Nota de la Editora: El pasado 12 de julio decenas de personas hicieron una demostración pacífica afuea del Ayuntamiento de Dallas para demandar un mejor trato a los migrantes detenidos en la frontera, en especial los menores que han llegado buscando asilo. Christian Quintero ofreció su testimonio de vida en solidaridad con la batalla que libran los emigrantes en la actualidad.
A continuación, el texto original que preparó para hablar en el evento "Lights for Liberty":
I believe in the power of story-telling. More than anything, I think it brings out one of the best qualities in humans: Empathy. Stories are powerful and they connect you to people in a way that allows you to put on the shoes of another and see the world from their lens. Stories can change hearts, change lives.
Tonight, we come together to bring more attention towards the stories of not only the migrants young and old suffering at our border, but the immigrants all across America whose stories are forged in the hopes of achieving the American Dream. So allow me to tell you a story…
As one of those immigrants listed under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, my story is a bit unique as it places me in a sort of in-between state as an immigrant. But I’ll start at the beginning. My parents came to this country in 2001, when I was two years old from Colombia seeking a better life for their family.
In the beginning, we were welcomed by my aunt and uncle who clothed us, fed us, and offered us a bedroom for a few months while we got on our feet. My parents were willing to start over from scratch because you see, they never had any doubts about where their best chances lay because it is America that has always been that beacon of hope for those seeking their dreams.
Even early in my life, I was blessed with great educators who saw potential in me, and along with my mother and father, helped nurture me into a good student. By the time I was 11 years old, my math teacher – Mrs. Williams – at my magnet school in Dallas sat my mother and me down and told us that she, too, saw potential in me and that I should consider applying to a private school in north Dallas she knew of called Greenhill. This is where the path that led me here began.
After a lengthy process of tests and interviews, I was admitted, and my mother’s tears of joy are a memory I’ll carry with me forever. Even then, I had others working on my behalf. Today I can reflect and say without a doubt I’ve always had someone there for me.
But it was when I got to Greenhill, that my life was put into perspective. My new friends were all also fantastic students. And as such, they carried with them large expectations and immense dreams: Dreams of the best colleges, the best programs, the best jobs. That idealism was infectious, and I too wanted in on that. I came home eager one day to tell my mother of all the great things that I would do now that I was in a place where I felt at home and nurtured. But I was about to face reality.
I remember being sat down at the kitchen table where my inspired mood was swiftly yanked out from under me. I always knew I’d been an immigrant, but I’d always assumed that did not make me any different from my friends since I spoke their language, listened to their music, and played their sports. To me, I was just as American as anyone else because I’d grown up here, only ever knowing what it was like to be an American.
But my mother began, saying, “Mijo, you have to understand that despite your gifts and your hopes and your dreams; right now, your potential is capped.” I didn’t understand. But she explained that I was undocumented and that it meant that even if I graduated high school with the best grades and resume, I likely would still not be able to go to my dream school.
Furthermore, I would not be able to obtain a driver’s license when the time came, and I also would not be allowed to work legally here in the United States. On top of that, we could not legally exit and re-enter the country, meaning I was cut off from my grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins back ”home” in Colombia. As you may well have guessed, this was a crushing blow for me at the time. My raices, my roots were cut off, and my growth was forever different because of it.
I remember vividly crying in my mother’s arms asking her, “Why?!” I blamed her, I blamed my father, I blamed everyone but myself for making a decision for me that I had no say in. I didn’t understand. I’d grown up learning about a country who was known for being the land of opportunity and hope. Instead, I was met with the reality that my hope was limited, and until further notice I had to deal with the constant fear and anxiety of deportation. It’s no wonder it was kept a secret from me for so long.
But all that changed in 2012, when DACA was instituted by then President Barack Obama. By 2013, I was 15 years old as a freshman in high school, and my mother wasted no time having me and my sister apply for the program. The process took 4 excruciatingly long months and all together, it cost about 1500 dollars that at the time, we did not have. But eventually, we were approved and my sister and I finally had a lifeline.
Under DACA we’d be allowed to work, obtain a driver’s license, and we’d have an easier time getting into college. But after a few years of having to cope with the reality that my status made me different, I found it near-impossible to be optimistic, even after DACA came into play, and for the next year I remained bitter, angry, and mediocre in school. I found solace only on the soccer pitch, and as a result, I put all my effort into it and eventually excelled.
