Top 13 Scary Moments: Claudiapoet’s Edition

In the spirit of Halloween, I want to share some moments that have scared me in different degrees, but scared me for sure. Are they all spooky? You have to read on and find out! Go on, see whether any make you scream or scram.

Some of these moments are small fears–you may even say silly. Other moments have roots I cannot begin to tell you.

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13. The Storm and Thunder 

The way the trees toss and turn outside my window scare me. Thunder has such a loud boom that I find hard to ignore. My least favorite time out in the roads is during the slightest clap of thunder.

12. Alarms 

Any sudden or new beeping sound to me makes me jump a little. Alarms, fire alarms or sirens, make me uneasy. I’m just not a big fan of loud noises.

11. Being Late 

Whether it’s a job, a class, or an event, I like showing up when I say I’ll be there. I’m habitually on time to things. I leave up to half an hour to an hour early when I’m going somewhere new. If I’m late somewhere, I imagine people looking at the clock and frowning or scowling. All this drama build ups in my head.

10. Rejection Letters

Submitting poems to journals and magazines is easy. Hearing back from them is not; it’s scary because sometimes it doesn’t happen. Whenever I hear back from a submission, if the subject line or opening line lacks a “congratulations,” my heart sinks.

9. Dialing Strangers, Especially Representatives 

The act itself is not scary, but there’s still times where I have to pep talk myself into making a call, or when I have to write out my message before I can speak it. Maybe the digital age has spoiled me. Maybe it’s one of the downers of being an introvert. Maybe it’s being in a woman of color body. 

I wrote a poem about one of these scary calls. It was to ask my congressman about Syria and its raped women. I stifled tears throughout the whole ordeal, which was particularly hard as the staffer explained there wasn’t anything to be done. 

If you, reader, don’t have this fear, I encourage you to make a call to support and demand action for the Dream Act–it’s a quick call, actually. This matters to me not because I am a DACA recipient, but because I know their pains and fears.

8. Encounters with Many-legged Insects 

Enough said. I don’t want them near. Yes, I know caterpillars grow up to be butterflies. 

7. Lock-downs with Middle Schoolers

When I worked in a middle school classroom as a tutor, there would be times when a crime had happened near enough the school to put the school on lockdown. This often meant that the classroom had to go quiet, which isn’t easy in a roomful of squirmy bodies. The tension of the moment was something similar to that Halloween movie where you’re screaming at the girl, “don’t go in there!”

The children made it, but I know that some days, some school does lose a child–to gun violence or to bullying.

6. Transferring to a 4 Year College 

It was actually the commute that terrified me. And then the financial expenses. I figured George Mason University would be my last stop in my journey to earn a college degree. I figured I wouldn’t graduate… but I did in May 2017.

5. Car Rides with Speedy Drivers 

Will we survive? Is there a police behind us? Hey, are you seeing that stop sign? Slow down. I want to live.

4. Post-Election Day 2016

I had gone to bed late, with each hour, hoping the votes coming in would change direction. I couldn’t believe that a man with recorded evidence of gross “locker talk” was winning the election. I was scared of the future. I was scared for the future.

At the time, I was a classroom tutor, and I couldn’t imagine going into work. The students had spent months commenting on the racist remarks of the candidate-now-turned-president. It was a horror story.

I didn’t have work that day. I had school, which was just as bad because in most classrooms, I’m the Hispanic or the Latina. Post-Election Day I was the.crying. Latina. 

3. Car Accident, February 2017

I learned that even cautious drivers like myself can’t avoid car accidents. I was hit head-on by a driver who miscalculated or was plain reckless when she made a left turn, wanting to enter the road in the opposing direction of traffic.

The scary part was that I didn’t see her car; I felt the car slam against my car before seeing anything or anybody. The other scary part was the quiet in the car. In TV images of car crashes, there’s always screaming. I turned around and my mother, who was my passenger that day, wasn’t screaming–but she was alive.

2. My Mother Takes a Trip to El Salvador

In the summer of 2015, my mother made an emergency trip to El Salvador. TPS beneficiaries have to file an advance parole application to make visits outside the U.S. This was my mother’s first trip. We both had fears that something would go wrong, that she wouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S. For the few days she was away, I worried about her return trip. At that time, I was a full-grown 20 year old woman going on to 21 years, and all I kept thinking was Come home, mamí.

And she did! It only took some procedural hours of questioning at the airport.

