Michaela’s journey begins when she moves to Chicago, Illinois from Mexico City at the age of 9 with her parents and her sister. She described their move to Chicago as the biggest culture shock she had ever witnessed: “A different language around me, different races, and a different environment overall. When you come to this country, you don’t really realize what you’re leaving behind. You just follow your parents.”
Think back to that first move you had ever had. Your heart maybe fluttered with worry about making new friends. Maybe your stomach felt like it was doing flips over and over again because you didn’t want to leave the only home you’ve known. Maybe your mind was racing with hundreds and thousands of thoughts. Will I like my new house? What will this place look like? Will I be able to make friends? How far are we going? Why are we moving? Take this feeling and imagine being taken to an entirely new country. A new country with a completely different language, different culture, and different structure. What would that mean to you? How would you respond?
Michaela takes this new change in stride and flourishes in the U.S. She makes friends; she is involved and is effectively the definition of a responsible young adult. And, like any other young high school student, she dreams of a future where she isn’t inhibited by any constraints. She paints pictures of a bright future of a job she loves and a family of her own. However, being undocumented can put a kink in such plans.
An Unpredictable Future
Michaela was never privy to her status early on. It wasn’t until she wanted to do simple things like receive a driver’s license or apply for college that she realized that this vague concept of “status” could change the course of her entire life. In 2010, Michaela would graduate high school but would not be feeling the same euphoria that so many of the U.S. population has the privilege of taking for granted. This day, which should be filled with happy tears of a closing chapter and an opening world, was filled with unfallen tears of uncertainty and anxiety.
I asked Michaela to relive this moment with me and she expressed the swirling and rushing mix of emotions. The joy that rose up in her chest like a warm glow as she walked across the stage, wrapping her hands around that diploma she had worked so hard for. She sees her parents in the stands, shouting in an absolute rapture that their oldest child had fulfilled the dream they had for her. This is what they kept in their mind while they made their way across the border. The overwhelming love and joy from her parents enveloped Michaela and she felt as though she was on top of the world. The world was seemingly just at her fingertips. As she felt this high, she also felt the first of crystalline tears fall.
Back in her seat, she watches the rest of her friends walk across that stage. In the sureness of their steps, you see the path clearly laid out before her. Where in front of her friends lay a cleared out and paved the path, Michaela could hardly see hers – covered in brambles and twisting and turning in a way she could not decipher. Michaela’s status inhibited her from being able to pursue an ideal path and put extra weight on her shoulders; for a decision on her life in the states could be made at any time. She had dreams, she wanted more than what she was being dealt, and she knew that she wanted to continue school. But what could she do? What were her options? Where could she go?