It was on my 14th birthday that we left Canada for a new life in the United States. My parents were not the kind to plan and do things by the book so we simply entered the US as tourists, driving across the border with the bare minimum of necessities so as not to arouse suspicion. Our belongings were scattered amongst several cars driven by friends and family who we met across the border before we continued our journey down to the City of Angels. It has now been more than two decades since that sad day on my 14th birthday. A lot of what I knew about Canada has been long forgotten. I still have wonderful memories of my childhood and am thankful that is where I got to spend my early years. But those memories are long faded, the friends I once knew unfamiliar and surprisingly old, married and with children. The life I once remembered is now nothing more than a blur. Sometimes it’s hard for me to realize but my life is now. Twenty years. That is such a long time but I am amazed at how quickly the years have passed. In that time I’ve finished four years of High School, graduated from a UC school and gotten a job from an understanding employer. Every year I’ve paid taxes, maybe more than I need to because I’m scared to take anything more than the standard deduction. Is that what it means to be American? To go to school, get a job, pay your taxes? I think I’m secretly hoping that another amnesty bill will pass and the only thing we need to show is the last 10 years of tax returns. Obviously I can’t vote, but at least I have a good excuse every time I get a jury summons. Twenty years. I used to be a young boy and now I am a middle aged boy approaching middle age. As a boy I wouldn’t worry about my future, my undocumented status. But adult life and worries came rather quickly. How was I going to get through University? I was attending a UC school when proposition 187 was passed. Proposition 187, for those that were not in California in the 90’s, “was a 1994 ballot initiative to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit illegal immigrants from using health care, public education, and other social services in the U.S. State of California”. The funny thing was my mailbox number when prop 187 passed was, you guessed it, 187. And the seat for one of my final exams was also 187. I used to think that someone up above was trying to tell me something and every day I worried that I would not be able to finish school. Somehow though, with the hard work of my parents and their funding (we paid full, out of state prices for tuition) I was able to complete my studies in exactly 4 years. A year later I was able to secure a job with an H1 Visa. And 3 years after that 9/11 hit. I don’t know why but I still vividly remember that day. I can’t remember what I did yesterday morning but that morning, more than ten years ago, I can still hear Rick Dees on the radio talking about the terrible tragedy, and how I, not believing what I was hearing, turned on the TV and watched in horror as the most horrific terrorist act against the United States was unfolding. I remember feeling helpless, feeling such pain for those people that were burning in the towers, and then the shock I felt watching the towers collapse. I was numb that day, and although I would have rather stayed at home with friends and family, I went to work. I remember very clearly where I was that morning. 9/11 changed everything, especially in regards to immigration. After 9/11 immigration ground to a halt. Applications were being scrutinized, people were being deported for having been illegal at any one time. A friend of mine with his green card applied for his Citizenship but was denied and deported. He had 3 kids, all born in the US. They could not stand life in Mexico because they were American. They were born on this side of the border. Is that what it means to be American, where your mom decides to have you? Anyways, I got scared. I did not re-apply for my H1 thinking that perhaps I should finally head back to Canada. But, after having been in the US for more than 10 years, that was something that I was really not prepared to do. I fell out of status out of fear that my prior illegal status would cause problems. How ironic. Now it’s been another 8 or 9 years since I fell out of status (again) and I still think that one day I will just pack up my life and move back to Canada. Leave all my friends behind. Leave my family behind. Actually leave my entire life behind. What scares me the most is the possibility that I could never return to the US. What happens if I get caught on the way out and am subject to a 10 year ban from the US? I haven’t lived in Canada as an adult, I left as a child and it would be strange returning as an adult. My childhood friends are no longer children. They have children. It’s a scary thought, but I think about it every day. There is a whole world that I want to see, family that I want to visit, friends that I miss and long to see. But, it’s tough. Tough for anyone to just leave, and go somewhere that is alien, foreign, and not to mention, very very cold at this time of year. Is being an American someone who loves this country, whose life exists only in this country, who has wonderful American friends and sees other countries, even their home country as being foreign? You know, sometimes I wish things were different with my life and that I had my papers and status. But every day I try to take the time to thank God for everything he has given me. I have so much more than many people in this world. I live a very comfortable life, I have the best friends that anyone could ask for, I’ve had great experiences and great relationships and I’ve been to many wonderful places in the US. I live in one of the best places in the world with beautiful weather and anything I can ask for within an hour’s drive. I could be at the beach and go skiing in the same day. I am thankful for my life and every day I thank God for the blessings that he has given me. You know how often I am driving down the freeway (well, more like crawling) and see the beauty of Southern California and just kind of breathe it all in and give thanks? Almost every day. Maybe being thankful for the beauty that this country offers, the comfort, the way of life is what makes an American an American. Do I wish that my parents did the right thing when I was a child? That I had my green card, my US Citizenship? Absolutely. I have very few regrets in life and most of them are related to my being out of status. Not being able to visit one of my favorite relatives in Canada when she was sick absolutely killed me when I was in college and even now, 15 years later, it still brings me to tears. It’s only recently that I don’t feel any guilt and that I feel she understands why I couldn’t be there. I’ve missed so many weddings, my best friend in Canada, my best friend in California and my relatives throughout the world. I met one of the most wonderful girls in the world and regret to this day that I did not pursue anything because I was out of status and she was a foreign national who could not get sponsored to work in the US. If I had my papers I would have been all over her, like flies on flypaper, it may not have worked out but at least I would not have the lingering doubts in my mind, wondering if things could have worked out. I still think about her every day. In life, everyone has regrets, and I realize that mine are pretty minor and trivial compared to the issues that other people are facing in this world. If you go through life realizing that life isn’t fair and to appreciate how much you really have you can always be happy with your situation. If you ask for my definition of an American, I believe it doesn’t matter so much where your mom decides to have you as a baby. You really have no say in that and it’s kind of the luck of the draw, and trust me, there are plenty of born in America Americans that really don’t deserve to be an American. They are easy to pick out right now because you can just go to an Occupy Movement and see some of those lazy Americans who believes in handouts and thinks for some odd reason that life is fair and they are entitled to their fair share. I’m not like that, I earn my keep, am responsible for my actions and especially my monetary actions. As it stands, I’m not an American, according to the letter of the law. But I feel like an American. Other countries are foreign to me. My life is in America. My friends and my family are here. All my important life experiences have been here. I really have no life anywhere else. I am college educated and, humbly enough, very smart. I’ve excelled in everything I do, whether it be my multiple hobbies, my work or my extracurricular activities. I suppose, in the end, it doesn’t really matter what I feel defines American. It’s going to matter what everyone else feels defines American and I hope we can get that to change. Thanks for reading.
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