1. The Right Now 

In case you don’t know, TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Nicaragua and Honduras is set to expire January 2018. For El Salvador, that’s March 2018. Homeland Security is due to make a decision about the future of Central Americans and Haitians into November, and November starts tomorrow.

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On Citizenship: A Takeaway from the DACA Decision

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Japanese-American Memorial: center sculpture by Nina A. Akamu depicts two birds with chained wings and wings breaking free

This past week, the nation tuned into Attorney Jeff Sessions’ announcement on the termination of DACA. News outlets were then eager to interview DACA recipients to share the stories of these youth. DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is a program. It did not offer a pathway to citizenship or permanent residency.

When the program started in 2012, it was “subject to renewal,” which meant the program was a temporary fix. Homeland Security stated strict eligibility requirements for the program, aimed at protecting youth from deportation. All DACA recipients were granted temporary work permits, which in some states were used to apply for driver’s licenses and in-state tuition. The program has a filing fee of $465.

What Congress is supposed to do within the next 6 months, shape the future of thousands of young lives, Congress had to do sooner or later.

Congress is long overdue, overdue like a library book found in the attic. Under Obama’s administration, the DREAM Act was proposed, which would create a way for undocumented youth to become citizens. In the White House Archives President Obama is on record: “I have said time and time and time again to Congress that, send me the DREAM Act, put it on my desk, and I will sign it right away.”

Congress did not pass the DREAM Act in 2012; instead, that year, President Obama pushed DACA into existence.

The program was to be renewed every two years, during which years Congress was to find another solution. The Trump administration’s decision to end DACA speeds up the necessary discussion about citizenship rights for youth who grew up believing in America and feeling American.

Who gets to be American? In a nation built on the abuse of Blacks and Native Americans, American somehow boils down to a birthright.

The U.S. is a country that offers birthright citizenship, or if born overseas, birthright through parentage.

This is because the 14 Amendment, enacted post-Civil War, states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” As baby, a person has a land to claim, a land that will protect them.

Because of birthright citizenship, some children have parents who are undocumented. Because of birthright citizenship, some mothers give birth in America. It happens. It’s ridiculous and shameful, not for the parents but for the countries that these children aren’t being born to. Something is horribly wrong if a mother has to consider geography when giving birth.

Trump proposed an end to birthright citizenship during his campaign. Whatever your opinion about the President, he wasn’t wrong in bringing up the issue. In some countries, citizenship isn’t automatically granted upon birth. In 2013, the Dominican Republican took away citizenship from thousands. A ruling declared that persons born after 1929 without “at least one parent of Dominican blood” did not qualify for citizenship. It is a ruling that is still being questioned.

In the U.S., a person born in another country has to apply for citizenship in two ways: 1) citizenship through parents 2) naturalization which often requires reaching permanent resident status.

When we talk about a pathway to citizenship, we are skipping the first step: a pathway to permanent residency.

Permanent residency must be petitioned for or sponsored by an employer, a family member, or a spouse. In some cases, victim-survivors of domestic violence, incest, or rape, can apply to U-visas. Refugees can also apply to citizenship. One of the barriers to permanent residency is the lack of education about the immigration system. Another is economical: affording an immigration attorney. I believe there is a third barrier: all cases are not equal. All lawyers are not equally qualified or capable. The process is complicated.

Over the next months, it’s important to think about what we mean when we use the word American and legal Americans. 

At the beginning of 1942, President Roosevelt issued executive order 9066. If you visit the Japanese American Memorial in Washington, DC, you will find etched in stone the story of how 120,000 Japanese Americans were mistreated during World War II.

Were these Japanese-Americans illegal? No, they were American citizens. Was America scared? Yes, and America is still scared. Today, documented and undocumented Americans face fears about job security, terrorism, quality education, and ownership of homes.

As a community member, as a fellow human, I want to acknowledge those very real fears.

It is not easy to make a living in America.

Yet, some people manage to live in America, with different degrees of success and survival. In the U.S., some people view undocumented youth and their parents as an enemy force. The enemy, however, looks more like a stubborn Congress, mass incarceration, natural disaster, low-wage, greedy corporations, and inadequate healthcare access.

In other words, the enemy isn’t touchable, which doesn’t matter because the hero walks like you, laughs like you, looks like you. Dear reader, the hero is the you that comes to understand political problems are indistinguishable from human problems. It is the you that recognizes the face of another human to find yourself.

