I recently learned that somebody referred to me as a “wetback”. Whereas some may see a threat when they’re the target of ignorant name-calling or something to brush off and ignore, I see an opportunity. I see the perfect chance to tell everyone this:
My parents brought me to the United States when I was two and a half years old in search of a better life. It’s not, by any means, glamorous. My father tried to cross the border twice–risking his life each time for my future and safety. I see a hero there and I am proud to say that he is my father. Once here, my parents worked tirelessly to see to my and my brother’s well-being and success, many times to the detriment of their own health.
Throughout my life, I’ve known that I’m not a fully welcomed member of either of my nationalities. I’m not Mexican because I left, but I’m addressing that now by studying about my history. I’m not American because I am undocumented–which means I can’t vote, and up until the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals gave me protection from deportation I had no chance of going to college, having a driver’s license, having a job, or leaving the country to study abroad. My parents see their crowning achievement in my pursuing my college degree at Samford. For them, being able to work 17 hours a day just to reply “My daughter goes to Samford University and she is in SGA! Look at her picture on the wall!” to anyone who will listen at their restaurant is priceless.
I understand the political climate of the day, especially so close to an election year. Note that I have not mentioned any politicians’ names. This is because my life and my parents’ sacrifices do not deserve to be reduced to a statistic, a blurb in the paper, or a political bubble to make you vote for one candidate or another.
My story is one of dignity and I will not tolerate any kind of derogatory language pointed towards my past and present situation. Note that when you say the words “illegal”, “wetback”, “beaner” you are not just saying that to your friend in jest, but you are reducing my life and my parents’ life to a mere racial slur.
As an active leader on campus at a Christian institution, as an activist for the immigrant community, as a high-achieving student, as a Christian, and as a human being, I will NOT tolerate any discrimination and I vow to defend my past, because it has shaped who I am–a person who sits by you in the caf, takes classes with you, goes to church with you, and always seeks to encourage you so that we may help each other grow.
Fernanda Herrera Vera