And late into 2014, I was given an opportunity to represent the United States on the U-16 national futsal team. For those of you who don’t know what that is, futsal is very similar to soccer except it is played as a 5v5 game and on a court. Nonetheless, the opportunity to wear the stars and stripes across my chest was a point of pride. Maybe now, I’d finally feel accepted.
Our first games as a team were to be played in Toronto, Canada but this milestone would soon turn into another wake up call. For starters, even though I was representing the United States, I was still DACA, and therefore had to go through a long legal process in order to obtain advanced parole and leave the country legally with my return also assured. I was baffled.
This parole was news to me especially since this permission was basically me begging my own government to let me represent them internationally. That felt like a real slap to the face, and a reminder that even as my nation called on me, I still wasn’t like everyone else. Eventually after months of the process, I was granted leave and I was set to head out Christmas Day of 2014. But before I could even experience that, I broke my leg in a game two weeks before I was supposed to travel with the squad.
I remember being exhausted. Aside from a broken limb, I had a broken spirit from the constant battling and disappointment. Despite DACA being the lifeline it was, I still didn’t feel at home, and without the sport I loved for the near future, I was confused, lonely, and more bitter than ever. But luckily, I had a mother who was both unyielding and wise.
This kitchen-table conversation however had a different tone than the one from a few years back. This time, she was clear on one thing: “Ahora no hay excusas”, “There are no excuses”. If I was upset with my situation, with my life, with the decisions id made, it was going to be up to me, and me alone to fix it she told me. “Your situation is not perfect”, She said, “DACA is not perfect, but it Is something and it is a place to start. And if you want to make something of yourself and help others like yourself then you have to take what you have and run with it.”
I swear to you all, that woman is an angel, and her words cut deeper than any other words I’d ever heard before. On that day, I made it my mission to succeed despite the challenges I face. Not only for myself, but for those like myself who maybe have not been as fortunate to have a mother like mine, educators like mine, opportunities, like mine.
And that is precisely why we are gathered here today. Because my story is only one of millions of immigrants across this nation. I’m aware of the fact that because I’ve been so lucky, I owe a debt to those who have not been. I owe them my best effort, my voice, my love. And that brings me to the present day.
Because even as we speak here tonight, we face an administration that seeks to not only end DACA, but begin mass deportations, and continue mistreatment of migrants at the border. Like perhaps many of you, I live court decision to court decision knowing full well that at any moment, my status could change and they could knocking at my door. We live in a time where our president doesn’t see us as Americans. We live in a time where dreamers like me may well be stripped of our only lifeline in a country we were told was about opportunity and excellence.
And so my thoughts tonight are with those children and other migrants at the border stacked and stuck in cages. I have no doubt that they too were told about the wonders of a country whose Statue of Liberty bears the words of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
So we must ask ourselves, where is this golden door? How do we get there?
The situation is no doubt dire. And it’s easy to believe that we’ve abandoned the ideals of a nation built by immigrants. But despite everything I’ve said tonight, I am not here to bring negativity and hatred to this crowd. In fact, I’m here to do the opposite.
I’m here to share with you that despite all this, I still believe. Tonight is only a small example of what we are capable of when we meet the hatred of a misguided administration with the love of a nation and its people. Because that is what I learned at the dinner table. Moving forward, I will choose love, and I will choose to meet these challenges head on with all of you. Because between those who have felt the same pain, there can be no hate. The future belongs to the brave and we as a people must stand up and say “no mas”, “no more”.
In the end, we must ask ourselves the same question that Barack Obama asked the nation in his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. “Do we partake in a politics of cynicism or de we partake in a politics of hope?” I say, Hope!
We cannot let our hope disappear. When we are caged, dehumanized, humiliated, and mistreated, we must persevere. It is with this “audacity of hope” that we will persevere. And I don’t just mean any hope.
I mean the hope of a father who travels hundreds of miles with his small children to a distant land looking for a better life.
-The hope of a mother who gives up a meal in order to feed her kids who she thinks can do better than her.
-The hope of my sister who thinks she can defy the odds and be the first in her family to go to college.
-The hope of young boy who believed his teachers when he was told that this great nation rewards those who work hard.
-The hope of a young 20 year old college kid who despite being told otherwise by his nation’s leaders, still believes that this country has a place for him.
This fight will only be won with overwhelming hope in the face of struggle. I believe that one day there won’t be a single kid in any cages. I believe that one day everyone in this country will feel this is the land of opportunity I learned about in school . I believe that we’ll learn to be more accepting and leave the xenophobia behind because yes, I do believe that this country will accept me, too, one day.