From one immigrant to another, I know many people will say you could’ve done “it” differently. We are judged, demonized, and under constant attack.
The broken US immigration system, meanwhile, tries to intimidate us into believing we have no choices left, that we must accept whatever fate a judge decides for us.
But remember that your migration to this country meant choosing to survive, no matter what. Your body has survived the trauma of borders, and the bureaucracy of colonization. You are a living, breathing testament to your dreams.
Remember that you made the right choice by choosing to live.
We still have control over our everyday decisions. We still have our dignity. We still have our strength.
By internalizing the following six lessons, it’s my hope that you’ll be better able to love yourself while being undocumented in the US.
1. Remember that your existence is valid.
When you’re constantly the subject of laws, amendments, and media speculation; it’s easy to forget you’re more than just a number. Your existence is valid, regardless of how you crossed the border, where you’re from, and where you are today. Human beings cannot be “illegal”, especially in a country whose laws are built on the enslavement of Black people and the murder of Native people.
When the government talks about laws targeting our bodies, we have to remember that no matter how much they tell us our existence is “illegal”, they are wrong. We have traveled so much, and fought so many obstacles, that our existence is not only valid — it’s the powerful product of our journey.
2. Take time to take care of your needs.
Sometimes this is the hardest, as everyone faces undocumentation in different ways and through different lenses. Take the time to rest and eat, as well as be around others you can talk to.
If you have legal needs, or appointments, take the time to plan things out. It’s okay to sleep in, and it’s okay to not be able to make it to every rally or meeting. Having someone to help you make it to those events is also great. It’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to get help in your own way as well.
I recently witnessed someone trying to help a person who had recently faced deportation proceedings by offering them English classes. After a conversation between my friend and this person, we quickly realized that what this person really needed was many different forms of aid (financial being the most immediate one) but had settled for the form of aid being offered: in this circumstance, English lessons.
As migrants, we have been taught that in order to have our needs met, we must assimilate and work through the system. This is not true. We are capable of many things and deserve to have our needs met whether the system works or not. Being able to spend time with our families and have peace of mind is important, and taking the time to meet those needs is our human right.
It’s also important to tell those around us what our needs are, and that we honor how we may not want what is offered to us at times.
I don’t need English lessons or a citizenship class or to meet with local lawmakers. What I need is having others honor my journey and my existence, and to fight alongside me for a world without borders.
3. Turn off the TV and all electronics.
I love social media, and staying plugged in is usually really easy for me. Because of this, I am subject to articles about my legal status EVERY SINGLE DAY. This can get really exhausting, as articles about immigration can range between the “good”, the “bad”, and the ridiculous. The years since 2016 have understandably been especially exhausting. Forget the media; my very identity has become an invitation for political attack.
More Radical Reads: 13 Realities as an Undocumented Immigrant During Trump
Remember to take a break from social media, television, and honestly all electronics. Not only is this good for your physical health, as big shiny screens have been tied to headaches and sleeping problems, but it will help with your mental health as well.
Staying tuned in, waiting for the latest election poll, is exhausting, and there is a beautiful physical world outside of our computer screens. I know that it’s hard to put our phones down, as you never know when the next big news will come out and change everything, but it’s important for us to take care of our bodies so that we can be ready, no matter what happens.
4. Be gentle with yourself.
As someone who has made up her mind about not pursuing citizenship, I often find myself questioning not just this choice, but all choices in my life.
Be gentle with yourself, because only you know the reasons behind your journey. Only you can decide where you are going and how you will get there.
Allow yourself to breathe, and to make the hard choices, as well as postpone the easy ones; sometimes time feels so heavy and so uncertain. But by being hard on ourselves, we are only traumatizing our bodies more and more.
5. Connect with your homeland and your roots in your own way.
I have very few memories of Peru. I remember my grandmother, and how warm I would feel in her arms, how safe and protected I felt with her, smelling her wet apron, and feeling her soft belly.
I remember my grandfather, who would speak to me in Quechua, though he knew I couldn’t understand but a word of it.
I remember my grandmother’s garden, the noises of the city, and the black sand from the beach.
With only a handful of memories to remind myself of my homeland, I often questioned my own ability to connect with my roots, as well as my own identity as an Indigenous person. I grew up hearing about Peru through documentaries, missionaries, and local Peruvian restaurants. It wasn’t until I moved out of my family’s house that I was able to explore my culture outside of these settings. But even then I couldn’t help but feel like a fake. How could I reconnect with something I’d never had in the first place?
Colonization and assimilation are both very bard subjects on our bodies. As migrants, we are not from here, and as undocumented, we are told that we do not belong here, either. In order to survive, we are often forced to adapt to a country whose culture consists of appropriation and theft, as well as an overwhelming amount of artificial media.
More Radical Reads: To Understand Puerto Rico’s Troubles, We Must Understand Colonialism
Decolonizing our bodies is more than just a 10-step program — it is a daily practice of reconnecting and challenging the ways our lives have been whitewashed and our bodies have been educated to assimilate into a system that profits from our struggle. Reconnection can look like many different things, and can happen in many different ways, and it is important for us to honor the ways we reclaim our narratives, our roots, and our cultures.
6. Remind yourself that you are magical!
You are a magical human being.
Your body has defied laws and words, lines on papers and maps. You crossed these lines, and now find yourself in a strange place that you’ve somehow built a home out of.
In order to make this home real, you’ve had to find a way to live, a way to connect, a way to survive. Many of us did this without speaking the local language. All of us did this in fear. Yet through these obstacles you have survived and are here, living and breathing, and still traveling in many ways.
You are not from here. But you are not from there either. Not anymore.
You are from somewhere else instead. Your body belongs only to you and the culture you have created from living in-between worlds. You’re a survivor. You are a traveler. You have gone through so much in order to get to where you are today, and no matter what happens tomorrow, you will always have today.
You will always have your power.
[Headline Image: Photo of a smiling person with long black hair, brown skin, and a purple patterned top. They are standing on a road. To their right is a corn field. Source: David Amsler]