by Fadel Allasan
Your life can change in the blink of an eye. I hate to start off with such a tacky cliche, but it’s an appropriate way to describe what happened to me when I was 11 years old.
On what seemed to be an ordinary Tuesday afternoon for me, I found out that my dad had been offered a job at the International Monetary Fund, an organization headquartered in Washington DC. By Thursday that same week, we had settled into a new home in Ashburn, Virginia, which is halfway around the world from where we had previously lived: Skopje, Macedonia. My family would be given a five-year work visa that was active as long as my father worked for the IMF.
I didn’t know a word of English, nor was I at all familiar with American culture. I had never eaten fast food. I had never watched a Star Wars movie. I had never tipped my waiter. I hadn’t even ever heard of American Football, or as you probably call it: Football. All the characteristics of American culture were so foreign to me, but here, I was the foreigner.
However, I was thrilled to be in what I believe is the greatest country in the world, I still am. My family was pretty well-off financially in Macedonia, and although my father made less money when we moved to the states, the standard of living is so much better here than in so many other countries that it more than made up for the somewhat significant disparity in our income —just one of the many reasons why America is often called “the land of opportunity”.
Life at home was not so pleasant, however. My mother discovered that my father had been cheating on her and the relationship that had been strong for over two decades was broken. My parents began fighting almost daily until, in a manner that seemed so sudden to my young mind, my father decided to desert my mother and his two children, he returned to Macedonia. With my father no longer employed in the states, the rest of my family’s legal status was revoked. In another “blink of an eye” moment, my family was a family of illegal immigrants.
Our lifestyle changed drastically. We were essentially fugitives and had to keep an extremely low profile or risk being deported. Our chances of survival if we were deported back to Macedonia were much slimmer than if we stayed in the states. Why? Because the United States has much better upward mobility than most countries.(Editor’s note: upward mobility is the ability to climb up the social ladder, increase your wages etc.) My mother was unemployed and without a college degree. Without my father to support us, we needed to be in a social environment that was as helpful as possible.
We were dirt poor and surviving off of the little money that my father had given to my mother before he left. The free and reduced lunch program at my public school meant that I was still able to eat a little regularly. But in the summers I ate Cup of Noodles three times a day for years— breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Although we tried to mask the monotony of our meals by switching up the flavors for every meal, they all tasted the fucking same. I still hate the taste of Cup of Noodles 10 years later.
Our meals began to taste better when my mother found a job as a maid, it was the best job she could find due to her inability to speak English. She saved her money and was able to go to school to be trained as a nurse. She would be a maid during the day and attend classes at night for a couple years until she finally graduated and was able to get a much better paying job as a nurse.
I don’t know where I would be today without my mother’s resilience. Her strength kept our mentally battered family alive at a time when the odds were stacked heavily against us. Today, I’m a junior at a respectable four-year university and my sister graduated from one of the top private colleges in America and has a well-paying job.
Unlike many people who lived here undocumented, my family was lucky. Just when we thought it was impossible to change our legal status, in what seemed like another blink of an eye, we became citizens of the United States of America.
Mexican immigrants come from conditions of extreme poverty, concurrent with the threat of being murdered every day by the dangerous drug cartel. They come to America for a chance at survival. They gladly do the laborious jobs that Americans refuse to do, playing an important role in our economy.
While my experience contrasts the typical Mexican immigrant’s in many ways, there are some semblances in our respective experiences: We are drawn to the United States by the prospect of opportunity— a shot at a better life. Upward income mobility is what created the American dream— the idea that you may not have the life you want now, but work hard enough and one day you will.
I lived in poverty as do many Mexicans who receive extremely low wages. Not only does not speaking English hold you back, but only a select amount of jobs are available to those who are not legally allowed to work, often times, they are the jobs that no one else will do.
I wrote this piece not to ask for the sympathy of those who share the views of Donald Trump, but to ask those people to at least understand why it is that Mexicans cross the border. If those same people that hate illegals were positioned south of the border, they would risk their lives to escape too.
Illegal immigrants aren’t evil people, they’re simply searching for a better life for themselves and their children. They pursue the same happiness that we all do as humans. They know that although their situation is bleak now, life can change in the blink of an eye, they’re simply looking for a place where they have at least the opportunity for it to do so.