Thank you mom, for your ability to maneuver a system designed to keep us out

Thank you mom!

Thank you for sacrificing your life for my siblings and I. Thank you for leaving behind the country that gave birth to you, that saw you grow up, that saw you fall and pick you back up. It’s been almost 19 years since you piled onto a bus with my brother, my two sisters, and me and headed for the U.S./Mexico border. I didn’t realize then but I do now – your street smarts, your savviness, your ability to maneuver a system designed to keep us all out. Because of that, because of our ability to enter the U.S. on tourist visas, my brother, my sisters, and I did not have to suffer what others do in crossing the border through the river or the desert.

After a few weeks in Texas you piled onto a van with us again and we made the trip north to meet up with dad. I still remember getting to Chicago and being dropped off at the address you gave the man driving the van. Apparently it was the address of a distant cousin of ours – where dad would be picking us up. Except that they weren’t home and dad was not there yet. There we were – recently arrived immigrants, no English, roaming up and down the street trying to find something to eat and wait until our cousin returned. We were in a whole new world, not understanding the language, not knowing the food. But I wasn’t afraid because you were with us and I knew that you, the strong woman that you are, were going to find a way out of that situation.

We finally found dad and we went to Michigan. You started working right away in the fields, picking apples, blueberries, pickles, celery, onions – whatever the season called for. I remember seeing you come home tired and dirty from kneeling on the dirt to pull the weeds from the fields. You, with your fair skin, now had a permanent suntan on your arms. But you never complained and kept at it for so many years. I am thankful that my brother, my sisters, and I also joined you to pick blueberries during the summers and apples in the fall. I know that it was because we needed money and now you remind me of it in an apologetic way. But I am thankful for those experiences for they have, in part, shaped who I am.

Thanks to the Amnesty program of the 1980s which gave dad permanent residence, we finally became permanent residents in 2001 – 10 years after arriving in this country. And as I am getting ready to graduate law school in three weeks and God Willing, go on to become an immigration attorney this fall, I can’t help and think about where I am at this moment in my life. I never imagined it in my wildest dreams. But I recognize that things happen for a reason and that we all have a destiny to fulfill.

I attended the Latino Law Student Association Scholarship Banquet last night and was re-inspired by the keynote speaker who talked about immigrant rights as human rights. I was also inspired and re-energized by the three young people who on behalf of the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL), received the Community Award. As one of the girls stood on the stage and told everyone that she is undocumented, I felt a mix of emotions — sorrow, joy, hope — and tears came to my eyes. I am no longer in that position but I was and I know so many bright, young people, full of dreams and aspirations, who are in that position and whose dreams of higher education will come to a halt upon high school graduation – unless they can save enough money to pay for college on their own.

And so this morning, as I reflected on last night, I felt a need to share my story and to Thank You for every sacrifice you have made to get me to this point in my life. I also want to reaffirm to you and to all my brothers and sisters in this struggle – my dedication and commitment to fighting for immigrant rights – for the justice and dignity that we all deserve. I reaffirm my belief that no human being is illegal, that we all have the right to fight for our freedoms and our basic human rights, and that we cannot rest so long as others continue to be discriminated and marginalized. Siempre para adelante!

— Olivia Villegas

On April 23rd the Immigrant Youth Justice League received a the “Outstanding Community Outreach” award from the Latino Student Law Association at DePaul University.


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