I hadnt planned on coming out that morning, though I had known that I was gay for several years. With that announcement, i became the only openly gay student at school, and it caused turmoil with my grandparents. Lolo kicked me out of the house for a few weeks. Though we eventually reconciled, i had disappointed him on two fronts. First, as a catholic, he considered homosexuality a sin and was embarrassed about having ang apo na bakla (a grandson who is gay). Even worse, i was making matters more difficult for myself, he said. I needed to marry an American woman in order to gain a green card. Tough as it was, coming out about being gay seemed less daunting than coming out about my legal status.
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Its not really the money, i remember saying. I dont have the right passport. When she assured me wed get the proper documents, i finally told her. I cant get the right passport, i said. Im not supposed essay to be here. So the choir toured Hawaii instead, with me in tow. Denny and I spoke a couple of months ago, and she told me she hadnt wanted to leave any student behind.). Later that school year, my history class watched a documentary on Harvey milk, the openly gay san Francisco city official who was assassinated. This was 1999, just six months after Matthew Shepards body was found tied to a fence in wyoming. During the discussion, i raised my hand and said something like: Im sorry harvey milk got killed for being gay. Ive been meaning to say this.
I was elected to represent my school at school-board meetings, which gave qualitative me the chance to meet and befriend Rich Fischer, the superintendent for our school district. I joined the speech and debate team, acted in school plays and eventually became co-editor of The Oracle, the student newspaper. That drew the attention of my principal, pat Hyland. Youre at school just as much as i am, she told. Pat and Rich would soon become mentors, and over time, almost surrogate parents for. After a choir rehearsal during my junior year, jill Denny, the choir director, told me she was considering a japan trip for our singing group. I told her I couldnt afford it, but she said wed figure out a way. I hesitated, and then decided to tell her the truth.
Over time, i also began checking the citizenship box on my federal I-9 employment eligibility forms. (Claiming full outsiders citizenship was actually easier than declaring permanent resident green card status, which would have required me to provide an alien registration number.). This deceit never got easier. The more i did it, the more i felt like an impostor, fruit the more guilt I carried — and the more i worried that I would get caught. But i kept doing. I needed to live and survive on my own, and I decided this was the way. Mountain view High School became my second home.
The more documents I had, he said, the better. Photo, staying Papers, the documentation that Vargas obtained over the years — a fake green card, a fake passport, a drivers license — allowed him to remain in the. In Oregon, a friend provided a mailing address. While in high school, i worked part time at Subway, then at the front desk of the local. M.C.A., then at a tennis club, until I landed an unpaid internship at The mountain view voice, my hometown newspaper. First I brought coffee and helped around the office; eventually i began covering city-hall meetings and other assignments for pay. For more than a decade of getting part-time and full-time jobs, employers have rarely asked to check my original Social Security card. When they did, i showed the photocopied version, which they accepted.
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Using the fake passport, we went to the local Social Security Administration office and applied for a phoenix social Security number and card. It was, i remember, a quick visit. When the card came in paper the mail, it had my full, real name, but it also clearly stated: Valid for work only with. When I began looking for work, a short time after the. Incident, my grandfather and I took the social Security card to kinkos, where he covered the.
Authorization text with a sliver of white tape. We then made photocopies of the card. At a glance, at least, the copies would look like copies of a regular, unrestricted Social Security card. Lolo always imagined I would work the kind of low-paying jobs that undocumented people often take. (Once i married an American, he said, i would get my real papers, and everything would be fine.) But even menial jobs require documents, so he and I hoped the doctored card would work for now.
Legal residents cant petition for their married children. Besides, lolo didnt care for my father. He didnt want him coming here too. But soon Lolo grew nervous that the immigration authorities reviewing the petition would discover my mother was married, thus derailing not only her chances of coming here but those of my uncle as well. So he withdrew her petition.
After my uncle came to America legally in 1991, lolo tried to get my mother here through a tourist visa, but she wasnt able to obtain one. Thats when she decided to send. My mother told me later that she figured she would follow me soon. The uncle who brought me here turned out to be a coyote, not a relative, my grandfather later explained. Lolo scraped together enough money — i eventually learned it was 4,500, a huge sum for him — to pay him to smuggle me here under a fake name and fake passport. (I never saw the passport again after the flight and have always assumed that the coyote kept.) After i arrived in America, lolo obtained a new fake filipino passport, in my real name this time, adorned with a fake student visa, in addition.
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Theyre not talking about me, i would tell myself. I have something to contribute. To do that, i had to work — and for that, i needed a hotel social Security number. Fortunately, my grandfather had already managed to get one for. Lolo had always taken care of everyone in the family. He and my grandmother emigrated legally in 1984 from Zambales, a province in the Philippines of rice fields and bamboo houses, following Lolos sister, who married a filipino-American serving in the American military. She petitioned for her brother and his wife to join her. When they got here, lolo petitioned for his two children — my mother and her younger brother — to follow them. But instead of mentioning that my mother was a married woman, he listed her as single.
At the wallpaper local library, i read magazines, books and newspapers — anything to learn how to write better. Kathy dewar, my high-school English teacher, introduced me to journalism. From the moment I wrote my first article for the student paper, i convinced myself that having my name in print — writing in English, interviewing Americans — validated my presence here. The debates over illegal aliens intensified my anxieties. In 1994, only a year after my flight from the Philippines, gov. Pete wilson was re-elected in part because of his support for Proposition 187, which prohibited undocumented immigrants from attending public school and accessing other services. (A federal court later found the law unconstitutional.) After my encounter at the. In 1997, i grew more aware of anti-immigrant sentiments and stereotypes: they dont want to assimilate, they are a drain on society.
of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesnt think of me as one of its own. My first challenge was the language. Though I learned English in the Philippines, i wanted to lose my accent. During high school, i spent hours at a time watching television (especially Frasier, home Improvement and reruns of The golden Girls) and movies (from goodfellas to Anne of Green Gables pausing the vhs to try to copy how various characters enunciated their words.
It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends dont ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things i know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for. Last year I read about four students who walked from miami to washington to lobby for the writing Dream Act, a nearly decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to legal permanent residency for young people who have been educated in this country. At the risk of deportation — the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years — they are speaking out. Their courage has inspired. Photo Credit ryan Pfluger for The new York times. There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Were not always who you think we are.
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Over dillard the past 14 years, ive graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, ive created a good life. Ive lived the American dream. But i am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who i really.