Editorials | Issues
|Belinda’s Immigration Story: Weird in a Good Way, a Hybrid Nature has Always Served America|
Mark Alvarez - The Selective Echo
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November 28, 2010
Note: Mark Alvarez, a Salt Lake City attorney and regular blog contributor, continues with his series of immigrant profiles. Today’s story — actually three — is timed accordingly with this week’s debate on the pending Dream Act, which would provide a legalization gateway for American immigrant youth who serve the country either through education or one of the military branches. The U.S. Congress is convening in lame-duck session to consider the legislation which is expected to see a vote before year’s end and possibly as early as this week.
As a preface, I’d like to share a quote from an opinion piece published in today’s edition of The Sacramento Bee, which was written by Marielena Hincapié and Kevin R. Johnson:
|Even if they lack the right papers, the young people who would benefit from the DREAM Act are unquestionably American. Many were brought to the United States as infants by their parents and do not remember life in the countries of their birth. Some do not even speak the language of the nations that were once home. Fighting long odds and overcoming numerous barriers, they have excelled in our educational system. Moreover, they have been members of our church congregations, Little League and soccer teams, attended our schools and become friends of our children.|
That sentiment resonates in the following piece as well.
“When I see your face, there is not a thing that I would change.
Cause you’re amazing, just the way you are.”
-Bruno Mars (Peter Gene Hernandez)
The Juarez family moved from northern Mexico to Utah when Belinda was nine and Carlos two. However, tourist visas soon expired and good documents were unobtainable.
Seven years later while watching television, Carlos asked Belinda about Mexicans living in the United States. She explained their situation: “We are limited people, and a lot of good things don’t apply to us.”
Belinda learned this lesson at her first job – in a restaurant. It was either that or a cleaning job. Her immigration status meant other jobs were off limits.
In daily life, Belinda usually fit in quite easily. She spoke English with a slight accent but her light hair and green eyes caught people off guard who usually guessed she was European. When she would say Mexican, she often surprised people.
Though Belinda liked to learn, high school was difficult: “Hopes and dreams, that’s all they are. It’s harder for people like me to reach for those. It’s easier to stop trying.” A teacher challenged Belinda during her junior year to stop drifting.
That proved to be a significant epiphany. Belinda became an example for her brother Carlos: “I want them to see that even if we [the undocumented] are limited, we can be successful.” She earned a 4.0 GPA in her senior year.
Belinda says, “I have to do everything the hard way because of my immigration status. I wish I could have a job and apply for scholarships like everyone else. Being a girl and Hispanic, I would have had many opportunities.” She persisted and matriculated into college.
Getting a job may be difficult, but Belinda has a plan: “I am preparing to create a business on my own. I have watched how people do business. I know about overhead and business plans. I have gone to seminars at the Pete Suazo Business Center.”
And, she is self-aware: “I feel like I am a hybrid. I am not from here, and I am not from there. I love my heritage and my country, but Mexico is not my home. My interests are Americanized. I am always the weird one because I am not like them. This is true with Americans and with Mexicans. But I am weird in a good way. I look for other hybrids.”
Belinda’s hybrid metaphor is an instructive one. Maria is from Spain and, 20 years ago, she received a student visa to study psychology and business at Brigham Young University. She later obtained work visas and held jobs in psychiatry, crisis intervention and geriatric care. Despite her advanced training, professional certification and extensive ties to Utah, Maria never qualified to become a permanent resident. Undocumented since 2005, Maria says, “I live through a storm of worries.”
Worry also is central to the focus of Gaite, a Swiss citizen living in Utah on an exchange visa. A few years ago, Gaite saw a documentary about Americans worried about the year 2012. Gaite says, “The media tell us that the world is crazy. This applies to terrorism, climactic catastrophe, economics and the year 2012. They scare people.”
After arriving in Utah, Gaite switched her interest from the year 2012 to the matter of immigration. She has family history with immigration as her mother moved from Italy to Switzerland and had to adjust to the French language. A great grandmother ready to move to the United States cancelled her plans when her husband died.
Upon hearing a sketch of Maria’s story, Gaite says, “It does not seem fair that opportunity would be denied to a qualified person that has made the American economy and society better.”
Belinda’s opinion about immigration reform is plainly strong: “People have made their lives here. There is no way you can send them back. We are not objects. We are not merchandise. We are human beings.”
And, she believes that many people take their freedoms for granted, but she also is determined to make the most of hers, limited as they are. Instead of hiding from adversity, she will fight through it.
Belinda had a driver license a few years ago, but she refuses to get the driving privilege card: “I would rather go around on the bus than get a privilege card. I don’t need a ‘Star of David’ card. People don’t know history. It’s never good to separate people. What makes us different? Papers?”
Belinda talks about what it means to be American – in terms with which no reasonable person could find dispute. She mentions freedom and opportunity. She says, “Even though people are different, there is acceptance.” She adds the Statue of Liberty and the U.S. Constitution embody the essential core that has defined this nation’s history.
Weird in a good way, a hybrid nature has always served America. It should do so still.
Mark Alvarez has written numerous guest commentaries for the Salt Lake Tribune and other popular papers. He currently resides in Mexico City. Contact him at alvarez_mark2004(at)yahoo.com.
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