The desire to pursue a life on the other side of the wall is leading to generational consequences. In 2018, more than 50,000 unaccompanied children were detained at the border contributing to almost 400,000 total apprehensions. Families are spending up to $10,000 to hire help transporting a family member across the border. On a daily basis, people succumb to dehydration and heat exhaustion while crossing deserts into the United States. In the United States, millions of families are separated as kids often watch their parents get deported to their countries of origin. So as a first-generation immigrant, I can't help but wonder. Is all of this worth it? What if Central Americans knew what life is truly like once they arrive to the other side of the border? Would they still walk miles, pay thousands of dollars, and sacrifice the lives of their family members?
Allow me to elaborate....
In 2017, I spent over 3 months on an 80-stop tour across the United States. I went from high school to high school offering each student body a 50 minute inspirational speech and a 45 minute mentoring workshop. From California to Minnesota. From Seattle to Louisville, Kentucky. School after school, I met and spoke with hundreds of first and second-generation immigrant teenagers who opened up about their life in the United States.
In different ways, they expressed a degree of emptiness and confusion as they shared their experiences living in the United States. They revealed their heart-breaking encounters with substance abuse, gang-affiliation, poverty, and depression. Among these teenagers were 15-year old recovering addicts, 16-year old sexual abuse survivors, and single mothers all under age 17. After about 30 school visits, my experience with America’s immigrant youth revealed a truth I’ve ignored ever since I immigrated myself; our journey to the United States is not the romantic story that we’re all told when we’re in our home countries. No one told us that on the other side of that wall, we exchange our well-being, sanity, values, and our identity for the minimum wage. No one told us that on the other side of that wall is the highest rate of incarcerated people in the world and that black and brown kids like us are the most frequent targets. No one told us that on the other side of that wall our parent(s) would have to work 2-3 jobs while we raise ourselves. These teenagers were conscious of the fact that their transition into the United States had consequences and they were desperate to wake up from this American Dream.
What I witnessed on this tour was tremendously insightful. I witnessed young children who look in the mirror uncertain of who stares back. They are expected to grow tall and strong in a society that does not understand their roots. I witnessed young children who fell victims to the same threats their parents ran away from. So I asked myself...what if the wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is not the wall that really matters? Because I believe the most divisive wall that exists is the wall between us and the belief that dreams are possible in our home countries.
What if instead of believing that the grass is greener on the other side, we worked together to water the grass on our side of the wall? What if we believed in a Central American Dream instead of just the American Dream?