I come from an immigrant family. Both sets of my grandparents fled the war in Spain and Italy and settled in Argentina to give their families a safer future. My parents are immigrants themselves. We moved around my entire life, never living more than eight years in one country.
I always knew I wanted to move to New York city. As a little girl, I would repeat Frank Sinatra’s lyrics, “If I can make it there, I can make it anywhere,” over and over in my head as my dad played his CD for the millionth time on our way to the beach. When I was accepted to grad school at an Ivy League university, I finally made my dream come true and emptied my bank account and packed all my things into two tiny suitcases.
But when I moved to the United States, I didn’t consider myself an immigrant. I was just here for a bit and then going back home. After all, I had a boyfriend, my entire family, and my friends back home.
My student visa turned into a work visa which eventually turned into a green card after I met my husband and got married. I have lost count of the number of times someone at the border has made a rude or insensitive comment to me as I come back into the United States.
But I didn’t care.
One time a man heard me speaking in Spanish to my parents on the phone and yelled, “Go back to Mexico!” I wanted to stop and explain to him that not all Spanish speakers come from Mexico. In fact, there are 20 countries that have Spanish as their first language. I knew it was going to be pointless.
But I didn’t care.
Then I had my son. And I started to care about these constant microaggressions.
We’ve been raising him bilingual so he can celebrate and belong to both cultures our family is made of. I speak to him only in Spanish and my husband only in English so our son can switch from one to the other without a problem.
Recently I was at the playground with him and I was counting the steps up to the slide, “Uno, dos, tres!” A woman playing nearby with her kid smiled and I thought maybe our kids could play together. They did and I struck up a conversation about toddlers being so wild, she looked at me confused, first that I spoke English, and second that I wasn’t the nanny.
And I cared.
When I’m at the supermarket, someone does a double-take after hearing me speak to my son in Spanish. I see eyes staring at me at restaurants and playgroups. I’m in one of the most diverse cities in the world and yet I am reminded constantly that I am the odd one out.
And I care.
And then, this weekend happened where at least 29 people were killed in shootings in America. After having worked in the news for over a decade, I’ve become pretty desensitized to tragedies. It pains me to say it, but it’s the truth. However, the mass shooting at El Paso got to me. The target was immigrants—people like me, and their families just like mine.
It is heart wrenching to think that I might be putting my family in danger by raising our son bilingual. That someone, somewhere, might see him as a threat or a target when he asks for “agua” instead of water.
So days like today, I can’t just turn away and ignore the news to protect my mental health. Instead, I find myself scouring the internet for all the details so I can help prevent it next time, or make sure there is no next time.
As a mother, but also as an immigrant mother, I urge you not to turn off the news tonight and instead work within your community so all parents never have to fear for their children’s safety when they leave the house.
Right now, I’m focusing on talking openly about this. Maybe it can help someone see how drastically different someone’s experience can be, even living in similar circumstances. I’m also donating to help those families affected by the most recent shootings. It’s not much, but it’s what I can do from here.
Recently I read this quote from Fred Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ I’m going to focus on both being the helper within my community, and also celebrating the helpers that are making a change. Maybe if we focus more on the good than on the bad we can make a difference. At least I hope we can.