Drop the I-Word is featuring “I Am…” stories every day this week in honor of Coming Out of the Shadows Week and in collaboration with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance. Today’s story comes from Tony in New York. Tony learned at the early age of 13 that he didn’t have documents when he discovered that he couldn’t travel abroad to play soccer, although he was qualified. The news didn’t derail his ambitions in life; he went on to become the first person in his family to go to college. Now, Tony takes part in the radical act of coming out as undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic. “We are made to live in fear. I no longer want to live in fear, no longer in the shadows. I exist. My dreams, my voice counts. We are no different from anyone else. We are not better than anyone, and no one is better than we are.”
On March 18, Drop the I-Word will participate in New York City’s Coming Out of the Shadows Rally from 2 to 8 p.m. at Union Square Park. If you are in New York City, please join us.
For the “I Am…” storytelling project, people from all walks of life relate experiences, demand respect and reject criminalizing language about immigrants. Stories are gathered in collaboration with our campaign partners. We are grateful to the National Immigrant Youth Alliance and New York State Youth Leadership Council for connecting us with Tony.
My name is Tony and I am FREE!
I found out I was undocumented when I was about 13 years old. I used to play soccer and my coach at the time had informed me about these tryouts that were being held in Queens, to form a team that would go to Italy to compete. My coach insisted that I should go try out and I did. Tryouts were held for about two weeks and I made the final list. In my mind, I was going to Italy. I was so excited. All I could think of was to run home and tell my mother the great news. I got home and ran up the stairs calling out for mom.
I told her the big news. She looked at me with this face that I will never forget. Everything around me froze; time ceased to exist. It was just my mother and I in the living room staring at each other. She suddenly began to cry. She sat me down and explained that I was not going to be able to go because of my status in this country. I was confused. Status? She said we were not here legally in this country. I was more confused, “illegal”? She told me that life was not going to be easy for me. She told me that it was going to be hard to get into college, to find a job, to be able to get a driver’s license, to travel.
I always dreamed of getting into college, since no one in my family had ever graduated from high school let alone gone to college. I figured I would be the first, yet what she was telling me made my goal seem near impossible. My dream was to get into college and I sure wasn’t going to let people tell me I couldn’t get in. In high school I worked hard and got excellent grades. I was part of the soccer team and senior year I was offered four scholarships to universities based on my achievements in soccer and for my good grades. I had to decline because of my status did not allow me to get the funding. Reality hit me in the face.
I always reminded myself why my parents brought me here; all their hard work and sacrifice would not go in vain. I refused to give up and quit. I applied to colleges and finally I was accepted to John Jay College here in New York City, and was able to attend without a scholarship. But I still think of the words that blocked my scholarships: We don’t give scholarships or monetary help to people who are “illegal.” That word made me feel like dirt and made me feel worthless. I began to ask, how can humans be “illegal”? Why would media, society, and politicians use the i-word? They made it seem like we were a sickness that people should stay away from. The i-word is a terrible word that should not be used. It is a huge step back and we need to move forward.
We are made to live in fear. I no longer want to live in fear, no longer in the shadows. I exist. My dreams, my voice counts. We are no different from anyone else, we are not better than anyone, and no one is better than we are. Nine dumb numbers do not define us. We DREAMers are people who have grown up here all our lives. This is our home. We can do something about creating a better future. It’s time to make a change and to break all these racial barriers and learn to understand each other learn to accept our differences and live free. Today, I come out publicly undocumented, unafraid, unapologetic and now I am FREE.