Jun 26, 2019
by Christopher Kerosky, Kerosky, Purves & Bogue, LLP, Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner
In 2012, I met Rocio, a shy freshman from a local high school who wanted to intern at our law office. She told me she was a child of immigrants who was determined to make a difference in immigrants’ lives.
Rocio spent four years interning with us after school, then graduated as valedictorian and was awarded a Gates Foundation full-ride scholarship to Georgetown School of Foreign Service. This year she graduated from Georgetown and has accepted a job at a non-profit in New York City serving the immigrant community there.
I wanted to tell her story for two reasons: one, to convey in her own words the challenges that many children of immigrants experience; and two, to celebrate her incredible perseverance and drive to succeed in spite of that adversity. It is both a common immigrant story and an extraordinary and inspiring life lesson for us all.
I’ve left out Rocio’s last name purposely to protect her family.
My early life was shaped by the fact I was a U.S.- born citizen with undocumented parents.
Like so many children of undocumented immigrants, I grew up with constant reminders that my parents did not have legal status here. I was reminded of it when I was told that I shouldn't really talk about where my parents come from. I felt it when my siblings and I were instructed to stay extra still in the car if a police car happened to drive alongside my dad's truck. And it was very real to me every time there was an unexpected knock on the door and my family would be gripped with fear it was immigration looking for us.
This ever-present fear of deportation was the backdrop for all of my childhood experience.
There were two “forks in the road” in my early life. The first was in third grade, when my parents decided to relocate our family to Mexico. With my two younger siblings and I, my parents made a week-long car journey to Colorines, México, carrying all our belongings in a trailer. We made the trip because my grandparents were gravely ill, and my parents had not seen them in 10 years.
I was unhappy to leave the United States. I was worried that I wouldn't get to continue my schooling. Yes, as a 3rd grader I was conscious and worried about this. I had dreams, big aspirations. I was already talking about running for President of the United States someday and I meant it. But, at age 7, I also knew that my parents felt pain for being so far away from their parents and siblings. I knew that sometimes you had to make sacrifices and that this was mine.
We took all of our belongings because my dad's plan was for us to permanently relocate. My mom was doubtful that we’d be able to make it financially. As she speculated, finding work was nearly impossible. My father attempted to start up his own business at least five different times. No, luck. He just kept getting in more debt each time he tried.
Public school in Mexico is expensive and we were absolutely indigent there; so I decided to home school to save my family money. I disciplined myself to read at home every day in both languages and then practice basic math. That made the difference when we returned to the U.S. a few years later.
A couple years after returning to California came the second fork in the road: my dad was stopped by our local police and turned over to ICE to face deportation proceedings. Again I saw my dream of pursuing my higher education in jeopardy at the possibility of having to relocate to Mexico once more. I would catch myself crying at night constantly. During the day, if my mother was even slightly late to pick me up from school, I would fear the same had happened to her. My heart would pound, and my paranoia set in. Needless to say, I was just one more child of undocumented immigrants to this country. I was just one more child who would cry herself to sleep.
Shortly after this second fork in the road, I found myself extremely desperate to do something to help others who were going through the same anxiety and pain I had felt. As a freshman in high school, I began to intern at a local law office. It felt good to know that I could have a tangible, positive change in a person's life. Since the commitment to help immigrants with their own struggles has been a constant in my life ever since. At Georgetown University, I volunteered for an organization advocating for change in our immigration laws.
Throughout high school and much of college, every day was a prayer that nothing would happen to my parents. Fortunately, my family’s status has stabilized, and I can finally exhale.
My plans for the future are to positively make a difference in immigrants’ lives, in whatever big or small ways I can. My family's faith got me through our ordeal. But it doesn't work out for everyone that way. Systemic change must happen with help from those of us who have lived these experiences. Only we still live with these traumas. And I am here to be that change.
I respect this country and appreciate all it has given me, but I also see the injustice in the way undocumented immigrants are treated here. In September I will be starting my two-year fellowship in New York City, providing immigration legal services to low-income immigrants.
I'll keep moving forward, recognizing all that my parents went through to get me to this point. Like they always say, Hechandole ganas (loosely translated: “Make what you want” or 'working hard/making an effort').
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