Freedom University Series: Uruguayan and Undocumented
by Valentina Emilia Garcia Gonzalez, Freedom University Student
Photo credit: Laura Emiko Soltis
I speak fast and with the accent of my motherland.
My tongue tastes guisos, tucos, alfajores, mates.
I still cry at hearing murga uruguaya.
Hablo rápido y con el acento de mi patria.
Mi lengua saborea guisos, tucos, alfajores, mates.
Todavía lloro al escuchar murga uruguaya.
In dreams, I mix my memories with my hopes. I run into my beautiful Tia Monica’s arms and we have tea. I sit with my cousin Meyrilin and we gossip like there is no tomorrow..But my dream is diluted by reality. As my cousin gets up to leave, the incessant mantra plays in my mind: college, college, college. Did you finish your application for that scholarship? Did you hear back about that recommendation? And like clockwork, I wake up and dread starting my day.
I’ve been out of school since May 2014. I graduated with honors. I had cords hanging around my neck like garlands on a Christmas tree, all signifying my commitment to my education, my community, and my home state of Georgia. But where will that commitment go? Where will 12 years of Georgia public education go? Where will my 13 Advanced Placement and countless Honors classes go? Out of state, because Georgia doesn’t want me.
The Board of Regents’ Policy 4.1.6 and Policy 4.3.4, which ban undocumented students from the top five public universities and from qualifying for in-state tuition, force me to leave the only home I’ve ever known. These are bad public policies for Georgia, as they effectively send thousands of academically qualified and talented students who have been educated in Georgia public schools to colleges out of state, solely based on how they came to the United States as children. Meanwhile, the University System of Georgia is spending taxpayer dollars trying to recruit a diverse student body and closing universities due to low enrollment. But these policies are also devastating for my family because I am the translator, the real estate agent, the lawyer, the second mom and dad to my siblings, the teacher, the counselor, my mom’s best friend, my dad’s right hand woman, Federico’s tutor, Tommy’s coloring buddy, and Olivia’s ‘queen’. Why do I have to move across the country to continue my education?
The stigma of being undocumented is like having a thunderous dark cloud over your head. I had to bare the pain and the struggle, alone. I was bullied in elementary school for my accent. I was pushed and shoved in middle school. Other students cheated off my tests in high school. I never fit in. I passed as a white girl because of my fair skin and my reddish-brown hair never stood out. Yet, I battled standing up and pledging allegiance to a flag that seemed to tease me and make me cry from frustration.
Freedom University popped on my radar after word spread among the known undocumented kids in my high school. After listening, and crying, to the experiences and stories of Freedom U students, I got the validation I never knew I needed. I was not alone. I did not have to be alone. I could stand up, I could scream, I could bear witness to the injustice, I could spread awareness, I could do something. Freedom University became my family. I now have dozens of new aunts, uncles, and cousins in the form of professors, mentors, and peers.
I have spoken into a megaphone at a rally, I have served on panels in colleges across the Northeast, I have met inaugural poets. In an act of civil disobedience, I attended class with dozens of my undocumented and documented peers at the University of Georgia, where I am legally banned from attending. I have never felt more powerful than participating in these actions, asserting my human rights and dignity. Throughout my struggle of growing up undocumented, I never knew I had the fuel and the drive to sing freedom songs louder, apply to colleges that I felt were out of my league, and speak without apology for being WHO I am.
I am Valentina Emilia Garcia Gonzalez. I carry my long, Uruguayan name with pride. No amount of time, no manmade borders, no amount of injustice can erase who I am. I am undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.