My mother has always told me since I was a little kid that only those who have lived through it know how scary and humiliating it is.
My mother arrived in the US to stay in the early 90's. She had come through the border once before, a journey that has always been difficult, but the thought of doing it more than once and all the way from Colombia makes it all the more harrowing. She arrived here, luckily knowing people, but undocumented.
It's one thing to be yourself undocumented and alone. It's a whole other thing to be undocumented and pregnant. They worry is no longer about you. The worry is about what will happen to my child if something happens to me? There is no replacement for a parent, even if family remains.
And my mother is right: only those who have lived it will ever know how awful it is. My mother and I experienced her being undocumented on two parallel planes. Comparatively, I've lived a coddled and privileged life. There wasn't, and still isn't, any wealth, but I wanted for nothing. I always had a roof over my head. I never went to bed hungry. And I never really knew about my mother's story until until I was a pre-teen. Until then, I knew I couldn't trust cops, but I didn't know why. I knew I couldn't run around the apartment in my shoes cause that would mean our downstairs neighbors would complain, but I didn't understand what that could mean.
For my mother, any traffic stop, any complaint, any run in must've of felt like that sensation you get at the crest of a rollercoaster, that hollow drop at the pit of your stomach. And the wild thing to think about it, something we kids of immigrants born here with the birthright privilege to citizenship will always take for granted, is that the fear our parents felt or feel isn't even for themselves; it's always for us. We are their lifelines and their reasons for coming to this "country of opportunity" 9 times out of 10. And they will say they would do it all over again, the humiliation, the hiding, the silencing, for us.
This story is not atypical. My mother has had her privileges, which she attributes to her timing here, my grandmother's petition, and the people she says god put on her path over the years. She tells me I was her purpose to keep going. These are not things others in similar positions or starting points have been afforded, especially now. But only after having lived through that does the heart break for others who have to live through it, especially now. Only after understanding fear and being ostracized for where you come from, how you speak English, or the color of your skin do you get why this moment we are living in now is so terrifying.
Today, my mother is here to stay, "legally". She looks at the cops and will say "If I was afraid then, can you imagine for everyone else now?"