As I stand in front of a mirror in my room, I start counting the scars and bruises that life has left stamped on my body throughout nineteen years. Some are visible, some are not, but I can see every single one of them. I can point at them and know what caused them. They are all over me, on my skin, on my voice, on my thoughts, on my soul. But it is not my scars what I am worried about; in fact, I carry them as badges of honor, as trophies. It is my open wounds what worry me. These wounds that are still bleeding wear me down, and although I try to endure them and to patch them up to stop them to drain me, they seem never to heal. But these wounds are not the product of flagellation; they are the product of borders that cut me and mark my life, just like the US-Mexico border cut Gloria Anzaldua in half. However, I have had many borders throughout my life. Some have cut deeper than others while some are still cutting, but the truth is that they all have injured me in different levels. And right now, the border that inflicts the most pain and obstacles on me is also the US-Mexico border.
Although my borders are usually created and heightened by outside forces, the border created by my status as an undocumented student is something I brought upon myself when my mother and I decided to live here illegally. It would be illogic and absurd for me to deny that my situation is the product of outside factors. I abused of my tourist visa by staying in this country, and for that I take full responsibility. However, I do not apologize for wanting to have a better life and a better future. I know that my residency in this country is not wanted by millions because I have heard their arguments; they play like a broken record as I walk through the streets. Ever since I came here, I have tried to become a legal resident, but it is never easy to cross a border, especially the US-Mexico border. True, I am living in the US, but I feel that I still have not crossed the border completely. I feel that my immigration status is an open wound that keeps on opening and bleeding as the US-Mexico border gets taller and harder to climb. For four years, I have tried to mend my situation, to stitch up the cut, but I have met with many dead-ends.
Nevertheless, my situation is complicated and unique, a legal anomaly that has astonished every immigration lawyer my mom has talked to. All these different lawyers with different years of experience, different backgrounds, different fees and rates, but with the same answer: no. You see, six years ago in 2011, my father was taken away by the cartels because he refused to give them his truck. For months, the police and the military1searched for him with no results, and as time passed, we were getting to the conclusion that he was not going to come back. The cartels never asked for money, and the police never found a body. It was as if he was suddenly erased from the phase of the earth. After he disappeared, my family’s fear of going through the same grew even bigger as did the fear of everyone in the states affected by the inseguridad, which is the name that the people give to the wave of violence and crime. My father and I were not that close; I was eight years old when my parents separated, and even before that, I do not recall us being close. However, those people took away, with my father, any chances of us ever having a good relationship in the future. They also took away my sense of safety, and my mother knew that. It was then when she decided that it was better for us to move with her boyfriend who was living in the US. And so, we left everything behind to start a new life. My mom got married with her boyfriend, who has always taken good care of us. She is going to become a legal resident soon, but since she never got divorced from my dad and had to wait five years for my dad to be declared deceased, I turned 18 before the marriage; therefore, I was not included into the household.
My legal status is invisible. As my accent fades, I can blend more easily and pass of as American. But I have always felt different. I feel as if I am not a real person at times, as if I am lower than anyone who was born in this country or has proper documentation to live here. I try to burry this feeling by putting as much effort as I can on my academics. All throughout high school, I tried to give my best, to stand out and to give back to the community. I have come to fall in love with America; I have embraced the American culture, learned its history, praise its flag, and recite its pledge. I will never forget Mexico and my culture, but I love this country just as much because it has given me so much; nevertheless, it has taken away from me many liberties, such as the freedom to travel back to Mexico or further north. Sometimes I feel like a bird in a golden cage, like a prisoner in the land of the free, like a coward in the land of the brave. There is a constant cloud of fear that hovers over me every day, yet I do not let it rain and ruin my life. I try to live my life as if I am free, because in many aspects I am. Although there is the fear of being deported, it cannot be compared to the fear of getting killed or losing my mother.
Suddenly, the mirror becomes a window to the past, and I see myself in a car, 15 years ago, on the International Bridge that connects Brownsville, Texas with Matamoros, Mexico.
I remember going para el otro lado almost twice per month. My travels to the United States became a routine to little 6-year-old me. I knew the process by heart; wake up early in the morning, drive from San Fernando to Matamoros, wait in line for our car to cross the bridge, smile at the border patrol officer, endure hours of walking through boring stores, and eating stale fried chicken from Church’s. And if I survived all of this, I was rewarded with a toy. That was all the US meant to me: boring stores, greasy chicken, and toys, lots of toys.
While we were waiting in line, I would stare at a plaque on the middle of the bridge that would read on one side “United States of America” and on the other Estados Unidos Mexicanos. To me, it was funny that we had to wait hours in line to enter the United States when all we had to do was cross the Rio Bravo2—which to me did not even seem that deep or that “bravo”. I would tell my mom that I could swim that river and get to the other side if I wanted to. She would laugh and say, “Ay ‘mijo, no es tan fácil. Ese río es peligroso y traicionero. Muchos tratan de cruzarlo y nunca llegan3.” And I would stare puzzled at the river that appear to be so calm and shallow.
Now, I understand what my mother was trying to say. It is not that the fact that some people have drowned trying to cross the river what makes it dangerous and deceiving; it is the fact that people think it is going to be easy to cross the river and get to the other side, but they fail to realize that one never finishes crossing the river. Los mojados like me do not get dried so easily. I am still drenched in guilt and shame even though I never touched the water of the Rio Grande. I still have not crossed the border of my immigration status, and it may take me years to cross it as it only gets taller and taller. But I have learned to keep on climbing despite not knowing if I am getting closer to the top. I know that sooner or later, the wounds that my borders leave behind heal. Sometimes the cut remains open for years, and I might even get used to the pain at times, but I know that borders are not eternal. Nevertheless, it is possible that I may never get to become a US citizen, especially with this new government that keeps on closing doors for me, but I know that I am living my American Dream even if I might get woken up at any minute. But I know that I can dream again.