I didn’t cry because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready. From time to time, the memories of the night my aunt shared news of my grandma’s passing come flooding in. My mother’s cries linger. Who would have predicted that our goodbye – ten years ago, when my mom and I decided to come to the United States – would be so final. That goodbye was not supposed to be a real goodbye, but a mutual acknowledgment that one day we would see each other again. Over the years, our calls had served as brief and sobering reminders of my limitations as a non-citizen and of my invisibility.
They all started with the same “How are you?” and ended with the same “We are doing fine.” There was no point in telling my grandma the truth. I didn’t tell her about our constant moves from rented room to rented room or how I had no idea how I would be able to go college or if I’ll ever be able to work. I didn’t tell her about the internship application I eagerly filled out only to realize after that I needed to be a U.S. citizen to be eligible. I didn’t tell her about my driver’s education class I was required to take even though I will never be able to drive. I didn’t tell her about my cousins’ cries as their father was taken away from them. I didn’t tell her about how even though my mother pays taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), we would never be afforded access to health care or assisted living, which drove us to rent rooms in the first place, since a one-room apartment or even a studio would account for more than half of my mother’s monthly salary. I couldn’t bear to tell her about how invisible and helpless I felt. I couldn’t bear to miss her, for I knew I wouldn’t be able to ever see her. Staying away and letting the years make us strangers was easier. So, I stopped calling.
For a long time, I’ve kept this anger to myself. I felt alone in it. I felt invisible. But in moments like these, I think about my grandma. She was the matriarch of our family. Her resilience and strength compel and inspire me. I owe it to her to never stay silent, to fight to make a future that seems impossible possible, and to make the stories of those who are invisible, visible.
I can’t really pinpoint the first time I became politically engaged. I can’t remember a moment where politics wasn’t on my mind. I share this feeling with all people who have been disenfranchised and who face uncertainty day in and day out: DACA students who are at the mercy of the law; families who rely on Obamacare to stay alive, whose lives are contingent on a court case; women, especially poor women of color, whose reproductive rights are being infringed upon; children who are too young to vote but whose lives and futures are affected the most by present decisions; Black people who are crucified by an unfair justice system; immigrant, undocumented families who are forced to live in the shadows; all people who continue to face injustice and are silenced and made invisible.
So, I urge you to do what I cannot do: vote. Vote to make our voices and stories visible. Vote to validate our experiences. Vote for a future that is just. Vote because you can.
*The Children’s Defense Fund has had the great privilege to meet and work with young people from all across the country, some of whom have chosen to share their stories with us. This young person has chosen to be identified by a pseudonym.