By Adriana Velázquez of The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). This essay was originally published by SWOP on September 8th, 2017.
It’s been 15 years since I first placed foot in this country. My name is Adriana Velázquez and I am an undocumented young adult in the south side of Chicago. I came to the United States when I was 11 years old in 2002 with my mom and my two sisters to finally live as a family with my dad and to build a better future together.
I received DACA in 2013 and have had it since. Having DACA for me has meant having a range of new possibilities. Before DACA, most of my decisions were heavily weighted on my lack of status and my inability to work legally. I refused to access a fake social security number to find work, and risk getting caught. Luckily, I found stipend work that did not require SSN, but pretty soon I realized how limited my options were. Nevertheless, I didn’t give up. I went to college to study a B.A. in Music, which I paid through private scholarships, stipend internships and selling chocolates from a box I carried wherever I went. When I was pursuing my degree, I made sure I didn’t choose a career in which I wasn’t going to be able to pursue work. I couldn’t be a teacher, I couldn’t be a nurse or a doctor, and I definitely couldn’t be a lawyer.
As a DACA recipient, suddenly I had more choices on what I wanted to study and where I could go. When I finally graduated from NEIU in May 2015, for the first time, I was able to research a variety of jobs I wanted to apply for. It got me all excited for a minute that, heck, if I wanted to be a server at some fancy restaurant I could; if I wanted to be a music teacher at a private institution, I could be that too!
Having DACA gave me the possibility to get my Driver’s License and state ID. This has given me a peace of mind when I think of the road trips I want to take and the places I want to fly to (of course, all still within the US). DACA was not perfect, but for 5 years, it had given me and 800,000 others a 2-year renewable ticket to a somewhat normal life. I am finally building credit! I have a job I love doing and, with that, the ability to live a healthy life and help my family do the same. Now, when I see a police officer drive next to me, my first instinct isn’t to fear anymore. When I hear my friends are going to New York or Miami for a vacation, my first instinct isn’t to exclude myself anymore. When I get a job offer or think of continuing my education, I don’t have immediate limits.
DACA also impacted my family and friends. Several of my closest friends were finally able to apply to a job they enjoy that offers them health insurance, improving the way they can take care of themselves. Now that my two sisters and I are able to work, my mother and father are impacted by DACA because we are able to contribute to the home expenses and are three more drivers in the house in case of an emergency. I had also seen a presence of depression and anxiety hovering over my undocumented peers who feared encounters with the law, detainment, and deportation. Having DACA boosted the confidence of many to excel without fear and granted them some tranquility in their everyday life.
Since I arrived in the United States, I’ve lived in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, a strong but underserved part of the south side of Chicago. I learned English, excelled in school, and became involved in the visual and performing arts as well as with many opportunities to serve my community. Soon I was helping to paint a mural, developing community plays, providing mentorship for children, and helping to start a scholarship for youth in my neighborhood. Through my actions, I became an example to other youth and young adults in my community who, like me, look for brighter futures they can be a part of.
Thriving and modeling for others has given me the opportunity to see individuals and families around me grow in their own strength while continuing to disprove the stereotype that people might have of me because of my status or the color of my skin. I have grown so much in the past 5 years; became a bolder, stronger, more confident me. That is my contribution to this country and one that cannot be taken away by ending DACA. My ability to find a job is diminished greatly by the president’s unjust decision, but my courage, resilience, and will to fight for what I believe in is stronger than ever.
Today I am a community organizer, musician, leader, sister, daughter, friend; a human being. I am the seed of immigrants whose valuable teachings have made me into the person I am today. I will not stop seeking that brighter future when my family’s dignity and safety will not depend on the color of our skin or the place we were born. Today is a special day. Today is my birthday, I will have celebrated 15 birthdays in the United States, a place I call my home. There is still so much more I can contribute and will continue to contribute to this home and I hope many will join me, undocumented or not, in continuing to fight with me for family, and the millions of immigrants because we have so much to give, we are not giving up, and we are here to stay.
Adriana Velázquez is an organizer with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). She has participated with SWOP since 2012, and stepped in as an organizer in 2015. Adriana currently works on the Parent Mentor and Safe Passage programs and is the organizer for Azuela and Pasteur Elementary Schools.
Formed in 1996, The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) is a broad-based organization of 34 Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith institutions, public and private schools, and other institutions in Southwest Chicago. SWOP is known for its efforts to end predatory lending and foreclosures, reduce violence, win rights and protect the civil liberties of immigrants, and improve achievement in public schools through parent, student and school staff engagement.
To learn more about SWOP and their areas of work, click here.