By Ricardo Díaz (8th semester FIGRI student, English through Multimedia student)
“So thank you for choosing our futures in your present”. As Michelle concluded, the crowd roars with a big round of applause after such a moving speech. She smiles and wipes the tears off her eyes as she steps down from the podium, reaches her table and sits down after hugging her mother.
Michelle is a 22-year-old girl who had to deal with a traumatic event that changed her life forever: seeing how her family was slowly torn apart by an unjust and broken system. To confront such tragedy, she has taken it upon herself to stop such disgrace to befall others in her situation, the deportation of immigrants from The United States.
She was 13 years old when that fateful event happened. As Michelle was in her English class taking the SRI test, a runner came into her classroom saying that she was needed at the main office. It was weird to her since it was Wednesday morning and the only thing out of the ordinary that she had done was to arrive 40 minutes late to school that day.
“As I arrived to the main office, I saw my aunt standing there with a pale face. She looked at me sternly and said, “I do not know how to say this, but… your family has been taken by immigration and want to pick you up too.” As my aunt finished, I started crying uncontrollably while she hugged me. It was all so fast and hard to take in.”
ICE arrived and picked her up to take her and her family to Miami to be processed. “We were treated like criminals the whole time we were under custody. We were not allowed to go to the bathroom alone and were constantly watched by somebody. It was humiliating and horrible.”
At the end of the day Michelle’s family was released under two conditions: Every member of the family was forced to sign a document saying they had to eventually leave the country and one of the members had to stay with the immigration police to be deported immediately. “My father offered himself for our sake. That was the first member I saw being taken from me. I was heartbroken.” she said, as calmly as she could muster.
Michelle’s family lived in fear and constant hiding for years after that until the time arrived for another member of her family to be taken from her: it was her two older brothers who made the choice to leave. “They had both graduated already and with no opportunity to progress as people because of the document they signed years earlier, they did not see the point of lingering any longer. I was fortunate to be young enough during the signing of the papers that I was not forced to sign them.”
As only her mother and Elizabeth remained, feelings of sadness and depression began creeping in. “It was awful because I continued on with my life being known as a loner trying to get by when my whole life I had been associated with two other individuals who were always there for me.”
Although Michelle dealt with a rough teenage, she did not let these hard times get to her. As a matter of fact, she turned these into strengths. She eventually got a job and kept going from there where she made it possible to juggle 3 jobs while at the same time paving her way to college. “It was really hard to deal with all 4 things at once, but I did the best I could. Still, I felt that there was more I could do.”
During her college application process, Michelle met an individual who was part of a group called “Global Education”. “Due to my circumstances as an immigrant and everything I was doing I was offered a scholarship to reward my hard work. This person was also a member of a club called EQUAL, who gets involved in dealing with and making awareness of issues that plague our community on a daily basis.”
Among the many topics that EQUAL dealt with, there was the one about immigration. They delve into the subject from basic human rights being violated to immigrant families being torn apart because of a fragmented U.S. political system. “When I saw that this club was involved in this matter, something deep within me urged me to join. I knew I could not do anything for my family, but I could try to give a voice to those that are currently going through what I was going through and lend them a hand in some way.”
With this conviction fueling her, Michelle joined EQUAL and has been going around different states where a good portion of the population are immigrants to share her story in conferences set up by the club and let them know that they are not alone, they should not give up, that they matter and above all else that it is possible to triumph even if the world seems to be against you. “This journey has not been easy. However, knowing that there are others with a story similar to mine out there that could use a few words of encouragement and guidance to keep going is something I cannot deny them. If someone would have done the same for me, to inform me of what I can do and what I can become, my family would still be together today.”