Alberto with actor Rafael Silva
We’ve all felt out of place at one point or another. Whether it’s feeling like you didn’t dress appropriately for a specific occasion or moving to another country, you just feel different. For some of us who had to move to another country, it’s not just your head that is telling you that you don’t belong somewhere—it is also the lack of a piece of paper that would at least tell you that you are supposed to be where you are.
You don’t really feel undocumented when you’re in middle school. The only things you care about are learning a new language, fitting in with everyone else at the school, and wanting to see your favorite sports teams win. It isn’t easy, but at that age you really don’t know any better and just take it for what it is. It wasn’t like the lack of that piece of paper was keeping me from doing the things that 11-year old me wanted to do.
That all started to change in high school. When my French class took a trip to France, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go because of my status. When you’re hanging out with your friends, you have to make sure that you don’t put yourself in a situation in which you even have to talk to the police. When you turn 16, you know that you won’t be able to get a permit and start driving.
It all started to hit more when I reached my senior year and it was time to decide on going to college. I knew I wanted to go, and I went through high school as if I was going to, but some things were out of my control. I was going to have to pay out-of-state tuition even though I lived in the same state and was paying state and federal taxes. I wasn’t going to be able to benefit from a scholarship that gave free tuition for state schools if you received a certain score on the MCAS—a Massachusetts standardized test—which I had gotten.
And then, on June 15th, 2012, it all started to change. President Obama announced an executive order known as DACA—Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—that would provide relief to hundreds of thousands of people who were brought to the United States as kids and were undocumented. This meant that I could finally start paying in-state tuition, get my license, and fly within the United States. I’d finally gotten a piece of paper that said I was supposed to be where I am. It has to get renewed every two years and there are still some things I can’t do, but it was better than having no piece of paper at all.
Challenges can teach you a lot, and one of the things this situation taught me was how much people were willing to help. From my teachers who had their own way of helping me assimilate, to my guidance counselor in high school who simply asked me if I wanted to take an honors class and helping me realize that I knew as much as everyone else, to the private scholarships I received that helped me get through my freshman year of college, to friends who were willing to learn about my situation.
It all makes me wonder about how we can go about solving complex issues like immigration. I don’t claim to know all the answers, but what I do know is the experience I’ve had as being both undocumented and a DACA recipient. I saw how simply explaining the situation gave people a better understanding on an issue that they had no prior connection or knowledge about other than “there is an issue with immigration.” And that is ultimately the goal of The Compatriots—to give insight into a situation that hundreds of thousands of people deal with every day and continue the conversations on our experiences.