YCteen publishes true stories by teens, giving readers insight into the issues that matter most in young people's lives.
Email Newsletter icon
Write for Youth Communication: Video
Behind the Scenes: Teen writers describe what it's like to work at YCteen.
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow YCteen on Facebook Follow YCteen on YouTube Follow YCteen on Twitter
Follow YCteen on Facebook Follow YCteen on YouTube Follow YCteen on Twitter
I’ll Work Hard So America Is Safer for All
Elvia Victorio
headshot

I moved to New York from Mexico when I was little. My 1st grade English teacher placed me in an ESL class. At lunchtime, I was left out of groups because I didn’t speak any English and because I was the new kid. The frustration of not having any friends sparked motivation in me, so I studied the language in every way I could. I carried around cards with words and pictures on them and tried to match the words with the stories in books. I listened to other kids speak at the park.

In 2nd grade, I was placed in a regular English class. Then I was welcomed by the other kids; we all looked different but we shared this language. I saw doors open to opportunities I didn’t have before. In Mexico a lot of kids don’t have the chance to go to school or simply can’t afford it. They end up working on farms. My family was strict about education and had high expectations for me.

Now I am 21, and I feel proud to be living in this country. I value the diversity. I value the activists fighting for what they believe in and inspiring others. I value the educational and job opportunities that let more people graduate college and get better jobs. Although many in the U.S. cannot afford college, it is still more accessible than in Mexico.

I work hard so I can give back to my adopted country, even though I haven’t always felt safe here. When I was young, I wanted the authorities to be tougher on violent people—specifically my father, who abused my mom, me, and my siblings.

Afraid to Be Deported

Since the 2016 election, I’ve had a new fear: being deported even though I’m contributing lawfully to the U.S. I’ve seen that some people are capable of turning against immigrants, or “aliens,” as they call us. I’ve seen a lot of people being discriminated against, including friends and family. I have a couple of friends who are Muslim, and I see how scared and hurt they are when people say things like, “Go back to your country, you terrorists.”

Sometimes it hits even closer. Recently on the train an old white lady was passing behind me, so I moved a little forward so she could pass by. She looked at me and said, “Dumb Mexicans taking up space, can’t even say excuse me.” I couldn’t believe she was saying this out loud!

I replied, “Sorry, Miss, but you were passing behind me without saying excuse me, and you are assuming that just because I am standing here, all Mexicans are taking up space.” She walked away, and everyone looked at us. I got off at the next stop because I got scared that others would take her side against me. After that experience and after watching so many immigrants being deported on the news, I began feeling as if I don’t belong in the country that I grew up loving and respecting.

When my mom would talk with my aunts and grandpa in Mexico, they described it as a dangerous place. In their small village, Morelos, they were robbed regularly, and when they reported it to the authorities, nobody called them back. At some point they stopped buying TVs, computers, or any clothing that cost more than $10. Instead they built fences around the house, bigger doors, and blocked some windows. They were on their own, without any protection. If their house caught on fire, they would have to put it out themselves.

Room for Improvement

In these ways, the U.S. functions better than Mexico, but during my childhood I had bad experiences with government systems not protecting me and my family like they should have.

My father was violent and abusive. The New York City police arrested him many times, but set him free despite his long criminal record. He is the sort of person Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should have gone after, not the innocent people they’re targeting now. If he’d been deported, my mom would have been safe here. She only wanted to work and study to make a better life for me and my siblings.

One time when my father was drunk and my mom was at work, he was mad because I wanted to go to school instead of staying home with him. He pinched my skin as I tried to leave the house and started taking out his belt. I ran to the phone and called my mom, but he took the phone before I could say anything. A couple of minutes later as he was slapping my face, my mom ran in with the cops.

They arrested him and they took me outside to ask me a few questions. One of them asked, “Why was he hitting you?”

“Because I didn’t do as he said.”

One of the cops answered, “It’s what fathers do.” I didn’t understand why they didn’t take him away if they knew he was violent. I don’t think they even wrote anything down that day.

image by YC-Art Dept

After that, it became harder for me to trust the cops, because they would arrest him but then just let him go free. They knew he was hurting my mom. One of those times, Child Protective Services (CPS) came to check my home when my father wasn’t there. Then they assigned therapy for me and my mom. I told my therapist everything that was going on at home, but nothing happened.

Unprotected

When I was 14, the authorities finally issued a restraining order on my dad but he came back anyway. One night he and I were home alone and we heard a knock on the door. He told me to quietly check who it was, then kicked me to make me do it. I tiptoed to the door and saw two cops were outside.

My heart raced. This was my chance to show them that he was here when he wasn’t supposed to be. Maybe they’d put him in jail and he wouldn’t hurt my mom anymore. I started to open the door but he pulled my hair back and covered my mouth. He pulled me to the kitchen and said in my ear, “I will send you back to Mexico, and I will stay with your mom. I will kill her if you tell them or anyone that I’m here.” I was terrified. He sent me to the door as he went to hide in a closet.

One of the cops said, “We’re here to check if everything is OK. Is your mom home?” I shook my head no and nervously said, “Everything is OK.” They stared at me for a while and then at each other. The same cop said, “OK, we’ll be back another day when your mom is home,” then walked away. I don’t remember anyone else visiting us after that. It wasn’t until the night my father murdered my mom that I saw cops in my home again.

Help Came Too Late

I was 16 when my mom was killed, and I went into foster care with my aunt. Months before she died, my mom had opened a case against my father for domestic violence and her lawyers helped her file for a social security number and work authorization in the U.S. I received both of those things for myself by mail about a month after she died.

The system worked really fast after she died. Only then was I taken to court to testify about what happened at home. I was asked the questions by authorities that I wish had come sooner. Social workers and lawyers tried to help me get past what had happened. Everyone took my mom’s case seriously too late.

Along with the other documentation, I got a resident green card. That allows me to leave the country to visit my mom’s family and her grave and come back home. Even though that’s legal, I’m afraid to travel. Even with the card, I am still considered an “alien”; I would feel safer traveling if I were a citizen.

Now I fear Homeland Security and ICE. The New York Daily News reported that in one 11-day period in July, ICE arrested 99 foreign nationals just in New York City. Immigration arrests rose nearly 40% during President Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office. There were a lot of deportations under President Barack Obama, but while he was in office, ICE officers focused on undocumented people who had committed serious crimes. Now they’re hunting people who are just doing their jobs and going home.

Since deportations are happening more frequently and for no good reason, now more than ever I want to become a citizen. Innocent immigrants who just want a stable life with their families are getting deported.

Recently I went to a naturalization ceremony where many people were anxiously waiting to become citizens. There were mothers, fathers, elderly people, and students speaking many different languages. After they got their certificates, some of them ran to their family members in tears—I guess of relief. I wish to some day feel that sort of relief, that feeling of belonging here, and dropping that fear of losing everything.

I want to live in this country because I want to use what I’ve learned to help my community. I want to help families as soon as the first sign of violence appears in a home. I want to help stop families from falling apart.

I want to become a citizen to prove there’s no reason to discriminate against anyone based on their skin color, culture, or national origin. I believe being an American is helping build and keep this nation together. I’m studying to eventually become a pediatrician.

In the meantime, I plan to volunteer at agencies that help and support families. I will also continue writing about what could make this country safer, and I hope to encourage people to reach for help.


Update as of press time; 9/15/2017: President Trump has ordered an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), urging congress to pass a replacement.

horizontal rule
(NYC-2017-09-03)

Visit Our Online Store