Ximena is a KIPP Houston alumna and current junior at St. Mary’s University of San Antonio, Texas
I have always been passionate about politics, and I love to read the law. It was during my reading of an immigration bill when I first encountered the phrase “alien student.” I stopped reading and sat up in my bed. The words conjured up themes from Hollywood. Aliens are hostile. They…invade. I thought back to when I arrived in Houston. I had been just seven years old at the time, and I had entered the country without documentation. I am an alien. For a brief moment, reality merged with science fiction and I tried to imagine myself as some otherworldly creature. I shook the image out of my head. I am not an alien.
When we arrived, I didn’t know the language or the people, and the transition was difficult. I cried every day after school, and begged my mom to take my two brothers and me back to Mexico. My mom remained resolute: She listened to me, of course, but it was clear that we were not going anywhere. Even when she was tired from work—she often juggled three or four jobs at a time—she was always so optimistic. “There are opportunities in the US,” she would say. “Opportunities to go to school, to have a career, to…become something better.” I learned so much—everything really—from my mom. Her dedication, work ethic, and enthusiasm have always motivated me, and I worked then, as I do now, to make her proud. My first task was learning the language: With the help of my amazing teachers, I quickly mastered enough English to keep up with the other students in my class.
I didn’t even realize I was undocumented until my freshman year of high school, when I started applying to summer programs. I was desperate to attend a program in Washington, D.C. that focused on cultivating female leaders. I filled out the application. I exceeded the GPA requirement. I exceeded the other requirements. And then, on the last page, the application asked for my social security number. My heart dropped. Of course I didn’t have one. Even if I worked harder than everyone else, I realized this one thing could stop me.
But then DACA came out, and suddenly things changed. My mom, older brother, and I went to the Mexican Consulate and got in line. It took us 14 hours to reach the front, but the sense of energy while we waited made the time fly by. Everywhere I looked, I saw students like me—young people who dreamt of becoming lawyers, engineers, doctors, and politicians. Everywhere I looked, I saw hope. DACA did that for us. It made strangers feel like family. It made us feel safe. It made us feel like America was our home.
For those people who want to divide us, to separate us, to repeal DACA and send us back to countries we can’t remember, I would just want to sit down with them. Activism runs in my blood, but I have no desire to yell from a rooftop. I would just quietly tell my story. I would want people to know that because of DACA, I was able to attend that summer program in Washington, DC. I would want people to know that my experiences and my education catapulted me into college. I am now in my second year and majoring in political science, and I have my permanent residency. And I would like people to know that one day I will run for Governor of Texas.