AMERICA: PLEASE TALK ABOUT ME, BEHIND MY BACK, TOO

American-flag-AmericaI am panicking. It’s already the middle of August, and America isn’t talking much about me. Not many news sites are talking about the me that holds an immigrant “status.”

TPS news is not going viral, which is unfortunate for thousands.

TPS (Temporary Protected Status) is not really an immigrant status.

It’s not a visa. It’s not a permanent or stable residency. In short, it holds little to no claim to citizenship. It’s a temporary program that grants legal protection from deportation for persons who immigrated to America to escape war or natural disaster.

A person doesn’t apply to TPS from their home country; it doesn’t work like a visa. A person comes through illegal means, not through ill wish, but through a need to survive. If a country is indeed inhabitable, Homeland Security adds the country to a small and selective list of TPS designated countries. Then, an individual can apply for a temporary work permit and a temporary protected residency.

A recent news piece about TPS deals with Central America and was published through NBC this past Friday. Before that, there was a similar article from Mother Jones, with an opening quote of “We don’t have a plan B” published early in August. According to NBC news research, Central American TPS holders make up 80% of the TPS population. In 2014, MigrationPolicy.org estimated that there were over 340,000 TPS beneficiaries from countries like Haiti, Syria, El Salvador, and Honduras.

TPS affects hundreds of thousands.

I have been a TPS holder since 2001. Since learning and understanding my legal condition a few years ago, I have lived with mixed guilt and relief. TPS is only renewed if the Secretary of Homeland Security believes that a country is not ready to receive its people back. TPS is then extended for 18 months. The renewal process includes a filing fee of nearly $500 dollars per person.

TPS means you will go home eventually. The thing with TPS is that in many cases, it carries on for several decades—not out of a fault in the system, though many will argue that. The thing with TPS is that its extensions reflect the global instability of third world countries.

Like other TPS holders, I live in constant anxiety about the future.

I share the same sentiment with DACA recipients, and now, they share the same legal experience as me. We do not, though, share the same support. The cultural and political interest is lacking. TPS does not have age limits. The thousands of us that have it are children, students, parents, and grandparents. We aren’t just youth, as are the DACA recipients. And again, many have held TPS for decades, holding jobs and raising families: Americans without citizenship, there but overlooked.

In 2013, I volunteered with CARECEN, one of the few local organizations that works closely with the TPS community. I was not a fighter, then. I did not last long. With each failed protest, with each project’s small waves, and with each human interaction, I felt hope flee my heart.

There are days, TPS has an incredible ability to make me feel alone.

TPS for Honduras and Nicaragua expire in January 2018. For El Salvador, it’s March 2018. News of its renewal (or lack of) is released through a press statement from Homeland Security about six months before its expiration date.

Come September, I’ll be a little closer to knowing my future.

Sometimes, the lack of talk is good. It could mean that TPS is safe. It’s not an important issue. It could also mean that TPS holders are unprepared, easy targets. This is how it happened for Haitians, who are currently campaigning to stay in the U.S. longer. Their TPS status, designated in 2010, was extended for only six months, instead of the program’s usual 18 month renewal period.

I know TPS is not reliable. I know my having crossed the border as a child is a crime. Most TPS holders aren’t asking for citizenship. Like me, they ask for a permanent residency because despite our lack of legal certainty, we are Americans, permanently.

I don’t know what happens next.

I haven’t known for years. I am standing on such promising and such dangerous ground. As a recent college grad, my adult life is just beginning. As a recent college graduate with TPS, I don’t know if I will be legally allowed a job in 2018.

The bigger problem is that my America doesn’t know how I fit inside—what will become of me.

Please talk about me.

Hey, World: I Am Immigrant and I Graduated College

In the spring of 2012, I unpacked bags and sat on a bed I shared with my mother, a bed inside a room rented through a former friend in the Falls Church area. I had returned from my first year at a small liberal arts school, Simon’s Rock in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. I had returned to stay, with fears of having reached the end of my college years.

Months back, I had sat with my school’s financial aid officer to discuss my financial standing and immigrant status.

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2013 protest. Photo by Claudia Rojas.

Did I have a visa? No, I didn’t. What I had was a work-permit granted to Temporary Protected Status holders, people who enter the country illegally, but who are protected by the U.S. because they did so to escape from natural disaster and war. There were little hopes of attending a school with an annual $45k tuition.

I was slow to understand my scholarship search yielded no results because of my immigrant status. Whether I was a permanent resident or citizen, of which I was neither, was not something I thought about as a child.

