For my 11 million undocumented brothers and sisters who have or continue their battle with depression while undocumented.
As she walked towards the car I could tell something was wrong. I asked her how her day was and tears quickly formed around her beautiful brown eyes. “I think I’m depressed,” she said. She was ashamed. She was tired of explaining why she couldn’t drive at night. “My friends don’t understand that not having a drivers license limits me. If I get pulled over I would be at risk. I’m tired.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2015 youth high-risk behavior survey released in June, Latina teens have the highest rate of suicide attempts among all adolescent groups in the U.S. 15 percent of Latina teens in the U.S. have attempted suicide. Compared to 9.8 percent and 10.2 percent for white and black female teens. About 26 percent of Latina teens considered suicide.
I’ve felt the exact same feelings my little sister was sharing with me. The only difference is that she has some to confide in. Unfortunately, I didn’t.
My first encounter with depression started at 11 years old. We had just migrated to the United States. My parents were always working and the little money they earned was never enough.
Starting from zero meant hungry bodies, worn-out clothes, and living in fear. My parents each worked two jobs, we didn’t see them much. We would visit mom during her 30 minute break. Otherwise we wouldn’t have a chance to be with her until her day off.
My father went from having his own firm to being humiliated and disrespected by his racist bosses. My mother went from being a college student to burning her soft hands and arms in the stove as she made your McDonald’s order. This hurt me. It hurt me a great deal.
In school, I had to work ten times harder than those around me. A family member told me I would never go to college because I was undocumented. “Stop trying so hard,” she said as she crushed my hopes and dreams. Proving people wrong is exhausting and giving up crossed my mind too many times.
I wasn’t even 15 yet and the pressure, fear, and hopelessness was quickly taking over.
In high school, I suffered in silence. I talked about college with my peers as if I knew I where I was going. No one knew I spent many nights crying myself to sleep because I thought I wasn’t good enough to have papers, to go to college, to be like everyone else.
In college, I no longer got the grades I was used too. I didn’t have time to make any friends because I was either working, catching up in school, or helping my parents with my siblings. I thought the college experience everyone talked about was only for those with legal documentation. I longed to be “normal.”
In May 2015, I burnt out and my depression was on full force.
Many of my mentors and friends told me to slow down and I didn’t listen. I thought I was unstoppable and I was spending all of my free time in meetings, preparing for speeches, attending conferences, etc. I became a poster child of the DREAMer movement in Iowa. I couldn’t let anyone down without feeling guilty or selfish.
Fighting the fight became my duty. Fighting the fight meant dealing with the fear of retaliation and exposing my parents too much.
Spring semester finals week: I couldn’t get out of bed and nothing could make my migraines disappear. The hopeless feeling had returned. I was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted. I couldn’t fix my damaged-self alone.
I was a 21 year old carrying all of the weight of the world on my young shoulders.
In October 2015, I was driving home from work. I was sleep deprived and too exhausted. All I could think of was how much I could rest if I wasn’t on this Earth anymore. Driving my car off the road seemed like the perfect solution.
I had never been so serious about a thought like this and it scared me. I pulled over and cried. I was ashamed of myself for considering this.
The fear of deportation never leaves our thoughts. Some of us might be protected under DACA, but our loved ones are still at risk. The pressure of being a good immigrant is exhausting and it sets unrealistic standards for undocumented children and youth who just want to live in peace.
DREAMers and their families deal with trauma, depression, and anxiety on a daily basis. They may not talk about it or show it, but they struggle is constant.
Every day, I feel guilty that I am protected and able to pursue my dreams with DACA, but my parents can’t. I have a drivers license, and they don’t. I can pursue good paying jobs and sit on a desk, while they work for little money cleaning and building other people’s homes.
Every day is a struggle that very few see.
Allies learn to love, support, and understand DREAMers. Encourage them to live life and show them their worth on Earth.
And lastly, to my fellow DREAMers, depression is a struggle that many deal with. Seek the help you need, take care of yourself, and know you’re worth. Without you, we wouldn’t be a community of 11 million strong undocumented immigrants.
It’s okay to not be okay. It’s not okay to struggle alone.