I could move forward. We can dream because of them. But we still face so much uncertainty ourselves.

My parents had goals for us to get an education, even if they couldn’t. But because of my immigration status, I never saw college as much of an option until I saw how well I was doing in school. I inherited my parents’ goals and plans for my future, which drove me forward and kept me motivated throughout high school.

While my goals continue to drive me at Harvard, they also scare me. The uncertainty of the future scares me. I felt this uncertainty more strongly after the presidential election. Only months into my freshman year of college, I didn’t know what to expect. My future felt out of my control.

More uncertainty was added when the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was announced. As one of the lucky recipients, I had begun to find comfort in some sense of stability it gave. Even if it wasn’t a path to citizenship, I thought I at least had the option to work after college. I had heard stories of a family member who had to go back to Colombia after graduating because his degree did him no good without a work permit.

I couldn’t really set my mind to a goal without thinking about the things that could get in the way of it. Life planning takes another level when you’re undocumented; there are things you have to take into account when trying to figure out and plan for your future. It’s not just about what you want to do, but also about what options are open to you.

I am beginning to think about what my next few years could look like. This summer, I plan to do research in cities on the U.S.’s southern border. I originally had a different plan, but had to change it because my DACA expires before next summer. I’m not sure if I’d be able to have the same protection going through possible border checkpoints then. With the expiration of my DACA, I may also end up losing my job in the admissions office.

As I look into post-college options, I see graduate school as an option right out of Harvard because I’m still not sure if I will be able to work. I have talked to other undocumented students in graduate school to try to get some guidance for this process I’d like to undertake. But a five-year program still sounds like more than I can comfortably sign myself up for.

With all the hardships that can come with the end of DACA, it is also important to acknowledge that most of the undocumented community is already experiencing this. People who didn’t qualify for DACA do not fear losing the privileges of working and protection from deportation because they never had access to them to begin with. They have lived in constant limbo.

When I talked to my mom that day, I was reminded of all this uncertainty. We have yet to be granted a permanent spot in the country we have lived in for 16 years. We are still just guests—living out of a suitcase, careful not to pick up too many souvenirs from a country that could decide we have overstayed our welcome at any point.

We keep taking it as it comes, hoping that one day we’ll find enough assurance to buy the nice furniture my mom has always wanted.

Laura S. Veira-Ramírez ’20, a Crimson editorial editor, is a History and Literature concentrator living in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.

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