CHICAGO — “Up, up with education! Down, down with deportation!” chanted a crowd of 30 or so Latin American youths holding hand-painted signs advocating the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would grant “restricted” residency to children of immigrants who pursued a higher education or military service.
I watched as students took turns telling their grueling Cinderella stories, each one starting with, “My name is Juan or Maria and I’m undocumented and unafraid,” then stumbling over words, pausing to apologize for being nervous, and continuing to spill forth their love for America. At the end of the rally they ended with the same chant, but the girl with the mic mixed up the words and instead said, “Up, up with deportation! Down, down with edu… I mean, no, up, up with education.” In effect, it just showed how much they really do need a way into college.
But what struck me the most, being Hispanic myself, was the emphasis in each story of the great love they had for this country. If to be in love means you wouldn’t let anything keep you from standing by your lover, and when you’re with them you feel so lucky and special no matter what and you know you’ll be OK as long as you have them…then I see no reason why these devotional, undocumented 65,000 yearly graduates should be torn from their one true love, the USA.
I may not know what it means to have to wade through a river and trek through a hot desert into a foreign land, as Mexican immigrants do; I do know, however, how it feels to fall in love with a new city. When my friend Dave and I first pulled up to the curb in the car, face to face with Columbia College Chicago, I squealed, pounded my feet, and gasped because it was as if at that moment, I heard Chicago ask, “Marry me?”
And I said, “Yes! Yes!” So with Columbia College as the engagement ring, I married Chicago the first day we met. No, we didn’t know much about each other except for an essay and the mutual feeling that we belonged together. Love and excitement left little room for fear, and I was ready to learn and live for me. Exiting the car, we walked the streets of Chicago. Arching my head back looking at those skyscrapers, I began to wonder what really goes on the uppermost floors.
With plenty of rooms for storage and offices, I’d say the top floors–high above the public eye– are reserved for more un-business-like endeavors. How about laser light parties? Spa treatments? After all, they’re living the high life. Or maybe the floors contain more sinister designs; such as meetings for controlling the poor down below, preparing for the apocalypse, and whatever else rich men with ambitions might do in their spare time. I keep these naive thoughts to myself.
Walking along, these buildings embrace me like strong, burly arms and in a godly voice proclaim,” This is speed, this is growth, this is open up wide, swallow the world, choke; make it go down.” I could hear all the noise in Illinois and I felt at home; a sensation I had only one other time a thousand miles away, oddly enough, in a classroom.
I sat down on a smooth boulder in a garden; a patch of green sewn in by streets and glass edifices. “What’s wrong?” I heard Chicago ask. I looked down at my toenails and replied that the future is shakily uncertain and, I must confess, when it comes to relationships, I always fail. Chicago’s humidity is like a big, wet kiss on my skin, reassuring me and saying, “I have enough in me to welcome and care for you.”
I look across the way at a tall, black man at a bus stop pacing with his arms out stretched. “I loooovvveee the way you liiieee,” he moans. Then I notice his headphones. The man grows quiet for a few seconds before bursting into the chorus, as if he were drowning and calling for help. Now when I listen to “Love the Way You Lie,” by Eminem and Rihanna, this guy’s voice will involuntarily yodel into my mind.
I turn away from the man still holding his voice in his arms out to the sun. Would he continue singing on the bus? No one would dare quiet a passionate black man, especially one singing Rihanna.
I continue telling Chicago, but you see I’m not good at math, and relationships are like math equations. For instance: commitment – selfishness + sacrifice + expectations + obligations divided by the fact that I never do what I’m supposed to do equal destruction and frustration, because somehow appealing feelings are erased and replaced with tired disdain. I finish explaining with a sigh.
Car horns beep through the tenseness, feet paddle the sidewalks, the sun finds its way through the trees. Chicago, “What about love and marriage?”
Well, I say, and lift my bottom from the rock and walk away from the small park and get back into the car. If you factor in love that complicates everything, and marriage is a never ending math equation that you constantly have to work on.
Dave and I drive to Chinatown and get out of the car to have a quick walk up and down the street. “We can make this relationship work”, said Chicago. “Know why? Because we’re going to set aside the rules, the tricks, and the noose that comes with being in a relationship.” With this in my mind, Dave and I pass shop windows cluttered with random objects that make you think you could walk out of the store holding a fish, an umbrella, and a porcelain doll.
When I drive back to the campus with Dave, I see a 200-pound woman melting like vanilla ice cream down a fence she’s sitting on. “Are you with me”? The question comes from the space between the buildings and the wind that nibbles on my ear, caresses my cheek. I stand on a street corner feeling as though I am in a wonderland amongst shadow-casting giants, bearded beggars, youthful arrangements, melodramatic and shy stores; faces both strange and familiar. I love it all. “Absolutely,” I say out loud. “What?” Dave asks. “Nothing,” I say. “You sure?” says Dave, “You’ve been talking to yourself all day and smiling all dreamily,” he said. “I’m OK, really,” I say contentedly.
And that is my story of immigrating to Chicago and falling in love. Politicians seem to forget how all Americans are immigrants. They stick to their facts and scare tactics, but have they considered that the number of Hispanics in America is 16 percent and rising? If I were a senator, I would say there could be negative consequences for unrequited love. In other words, if America is not allowed to love its people in return, what is there to prevent these undocumented Latinos and Latinas from turning to a life of crime to earn a living? How’s that for a frightening prospect?
Latin Americans are the ones saying they are “unafraid,” despite an uncertain future and low income, so what are the reasons legislatures are afraid to approve the DREAM Act?
We “beaners,” or “wetbacks” as we’re also referred to, work in service industries ranging from road constructionists, janitors and house cleaners—jobs that others refuse to do out of reluctance of getting their fingernails dirty. Nevertheless, these jobs require diligence in their undertaking, giving us a strong work ethic.
We are also said to have invented car pooling; being crunched in a small van with 20 people isn’t a problem, thus proving our capacity to remain composed in tight situations. As for our contribution to the American food platter, if you haven’t eaten a chimichanga, your taste buds are virgins to deliciousness. And who’s to say we aren’t productive citizens? Oh, we know production, and even reproduction for that matter. See, after jumping the border, “beaners” continue to jump at any, and all opportunities.
Point being, there’s no excuse for legislatures to keep hard working, flexible, spicy Mexicans from becoming citizens with equal learning options.
All racial slurs aside, what joins Americans as a nation, lies in our belief of being a have-person or a will-have-person. That means we all live by wishing. I’ve watched the smoke from birthday candles writhe and billow out into the air like the wishes from my breath that propel them. After 19 birthdays, I still haven’t stopped wishing, and I never will. ‘Wishing’ is attached to ‘wanting’ by a string; the wanting pulling the wishing forward, unstoppable to the point of selfishness. I came to Chicago because of a wish that transformed from a flirted whisper in my ear to a fortunate reality.
Red, yellow, black and white people lie in bed and maybe look out a window that opens up to the night sky. When I look out, I pronounce ‘I wish’ and see my lips reach out with the ‘w’ for a star’s blessed kiss. Still, leaders of this country continue their filibusters and recklessly become dream-busters.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published on Latina Voices.