Saturday, March 13, 2010

Walking Into the Light

Tags: gaby
Posted on March 12, 2010 by gaby

My blog is dedicated to all those students who decided to walk into the light.

The first bell rings and its time to wake up. I rush to the bathroom, brush my teeth, change my clothes, and comb my hair. I run out of the house, jump the fence, cross the four lane street and there I am, in school. I was a tenth grader then, and I was in a new school. I was part of the first graduating class of Felix Varela Senior High. We would be the first to leave legacies behind for future students to come, for me and my 800+ classmates.

For almost ten years I had attended school with my native U. S. born friends. We weren't any different, like them, I had participated in afterschool extra-curriculum activities, field trips, dances and the pain of suddenly losing one of our classmates.

It was around this time that I realized my future after high school was not going to be the same as my friends, even though I had worked just as hard in obtaining the excellent grades and excelling in everything I had the opportunity of participating in. I understood that indeed I was different and that for over ten years, I had been hiding inside a closet. For many long days I thought about coming out of the closet. I wanted to tell the whole world who I really was. It was a difficult decision to make. I thought, how would this affect the relationships with my friends; how would I be judged and how will my parents be affected? I would think about it day and night and often daydream about it in school. I thought, maybe someone will help and perhaps there are more people like me.

It took a lot of courage to do it but one day 10th grade I told everyone “I, Maria Gabriela Pacheco, the girl that most know since the third grade, am UNDOCUMENTED”.

My teachers couldn't believe it. Some tried to help me, while others made fun of it. I still remember one of my teachers yelling across the room, “Hey Pocahontas, why don't you get married” or “Pocahontas, when is the wedding?”. Funny enough that is the only pathway to citizenship that ever seemed to be available to me, even after my multiple consultations with various of the top immigration lawyers in the country.

Coming into the light had its benefits. Once I was out, there was no reason to lie to anyone or fear anymore. Because I was out, I was able to explain my situation to every college admissions personnel I would meet. And in fact in my school there were several undocumented students, all came to me and shared their secret of also not having papers. One student made me promise that if I was to find a way to go to college, that I would share the information with him. One day, I met a Miami Dade College recruiter who decided to help me enter college. Since then, I’ve been able to obtain three college degrees from MDC, and have also represented at both local and state level the student body as the SGA president.

However, coming out of the closet also had its backlash. On July 26, 2006 there was a raid conducted at 6 AM in my home, and my parents and sister where detained. I was fortunate to have acted quickly and was able to get out of being detained as well. At first, I thought it was a mistake, a coincidence that ICE by chance had come to my house. It wasn't until my sister called and told me “Gaby, the man is telling me I should thank you for what is happening to us”. They really came looking for me! Everything I had done as an advocate for human rights and for students had an effect on my family and ICE hit me where it hurt the most, my family. Even though my family is still at risk of being deported because I publicly came into the light, this has allowed me to work with organizations that fight for immigrant rights and has indeed allowed me to keep my family close to me for much longer than I probably would have been able to if we had just stayed living in fear (disappearing in the middle of the night like thousands of other immigrants nationwide). My friends at the Florida Immigrant Coalition, SWER, and MDC have helped me and I know I can count on them to be the support I need when I am weakest.

What is fear and how do we conquer it? On this walk we have had to conquer many of our fears. Today for instance, we were stopped by the police, something that in many cities means potential deportation. We have heard so many cases of people being detained for no apparent reason. Police are now interrogating people and are asking for migratory status (this is in part because police have entered "287g agreements" and are now acting as ICE agents). Without much hesitation we calmly spoke to the police officer, told him what we were doing and proudly handed him information about the walk. How did I do it, well in part because I whole heartedly believe that there is nothing to fear but fear it self, nevertheless, we are able to conquer our fears because we are not alone, we are together in this struggle.

We walk often with shirts that say UNDOCUMENTED and we do it proudly, not because we are proud to be undocumented, but rather because we are putting out a statement:


We stick together and support each other. In the end, the only way we are going to conquer this fear and live life how God meant it to be will only be if we work collectively and support each other.

Lastly, I hope to be able to soon see the 2.5 million undocumented students wearing black UNDOCUMENTED shirts and standing united as we walk into the light to say what my dear friend Carlos once said to me “We the undocumented should no longer be afraid to be undocumented”

Psalms 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
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