close up of the face of the Statue of Liberty

Immigrant by Jaime Grajeda

They are often called “criminals” or “a threat to society” by mainstream media and politicians. They are misunderstood, looked down upon, and even hated. You’ve seen the word before—immigrant. It is used to describe those who are from unfamiliar places. What is an immigrant? I will show you first-hand what an immigrant is, what an immigrant does, what an immigrant dreams to become. Here I am, in an unfamiliar environment. Confused, hungry, poor, with no money, no education. It is clear to see, even at a young age, that the odds are stacked against me. You ask what it is like to be an immigrant. It is hard; it is pain; it is ugly; it is beautiful. To become an immigrant, it is worth it.

At three years old, I was brought to the United States from Cuauhtemoc Chihuahua, Mexico. The son of parents who didn’t even finish middle school, I was taught at an early age that the key to success was education. It was evident to see the truth to that statement; my dad worked hard labor jobs that tore his body apart to scrape up change to keep a roof over my head. My mother, working fast food making less than minimum wage, did all she could to provide food and support for her children. When I started elementary school, I was painted a beautiful picture by my parents. I was blessed with the opportunity to go to school, blessed to live in a country with limitless opportunities. It was up to me, not my environment, to decide how I would live my life.

To be an immigrant is to be lost, confused about your identity. By second grade, I fully developed my bilingual ability and spoke fluent English. I was not yet aware at this point, that I was different.  I first noticed at parent-teacher conferences. I marveled at the structured conversations my teachers would have with my friends’ parents. It was clear to see that my teachers had trouble communicating ideas to my parents without, and I soon became their interpreter. Up until this point in my life, I didn’t know what it was like to be an immigrant, to be different than most of those around me.  It became my goal to become well-spoken and educated, to learn to speak freely, to articulate ideas effortlessly as my teachers did. I got involved with a battle of the books; I got involved in many English classes, but this all came with a price. My grandmother often visited us from Mexico. I always loved when she came and shared old folktales from Mexico, but at the beginning of 4th grade, things changed. I could no longer communicate with my grandma. I struggled with forming full sentences with her; I began to forget how to speak Spanish. My mother became infuriated at the idea of me not being able to speak to my own family, in my own language. She made it her mission to make sure I could speak Spanish just as easily as I could speak English. This made it difficult for me to understand who I am.

To be an immigrant is to frequently question your identity. For a young immigrant, it is common to lose the cultural characteristics that were instilled in them from the place they were born. As a Mexican child, I grew up seeing my uncles dressed in alligator boots and unique cowboy hats. They listened to music that I thought at the time, only belonged to them because I never heard those songs on the radio. When my parents took me to Quinceaneras, I was astonished at the dancing. It was as if it belonged in a world of its own. Small differences like these made my world extremely big. Immigrants share the same variety of experiences through incredibly different lenses—no two immigrants will share the same experience in the same country. But they will share the same legal challenges in order to become citizens.

It is often seen that undocumented immigrants live off the taxes of the citizens of the United States, and that could not be further from the truth. Illegal immigrants don’t have the proper documentation to even apply for welfare and are often left to fend for themselves. Many non- immigrants believe that the country in which they reside hand out visas to everyone who applies, and that the immigrant receives the same benefits as the citizen. Visas, passports, NHS charges, biometric and priority fees cost thousands of dollars and can take years to process, which disables many to immigrate to their desired country. Following these fees comes uncertainty. Immigrants live with a status of precariousness, even a green-card holder can be deported if not careful. Something as small as a speeding ticket can be enough to detain and deport an undocumented immigrant, and these are risks that most are not willing to take. Nothing is guaranteed to an immigrant.

While it is often burdensome to be an immigrant, it is keystone to a great civilization. In a report authored by Robert W. Fairlie (professor of Economics University of California), it was found that immigrants are increasingly likely to start a business. The rate at which immigrants start new businesses grew by more than 50 percent between 1996 and 2011. It is shown that immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $775 billion in sales and more than $100 million billion in income in 2010. It is important to note that highly skilled immigrant workers also create new jobs in America. Even manual labor jobs that are filled by immigrants help supplement the growth of our economy, for every farm job that is filled by an immigrant, there are three jobs created in related industries. *

Being an immigrant means that you desire the fullest out of life. Immigrants are rarely found on the streets begging for money. While they are not always financially comfortable, they will work whatever job their skills allow them to work and always strive for better paying positions. Immigrants simply do not immigrate to live mediocre lives. Whether a family immigrates from China, Russia, or Brazil, they share the same goal, which is financial freedom. Immigrants generally don’t wish to cause harm to their new home, they wish to stimulate economic growth for themselves and the society in which they live.