A time of fear: My worries as a Mexican-American
I am afraid.
I am Mexican and I feel the sneers and jeers of those, bolstered by Donald Trump’s fiery rhetoric, who don’t think I belong.
I have become a target. Even at UB, I feel my freedom slipping. Strangers in the Student Union have called me “beaner” and twice, two students I’ve never met yelled at me that I would soon be deported.
Angry pro-white propaganda appeared in Clemens Hall in November. Similar stickers littered the stairwells in Hochstetter Hall.
UB may be trying to become a sanctuary campus, but right now, it feels like a battlefield. The truth is, I might only have two months left in the place I have called home since I was two months old.
My visa will expire in January and I am worried it won’t be renewed under this new administration. I’m talking about this now because I am still legal. Next year, I might not be so brave.
My parents came here on student visas in 1993 – two months after my birth. My father returned to Mexico in 2000, just after my parents divorced. My mother, a Spanish professor, who taught a few years at UB, stayed in Buffalo on a work visa. She became a citizen in July.
I am a permanent resident, which allows me to work and study in the U.S., but does not make me a citizen. I have filed to become a citizen, but am in limbo.
I know I am not the only one. There are 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S.
There are also 665,000 college students who registered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). The weird thing is that we don’t talk to each other or organize, so I don’t know any undocumented students on campus.
I also don’t know how many students here are like me, who have been legal, but may soon become illegal. No one wants to talk about it.
I’ve always felt American: I eat apple pie on the Fourth of July; I believe in democracy; hard work and believe in freedom of speech; I know the Constitution; I watch football.
Yet, I am different from my American friends. The difference has become the size of the gulf of Mexico since the election.
They are safe. They are wanted. I am not.
Some have burst out laughing when I told them I was afraid of being deported. My fear was so distant from their reality that they thought I was joking. When they realized I wasn’t, they were stunned.
So was I, but in a sad, lonely way. Their ignorance made me even more aware of my difference. A few of my friends have since offered to let me live in their basements or barns; I’ve thanked them and felt grateful, but having a place to stay, as an illegal would mean living in even greater fear than I am now.
Every day, I wonder is this the end of the only life I’ve ever known?
I am an accounting major and hope to go to law school. I don’t have a life or friends in Mexico, although my father lives there and I visit every other year. I have always imagined I would work within a justice system that operates on the pretext of fairness and equality, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t find that in Mexico.
I speak fluent Spanish; I can cook a mean burrito, but Mexico is not my home.
If I do have to leave, I also worry for the people I’d be leaving behind. I worry for this campus, for my female friends, minorities and members of the LGBT community. The tone of the presidential campaign and Donald Trump’s lewd behavior toward women, his classification of Mexicans as “rapists” and “murderers” and Vice-President-elect Mike Pence’s record of anti-gay sentiment have empowered many people to lash out.
I am an LGBTQ supporter. I want to stay in this country, to live out my dreams, and I want to stay to fight for the people I care about and the causes I believe in.
I decided to write this because I want students to know this issue is real. I want them to know that people like me exist at UB. We stand next to each other in line at Tim Horton’s and survive Accounting 201 together. We are not so different and we can make the growing gulf of difference in this country smaller if we try.
I’m asking everyone to try.
That means not making jokes about Mexicans or being deported. It means treating everyone decently and acknowledging struggles that aren’t your own.
That’s the kind of America I believe in and want to belong to.
Carlos Leyte is a staff writer for the features desk and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org