Thursday, October 22, 2009

One little piece of paper

It's amazing to me how important a little piece of paper can be. Yesterday, I went to fill out paperwork for a job, and they had asked me to bring my birth certificate. I don't even think I have my birth certificate; it's tucked away somewhere at my parents' house. My birth certificate doesn't matter so much here. It's my naturalization certificate that makes all the difference. I was born in Guatemala. My parents immigrated to the U.S. when they were in their early twenties, before I was born. They settled in New Jersey, had my sister, and then my mom's homesickness brought her back to Guatemala where I was born.

Eventually, they came back to the U.S. and I was raised here. When I was little, my father became naturalized. At 13, I went with my mother to become naturalized and raised my hand in a pledge to become a citizen of the United States. What a blessing that little piece of paper has made in my life. I will always be grateful for parents who left their home, their family and came to an unknown place in search of better lives for their family.

That little piece of paper is absolutely the difference between surviving and not surviving in this country. Last night, I watched Latinos in America, a documentary on CNN. It's a touching, powerful portrayal of Latinos in this country. We are a diverse group of people with so many different and interesting stories to tell.

There was a story that touched me the most because, in a way, I felt like they were telling my story. However, there is one huge difference-that little piece of paper. A young woman whose family immigrated to the U.S. when she was 7 years old is now in danger of being deported. All of her family is here; she doesn't know anyone in Mexico anymore. Her sister and uncle are citizens; her mother is a resident, her daughter is a citizen because she was born here, but this young woman is undocumented. To me, it's a heartbreaking story because that could easily be me if not for that little piece of paper. I can't imagine being in danger of being sent away from my family, from my children, from my home, the only home I've ever known.

I'm not really interested in starting a debate on immigration here. I'm just sharing a bit of my story. I know there are different opinions to this issue. Debates about immigration can be so divisive and angry. I understand that other people don't have my same beliefs. Those that believe differently don't understand and know my story; they haven't been in my shoes, haven't lived my life. In the same way, I don't understand people on the other side; I haven't been in their shoes or lived their life. I don't know what it's like to be born in the United States and not have to depend and worry about the possession of one little piece of paper.

Part 2 of Latinos in America airs tonight on CNN.