BY GABRIELA CALCANO
I’d never really understood the legal system till about my early teens. I mean I knew I was Mexican, I knew I was documented, but I wasn’t a citizen, so I struggled to define myself in the eyes of prejudice classmates.
-Alicia Mendez, 17.
These days, a lot of immigrant students are assumed to be “undocumented”despite having legal status as a resident in the country. It is an issue often faced in school, as students are pressured about their status as non-citizens and often tormented about it. The issue goes as follows: classmates simply do not know that there are statuses than citizen and illegal. There is a form of documentation called “residency” that often falls between the cracks, unacknowledged by society. A permanent resident is one who legally resides in an area with access to work and vote in state elections.
Alicia Mendez, a student who struggled with teasing about her legal status because of her race, talked about the issues she faced when she reached high school and her peers began to enforce stereotypes upon her. She immigrated into the country by plane at the age of 5 with her parents. Despite this, she still heard comments like, “How long did it take you to cross the border? You could be deported you know…”
While she knew it was just ignorance, she wasn’t sure how to respond to the comments. “A lot of them just assumed because I was Mexican, all these things were true, but they’re not. Even if they were, the comments were extremely inappropriate,” Alicia said as she recalled the harsh memories.
Alicia’s mother, a recently naturalized citizen, also had similar issues. As a Spanish-speaking adult with minimal knowledge of English, going through the naturalization process was tough. Mrs. Mendez had to not only develop her verbal, reading and writing skills, but she had to remember historical facts about the United States in order to obtain her citizenship. According to her, the hardest part wasn’t the learning, but rather the looks she’d get as she studied her books in public. “By the end of it, I was probably more American than the American himself, ” she exclaimed. “I mean why do we need to know this? What good does it serve?”
Obtaining her new status as a citizen took years, she said, and even after it was over, people did not stop assuming she lacked proper documentation in the country. It’s a racial prejudice held against many minority immigrants.
It is a lack of education and the misconception that minorities such as Hispanics or Caribbeans have entered the country illegally simply because of where they are from. The racist prejudice that exists toward these cultures is a flaw in society. It is crucial that people be better informed and educated on the matter while they are still young and learning. It is one small step towards racial equality.