Lisette Candia Diaz lives in New York.
My future has always been blurry. It’s an inherent characteristic of the undocumented experience. But when I got into Harvard University, everyone told me that my life was about to change: Your future is set. This was it. We finally made it. The American dream was within my grasp. Years later, my mom told me that on the night that I was accepted, my dad cried. Late at night, he turned to her and said, “Esto significa que yo hice algo bien.” This means I did something right.
My Harvard acceptance proved it was all worth it: the blood that covered my dad’s hands after his long shifts, the tears my mom shed because she missed her family in Chile, the frustration they both endured from being unable to fulfill their full potential, all of the times they were humiliated because they didn’t speak English well enough or understand American culture. It was all worth it, my father was saying. I made it. We made it.
I spent election night on the bathroom floor of my apartment. I curled my body into a ball and lay on the floor of the same bathroom I had nervously cleaned earlier in the day. I counted and recounted the tiles on the floor. I stared at the white ceiling as static noise filled my ears. The results poured in on my phone. Between wiping my eyes and blowing my nose, I made my way through the rolls of toilet paper in our cabinet. We had 27 rolls of toilet paper.
I have spent 17 years trying to fit in, since I was 6 and my parents brought me here from Santiago. “Vamos a tener una vida mejor.” We will have a better life. I bought into the idea of the American dream. I was told that if I worked hard, then everything would turn out okay. I did all my homework on time; I always raised my hand before speaking; I followed all of the rules. I have spent 17 years trying to prove my worth to this country. I was told that education was key, that once I got my degree everything would turn out okay. I was told that eventually the laws would change and everything would turn out okay.
It is not okay. I am not okay.
Every time I’m with my friends, I imagine our final goodbye. I put one foot in front of the other and try to live my life as normally as possible. But there’s a little voice in the back of my mind that lingers, saying there’s no point in trying anymore. I get irrationally angry with myself for not fighting back as hard as I used to. My migraines are getting worse. Three weeks out, and sometimes I lie on my bed because I don’t have the energy to get up. I relive Nov. 8 in my head.
I’m scared of seeing the life I’ve built, the life I’ve planned for, disappear with the swish of a pen. Of seeing it erased, as if it never even happened. Where is safe? In 2012, President Obama initiated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to shield from deportation eligible undocumented immigrants like me who were brought to the United States as children. That sense of security is gone.
I tell my parents to stay out of trouble, even though my parents have never gotten into trouble. I cry after my mom tells me about kids at my sister’s school chanting, “Build a wall.” I create plan after plan, but nothing helps. Each day, I see the future that Harvard promised slipping farther away from the tips of my stretching fingers. My existence is split into two different realms: pre-election me and post-election me.
I’m not going to say that I’m undocumented and unafraid. Not yet. Three weeks after the election, I still feel broken. I still feel the knife that America stabbed into my back. To so many in America, I was not worth anything. Disposable, replaceable. My work over the past 17 years meant absolutely nothing to them. The laws have not changed; the attitudes remain the same. The abuse will continue and will grow.
I spent election night on the bathroom floor where I saw hands putting my life into unmarked boxes and shipping it thousands of miles away. I counted and recounted the tiles. I stared at the white ceiling and wondered whether it had always been this way. Three weeks later, I’m still trying to figure it out.