Four years ago I went to bed feeling grateful my daughter had white skin and that she looked like the poster image of an “All American” girl. She would never be confused as an illegal immigrant, nobody would know she was of Mexican descent, and if needed she could pretend not to speak Spanish. I thought no matter what happens to me, she will be OK. I felt vulnerable and scared, like people were given permission to treat me like a second class citizen.
I wondered what would happen to my people. Especially those who were undocumented, uneducated and unable to speak the language fluently. I was married at the time and my caucasian husband and I discussed using my dual citizenship as an exit plan. My company had an office in Canada where I could quickly transfer. With a Master’s degree and multiple work skills, I felt I had options if a worse case scenario played out.
I love the USA. It is my home, the place where I’ve grown up and the thought of ever leaving made me extremely sad. I’ve literally lived the American dream with opportunities I would have never had in Mexico. I’ve worked hard, never taking a hand-out, never accepting a head start. I knew that coming to this country after waiting 11 years for a green card would give me chances and it was up to me to choose what I did with them.
As a woman I thought about how men might change their attitudes about equality. Would I start getting groped at the grocery store? Would my employer pay less wages for equal work?
As time went on, I saw respect and equality from people around me, no matter what was being said in the media or by leaders. People opened their hearts and supported me through what turned out to be a very challenging time in my life. I know that wasn’t the case for every Latino woman..
I did, however, have hard conversations with my daughter about skin color and how people are treated differently because of it. At one point she asked if we would ever be separated because I was brown and she was not. And although I reassured her I would never allow anyone to separate us, the thought of being an immigrant remained. It reared its ugly head when following the divorce, my now ex-husband referred to me as a “naturalized citizen” and to my parents as “foreigners” during a court hearing. Something or someone had suddenly given him permission to paint me as untrustworthy and possibly a threat.
Nothing had changed with me - if anything I’d become more successful. The only thing that changed was the climate that allowed him to insinuate the mother of his child was one of the “drug dealers, criminals and rapists” regularly exported from Mexico. At one point he loved my heritage, and now he used it against me. It was a cheap shot, a punch under the belt, and something he knew wasn’t true.
I breathe deep today as the winds blow hard outside. I believe in love, compassion and kindness. I will keep giving that to every person I encounter. I will always listen to people’s perspectives and give them respect. I see a bright future in a country built by immigrants. I see opportunity and I see hope. I see my daughter proud of her Mexican heritage and a country where she is free to be authentic and limitless.