Note: On November 21, Citlali Perez and hundreds of other students from Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood gathered to support the community in the wake of the recent election. Perez’s remarks at the rally have been edited for length and clarity.
I came to the U.S. when I was only 1-years-old, along with my brother and sister. I have lived here pretty much all my life. My parents made many sacrifices to get here. My dad walked the desert for two days and my mom came in the trunk of a car with five other people. Now we are here, but in our daily lives we still experience difficult times and await great prosperity and success ahead. My parents are still walking deserts and crossing borders and doing the impossible to get us to a better future. But I recognize that all of this won't be possible if there isn’t effort on my part. Unlike many people, I knew that I was undocumented from an early age. I understood that this was not a good thing, and that because of this I faced many dangers, like the possibility of being deported along with my parents. My parents would warn me not to tell anyone about my status as an undocumented person. I understood that because I wasn't from here and neither were my parents, I couldn't visit my family in Mexico. Since that early age I understood that being undocumented meant living in fear and being separated from your family. But I'm lucky to say that I was also raised to believe that being myself was something to be proud of. I have early memories of me as a child hoping to one day do great things and make big changes in the future. I would tell my parents that I was going to be the president of Mexico and that they wouldn't have to worry about the things they worry about now. Unfortunately as I got older and realized I faced much greater obstacles than the ones I thought I did, this positivity faded along with my dreams. I started being haunted by the fear that maybe I wouldn't go to college and I wouldn't get a good job and I wouldn't live a good life and that I would end up cleaning tables at a restaurant. I believed this to be true, not only because I now knew that not having documents would limit me from getting a good education or ever getting a good job, but because I saw my idea of failure illustrated in my brother, who was failing all his classes and ended up being a high school dropout.
Photo of Citlali Perez courtesy of Josh Preciado.
I look back on this now and realize that the reason why my brother didn't do so well and didn't make great choices was not necessarily because he’s undocumented. Maybe he didn't try hard enough. Maybe he didn't have the same support I do now. Maybe he was locked up in this idea that being undocumented meant there was no way to get a good future. Maybe he was so focused on the limits and the impossibilities that he failed to ever recognize the infinite amount of possibilities and opportunities one individual can create for himself only by having determination and faith. I'm glad that my brother’s bad choices motivated me to do better and try harder. I’m thankful that I have all the help and support I need. I’m thankful for the people out there who have set the stage for all Dreamers and that have demonstrated that there are no limits to what one can do. I'm still not so sure what's going to happen in my future, but I know that if I want anything good to happen, I have to work my butt off now. I still hope that I can make changes in the future and give back to others. I hope that all my hard work will pay off. But something that has always been around is hate. Of course I was aware that hate, racism and discrimination still existed, but I also thought we had come a long way. Never did I imagine that racism, sexism, discrimination and hate would become the face of America, a country made up of immigrants, people who work hard towards a better future. Two weeks ago I was haunted by the idea that maybe all my hard work and effort had gone to waste. But now I realize that this only means that I have to try harder. If borders didn't stop us, and papers didn't stop us, nothing else can stop us from overcoming challenges and succeeding. Besides fighting for ourselves and standing up for own beliefs, we need to stand up and fight to protect the meaning of being American from being snatched and stolen from the hands of good, hardworking, diverse individuals who actually define what being American is. Refusing to hate is the only way we can keep being the
United States of America: a place where every individual counts, whether you are Hispanic, White, African-American, Muslim or Asian; whether you are female or male; whether you are straight or gay; whether you are disabled or not. Whoever you are, you matter, you count and you belong.