I didn’t come into college aware I was in a financial mess; Simon’s Rock was a college for youth with ambition. I was accepted into the 2011 class with a 4.0 high school GPA and without a high school diploma. I wouldn’t need a high school diploma; I would graduate from the college and receive a Bachelor’s Degree. My plan, however, didn’t calculate my naivete about American systems.

While most immigrant students learn and come to understand their status by junior and senior year, when they meet with counselors to discuss their future, or lack of future, I didn’t have those years. I started Simon’s Rock after I had finished sophomore year.

I was impatient and eager. I had filled out paperwork on my own. My counselors and teachers were either too excited or impressed by my goals to ask me the real questions: What do you know about the college application process? What do you know about finance?

After my conversation with the financial aid officer, I spent months in distress. I had to come to terms with the idea that the world wasn’t at the palm of my hands.

Instead, I was at the mercy of my immigrant status.

On August 10th, 2012, the day I turned 18 years old, I took the GED exam. I ranked in the 99th percentile rank in the Language Arts Reading and Writing portions. I made a return visit to Northern Virginia Community College, and was finally allowed to enroll.

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Math at NOVA. Photo: Claudia Rojas

I spent many unhappy classroom hours at NOVA, but I also discovered that my assumptions about community college were unfounded. In the eyes of these college students, I saw perseverance and dreams. I saw potential, saw hope for myself. In 2013, I began a short-lived experiment with social justice, taking part and promoting immigrant protests in Washington, DC.

Before long, I was wishing to stay longer at NOVA. The year I transferred to George Mason University–after Smith College and Georgetown University had rejected my application–I was hopeless.

I had no scholarships. I lived half an hour away from campus. I had to take on a part-time student load. I had tuition bills to cover on my own, after my first year at college drained my mother’s energy and finances.

I hated the struggle my future had become.

It was 2014 and I felt incapable of finishing college. I was working and studying, and maybe I was amounting to nowhere. In the middle of tears, I contemplated dropping out; this on more than one occasion. In the spring of 2016, George Mason University awarded me with a Stay Mason Fund scholarship. I had earned it not because of my academic record, but because I was on the verge of economic despair.

I was fortunate (or misfortunate) enough to have the scholarship renewed for my final year at Mason. There were many difficult moments.

This spring, I was in a car accident–another car ran straight into traffic and hit my car. On that February day, I spent several hours not worried about my health, but about what the insurance agent had said, if a totaled, the car couldn’t be fixed. A day later, it was declared totaled.

IMG_0100.JPGI didn’t know how I would manage school, except that things have a way of working out. Through Uber, Lyft, metro, bus, friends’ cars, and wandering feet, I did it. In spite of my low spirits, in spite of the new presidential administration, I made it.

This past May, I graduated with a Bachelor’s in English. Para mami / For mother: for all the years spent in uncertainty and doubt about the college dream.

I write this to remind myself of the journey. I write this to remind myself that the struggle is not over.

This is to remind myself that I am still immigrant, but that I am strong.

fightin’ #timeisnow

“It is no measure of good health to be well adjusted to a sick society.”

-Andrea Gibson, spoken word poet and activist

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I often admire the immigrant’s ambition

for it take guts to leave behind an entire world

carrying on your back the weight of an American dream

and at arriving watching your dream unfold into a nightmare…

 

it’s more than the realization these streets aren’t made of gold:

it’s the fear that the color of your skin

and the accent in your tongue

is somehow too alien…

 

the possibility that in this new land, you’re not human enough.

1,000 miles: step 31

“Ice: water frozen solid

ICE: Immigration Customs Enforcement”

La Santa Cecilia’s lead singer, La Marisoul, showcases her breathy, resonant voice through this song. The song is delivered was such sincerity, such reality, it has been hard to budge from my consciousness.

It tells the story of Eva, who cleans home for a living with fear in her heart.

of Jose, who was a taxi driver once upon a time and now drives an old truck

of children and parents who never see each other

and of Martha, the story of a dreamer, a story that reminds me too much of my daily struggle:

Martha llego de niña y sueña con estudiar [Martha came as a little girl and dreams of studying]

Pero se le hace dificil sin los papeles [But it’s a made difficult without papers]

Se quedan con los laureles los que nacieron aca [The laurels stay with those born here]

Pero ella nunca deja de luchar [But she never gives up fighting].

for the entire lyrics, visit the #Not1More campaign for keeping undocumented families together.

