Truax, Eileen. “Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream”, Beacon Press, 2015.
Fighting to Be Legal
Of the approximately twelve million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, as many as two million of them came here as children. They have grown up here, gone to elementary, middle, and high school but the country they call home does not and will not, in most states, offer financial aid for college and they’re unable to be legally employed. In 2001, US senator Dick Durbin introduced the DREAM Act to Congress, an initiative that would allow these young people to become legal residents if they met certain requirements. Today, some fifteen years later, this has not been passed and as a result the young people have begun organizing and using the slogan, “Undocumented, Unapologetic, and Unafraid”. These same young people have become they are the newest face of the human rights movement. Author Eileen Truax, in her new book “Dreamers” shares the stories of these men and women who are proof of a complex and sometimes hidden political reality that has us question what it truly means to be American.
Here are the stories of the undocumented young people who came to the United States as children, with their parents who came illegally. They really only remember living in the United States and identify as Americans and are culturally American. Because of their status they cannot get drivers’ licenses, they cannot work, they cannot get financial aid for college. Their circumstances vary, but they share a commitment to political activism and they all have faced the realization that while everyone else is planning their future they may not be able to go to college and can’t work legally.
What will happen to these people is dependent on two issues— the potential passage of the DREAM Act, and the desires of the local authorities. Some have already been deported. but many have turned to political activism, and seem to be having some degree of success. Now with politics as they are, the numerical significance of Latino votes means that politicians who favor hard-line, deportation-focused policies, are afraid of the bad press that can come with mass deportations. Therefore many immigration raids and forced “repatriations” happen in secret. Young activists understand that the more publicity they get, the more likely will be successful. The young men and women that we read about here in this book are using that threat of public embarrassment to work for legislative change. In fact, the book itself is political activism and author Truax is clearly a supporter of the DREAM Act. We cannot deny that these young people have made valuable contributions to the United States but their activism also causes limitations. The young people that we meet here are largely good students and want to pursue college. However, it must be clear that not every undocumented teenager is going to fit this profile, though they do face many of the same challenges. Truax deep feelings for her subject matter and the people she has followed lead to a show of emotions and prose that is sometimes overblown but that is the price to be paid.
Truax shows that many of these young people live with two identities that go against the accepted norm. She shares the experiences and struggles of a Dreamer, Jorge, who had to come out as undocumented and queer.
Jorge lives in El Hormiguero, a community center in the San Fernando Valley in northern Los Angeles, where students, activists, and other members of the community hold meetings on various topics. It was a space where gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transvestites, and transgender people could share their experiences and talk about what it’s like to live with not just one but two identities that go against the accepted norm. They shared their struggles to get ahead or just keep going, explaining it takes a lot of work that is often overwhelming.
Jorge was the special guest at this session. The meetings at El Hormiguero usually have ten to fifteen participants, sometimes more and at each one, someone is invited to share an experience in a particular area that he or she has had to deal with every day or perhaps just relate a success story. Jorge’s area of struggle was definitely coming to terms with his identity as an undocumented gay man.
He was born in El Cora, a ranching area in Mexico. His family was poor and made their living by farming. His father grew papayas, mangos, cocoa, and avocados to feed the family and to sell. As the children got older, they helped out with the crops but his parents had a far from perfect relationship and his own childhood showed signs of abuse and violence. Jorge is now twenty-eight-years-old yet he remembers his first confrontation with injustice. When he was six or seven, he already knew he was different by the way he played with the other children but at the time he didn’t understand exactly what it was. His parents also noticed it too but they never talked about it with him. One day Jorge was playing with a little girl, and he remembers very well that it was something that irritated his father when he came home from work and saw them. His father yanked Jorge by his shirt and violently yanked him up, then threw him onto the floor and told him that he did not want any faggots in his house.
“Ever since then, I knew I was different.”
For Jorge, his journey across the border was a good and happy experience. Since his uncle was documented and had a car, they had worked it out to cross over with him and an aunt was waiting for them. Thus began Jorge’s new life in Orange County, about forty miles south of Los Angeles. Jorge recalled it as a positive time. Although it marked the beginning of his life as an undocumented immigrant, it also put an end to his father’s physical and emotional abuse.
Jorge knew he was gay, but he could not say it openly. He wanted to tell my mom, but was afraid she would react the same way my father did. He remembers, “A woman on her own, an undocumented immigrant, who only went to school until the second grade, challenging the system, fighting machismo, and homophobia, and relying on her love for me as a mother said: This is my son, and I’m going to protect him. In that moment all the pain that my father caused started to melt away, little by little, and I started to enjoy being gay. I told some of my friends, even some teachers at school, and I began to feel supported and loved,” he said.
Though Jorge took an important step forward by accepting himself, there was another bitter pill left to swallow with his immigration status”. These are stories that we need to know and we are lucky to have them thanks to Eileen Truax.