Originally Published in The Washington Post
Sarah Fowler - August 26, 2020
She came away frustrated.
The first lady’s “dream, her story, is idolized,” Gomez said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, wow, she studied and became a U.S. citizen.’ But a father fleeing violence from his home country in Latin America, dreaming of the American Dream, he is a criminal. Why is she idolized and others are not?”
For Gomez, that question is personal.
She came to the United States from Mexico City when she was 6 years old. She grew up undocumented, she said, unsure of what her future would look like.
That changed when she was 11 and President Barack Obama enacted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed undocumented people who came to the United States as children to live and work without the threat of being deported. Once she turned 15, Gomez was eligible to apply. It took her family a year to save up for the application fee. But it was worth it, she said, for the sense of security it provided.
Because of DACA, Gomez was able to obtain a driver’s license. Everyday errands, such as trips to the grocery store, could be done without fear of arrest or deportation. “Me having a driver’s license meant that my parents couldn’t get pulled over,” she said. “If I got pulled over, I could show them my license. It gave us a little bit of freedom to go out.”
She also got a job to save for college. She has been working ever since, sometimes holding down three jobs at once.
Even with DACA, Gomez still faces challenges. Because she is not eligible for federal student loans, she could not afford tuition at her dream school. She had hoped to study nursing but was denied acceptance to the program, because DACA recipients are not eligible to receive state licenses in South Carolina. So Gomez switched her major to political science and now hopes to attend law school, helping support immigrants like her.
Gomez is hopeful for her future but worried, too. In 2017, the Trump administration rescinded DACA, putting Gomez and hundreds of thousands of others in a kind of citizenship limbo. Since then, there has been no direct path to citizenship for DACA recipients or for those who cross the border undocumented.
During Tuesday night’s convention proceedings, Gomez watched as five immigrants became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the White House.
As President Trump lauded the accomplishments of those being sworn in, Gomez noted they were all of “different backgrounds and different races.”
But she noticed one similarity.
“The thing that makes them fit in is the fact that they came the ‘right way’, they have some level of higher education, they have all of these merits, so that’s what makes them acceptable,” she said. “You didn’t see a farmworker on that stage.”
Gomez said that she is “happy” for the group but that she felt as if their ceremony was little more than a political prop. “I felt like they’re being used,” she said.
As a commercial played between segments, a woman appeared on screen wearing a “Latinos for Trump” hat, a position Gomez doesn’t understand.
“I know people who are American citizens and their family is undocumented but they’re Trump supporters. It doesn’t make sense to me,” she said. “You’re voting for a person that is literally affecting your family. To me, that’s you being ashamed of your roots. It makes me feel like you want to be something you’re not.”
Gomez is proud of where she came from. She knows that one day, she said, she might have to go back. Gomez has ramped up her education efforts, eager to finish her degree. An American diploma would help her secure a good job in Mexico, she said, if she was forced to return there.
She tries not to think about such things — “If I think about it every day, it’s going to kill me,” she said — but it’s always in the back of her mind.
At the end of the night, Gomez reflected on the first lady’s speech, a mix of sympathy for coronavirus victims, personal stories and praise for mothers. She felt frustrated, she said, that a fellow immigrant would lack empathy for others.
“She had the privilege to move to another country and start a new life,” Gomez said. “If I had that privilege, I would understand why others are fleeing some type of prosecution and want to go to another country.”
“The whole American Dream, it’s kind of cliche,” Gomez added. “America means freedom, but not everybody has that access to freedom.”