Because of the recent Boston bombings, details of an immigration bill have been cut short. The sneak peaks I’ve heard have come to me like a pack of ice for a wound that needs proper bandaging. And so, I have to remind myself that my society is one with rules and regulations. There is a procedure for everything. From living to dying.

Citizenship is a process.

A lot of the opponents to a pathway to citizenship, even one that takes 13 “short” years, argue that offering this choice rewards rule breakers. Rule breakers should be deported, fined, punished.

But I believe fear and abuse have been punishment enough. Being told you’re life is illegal is punishment enough. Being denied access to higher education is enough. And it angers me that any country–my America, where I’ve grown up–could ever belittle a human.

It is mind-blowing.

1,000 miles: step 20

Last semester, I applied to  Hollins University, an extremely small and private liberal arts school. It simply echoed the education I received at Simon’s Rock. Hollins, however, has a lot more going for it. What caught my eye the most was its strong creative writing program and its closeness to home. Hollin’s in Roanoke, Virginia, and though far to the south,  I would have fallen head over heels with the campus.

And I mean that. The first time I visited Great Barrington, Massachusetts for orientation week, the week before starting classes at Simon’s Rock, was the first time I had stepped foot at Simon’s Rock. I had seen pictures and read a lot about the school, but I had no doubt that when I stepped foot on campus, I would be at home. And that’s how it was.

I felt and feel the same about Hollins. I know it is a wise choice to visit school campuses before attending a school. But I am full of faith when it comes to places rooted in nature.

Something else about Hollins: it’s all-girls at the undergrad level. My mum, she wants me to expect the worst from men. Hollins would have eased her fears. And it would have also been an opportunity for greater intellectual growth—after all, women have been silenced far too much throughout history.

And so, when an envelope from Hollins University arrived in the mail today, I got curious. When I picked it up, and felt its weight, that of a feather, I already knew it was a fear come true.

I have written a piece for the Residency Now campaign, sharing the difficulties of being a TPS college student, and I confessed, “When I apply to 4 year transfer schools, the scariest thing is being accepted and not having the financial means to attend.”

And that’s what the letter of acceptance and rejection said, along with this: “You are a high caliber student and we wish we had better news.” The news was that as an international student, which is what I become when I apply to schools, Hollins didn’t have much aid to offer me.

The money they did offer is a lot for an international student. But I cannot and will not repeat the financial struggle of Simon’s Rock.

And yet, the news that a college–not an open-enrollment college like NOVA– accepted me is relieving. It’s what my advisors tell me come true: schools will want a student like you. It’s always hard to believe because of the misleading GED diploma I carry with me. Also, as is typical of a young women, I allow mirrors to twist any beauty that comes my way.

And the desire for intellectual beauty takes people far. I can only hope God is willingly to walk with me, whether I eat an apple or a plum as I get there.

And dear reader, that is all my heart is willingly to share for today.

1,000 miles: step 14

Last night,  watching las noticias, the news, via Univision, there was a segment that took my breath away. It was a brief report about the Residency Now campaign for Central Americans under the Temporary Protected Status. My heart started racing with that crazy flutter of wings from which hope learns to fly with.

I am the last cynic to break when it comes to immigration reform, but I can’t help to smile when I look at the effort my home country, El Salvador, started last year. Although I have taken an entire year to discover this campaign, the game is just beginning. Should you feel the need to satisfy your curiosity about the effort:

Visit ResidencyNow.org and sign the petition here. The petition is sent straight to your state senator. (Tim Kaine, that means you!)

Like many of the 270,000 Central Americans under the TPS program, my fate has always been uncertain. Having started college in 2011, the limitations of my legal status fully unraveled. Immigration reform is personal now. I can longer find comfort in my tongue being free of accents. I can no longer find comfort in living in my beloved Virginia. I can no longer feel at home in the country that has seen me grow up. I can no longer make the choices that count without consulting my legal status.

Once upon a time, my scholarly spirit saw no question about making it through 4 years of college. Today, that same spirit has lost its glow. I have to remind myself falling apart is no reason not to come back together. I am not a fighter. I am a student.  I live for learning. Education means the world to me. I didn’t start college after the 10th grade because of mere impatience.

I also can’t stay at a 2 year community college all my life. I want to go places. I want to know that opportunity is up to me, not a legal document. I want to be responsible for where I go in life. I want to dream. I want to rejoice in the hope that 2013 will be a year of concrete action for all immigrants.