UndocuAmerica: ‘I was Made for the Light’
A story of one man’s journey through the darkness and beyond the chains of anti-immigrant policy and rhetoric.
Imagine living in a lonely, cold world where you cannot see anything around you but dark shadows moving in the distance. There is no hope. No future. Nothing to plan ahead. You have nightmares of being taken from your family and sent into exile. You have learned to think of yourself as an “illegal;” something shameful; something that does not belong. And you fear you are the only one.
Your fellow classmates are talking, laughing, preparing for their life and choosing colleges. But you don’t have a social security number. You can’t apply.
You seek guidance. Help. “I am a good student. I want to continue onto college. I’ll work hard. I have overcome the challenge of being deaf and now I have a dream.”
But the guidance counselor interrupts to silence you: “I’m sorry, but there is nothing I can do for you. You are an illegal.”
You try to follow as your friends continue on to college. But with no option for financial aid and no scholarships available, you don’t even have enough money for one semester, so you drop out. You can’t tell your friends you are undocumented… so you lie and tell them you‘re not ready for college. You get off social media so you don’t have to see their happy faces — their talk of classes and careers. Little by little, you slowly disappear until they forget about you.
All your life you have strived to be good, to stay out of trouble, to make your parents proud. You have resisted joining a gang, even though they promised you the loneliness would end if you would just join them. But now you have to buy a Social Security number on the black market to get a job. You are becoming what you fear.
Your body is being poisoned from the lies you must tell people to survive and protect yourself. It is starting to destroy you from the inside.
There is no escape. You are illegal. No matter how hard you work. You are still illegal. A prisoner in the free world. You are an ‘illegal’.
You feel the heavy weight of chains. Are you a criminal or a slave?
For you, being undocumented is a curse. You hate being Mexican, you hate your family, and, most of all, you hate yourself.
And every day that your dreams die, the chains get heavier and heavier. You can’t feel yourself anymore. When you accidentally injure your hand at the construction site where you work, you are surprised to feel pain. It has been so long since you’ve felt anything. At night you pour rubbing alcohol into the wound on your hand and watch yourself burn. You feel less lonely with your body on fire than numb in the cold.
And then you decide… you will kill yourself.
But that thought cuts so deep — the pain you will cause your mother, your father. Some light at the bone of your existence says, “you cannot die.” Maybe your life is over but your siblings are American citizens. You will help them study. Help them get a drivers license. Help them get into college. Everything you could not have. There is some light. You become one of the many undocumented laborers living to support the dreams of another.
And then your mother calls, “Obama has given you papers!” Obama has created DACA.
How can the words of a President you have never met, who’s never met you, save your life?
I signed up for DACA and college in the same week. I found beautiful people at the college — members of Dreamers United. I was no longer alone but surrounded by other students who walked the same path.
They showed me their scars and the marks from their chains. I saw the tears and motivation in their eyes. I saw them graduating, becoming doctors, lawyers, educators, teachers, community organizers, and becoming my friends. I started fighting for institutional change, creating student organizations on campus, marching in the streets. I ran for student government and I — an undocumented, legally deaf, first-generation college student, — WON!
I look down at where the chains once were and I see a torch in my hand. I am not an illegal. I am not. That was a lie. The lie that created all the lies that pulled me into darkness. I am not an illegal. My name, Reydesel, has its ancestral root in Rey de Sol. Or king of the sun. I was made for the light. I am a warrior of light. And no human being is illegal on these stolen lands.
Listen… you who are afraid. I know your fear. You who have no hope — who are so deep in hiding that you have lost even yourself. You can win the battle with the shadows. The nightmares can stop and go away. You are not alone. Your arms were not meant for chains but for freedom, for joy and to dream again. Your voices were not meant to be silent but to stand up and fight back.
On behalf of my community, my ancestors, my parents, my siblings and myself, I stand in the full light and call out: “MY NAME IS REYDESEL SALVIDREZ-RODRIGUEZ. I AM UNDOCUMENTED, UNASHAMED, UNAFRAID AND UNAPOLOGETIC.” Welcome to my brilliant, shining, beautiful life.
Reydesel Salvidrez-Rodríguez is a Motus Theater UndocuAmerica Monologist. He was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, migrated to the U.S. with his mixed status family as a child and has been living in Denver, CO for the last 19 years. He graduated from the University of Colorado at Denver, where he studied Ethnic Studies. During his undergraduate years he spend most of his time advocating for education rights and inclusiveness of undocumented students on campus. He is currently serving as Vice-President For United Leaders in Higher Education(ULHE), which is committed to educate, unite and empower students, regardless of immigration status. Reydesel is the Property Manager for Designs By Sundown, where he has worked with his dad and his family for the last eight years.
You can listen to Reydesel read his own story on the Motus Monologues Podcast, here.
Or, hear Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof read Reydesel’s story, with musical response by Arturo O’Farrill, on the Shoebox Stories Podcast, here.
This autobiographical story was written by Reydesel Salvidrez-Rodríguez in collaboration with Kirsten Wilson as part of Motus Theater’s UndocuAmerica Series: Stories From Our Undocumented Neighbors.