UndocuAmerica: ‘Not Your DREAMer’
A story of brotherly love and the uncompromising fight for hardworking, undocumented people across the U.S.A.
There are all kinds of older brothers — and from what I hear, some of them are a bit of a pain. I’m sorry if you have one of those… but not mine. My older brother, Alejandro, has always been there for me.
When I was in the hospital as a two year-old child Alejandro insisted on being by my side. Even though he was too young to read, Alejandro would pretend, pointing to the pictures and telling me the story just to cheer me up.
When we were in elementary school Alejandro was always protective of me and our two younger brothers. I remember when I was eight some kids kept stealing my lunch money; When Alejandro found out, he gave me his money for lunch even though it meant he wouldn’t eat.
When I was 14 and my mother and three brothers were crossing the desert to join our father in Arizona, it was 16 year-old Alejandro who stepped into my dad’s shoes and made sure nobody was left behind. He was constantly looking back to make sure we were all okay. And when it was freezing in the desert at night, Alejandro would do exercises to increase his body heat, and then wrap his arms around us to keep us warm.
When we got to the U.S., Alejandro had it the hardest. He wasn’t a strong student and now classes were even harder because everything was in English. And because he is the oldest son he wanted to contribute to the family. So when he had just turned 17 Alejandro got the only job he could: working the night shift cleaning the local mall. He would go into work at 10pm, get off at 6am, and then have just one hour before he would need to get on the bus for school.
Despite the challenges he faced — through hard work and his skill as a builder — Alejandro has a well established construction company, a wonderful wife and, as you can imagine, he is a great dad.
So for me and my younger brothers, when we got DACA — the program that allows undocumented young people to get a work permit, have a chance to go to college, a Drivers License, and a break from worrying about deportation — in 2012, we felt really fortunate. But at the same time we felt guilty because our older brother, Alejandro, could not apply. He had just turned 17 when we crossed the border, so he missed the cut off date to participate in DACA by a few weeks. I remember him telling us when DACA was created, “Don’t worry. I’m okay. I’ll find a way. I worry about you guys.” Like I said… he has always looked out for us.
DACA still has a cut off date at age 16, but the good news is that the age limit has been changed on the new version of the DREAM Act. For those of you who don’t know what the DREAM Act stands for, it’s “Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors” (Yeah, “Alien Minors,” they’re calling me an alien). The DREAM Act would give young people brought to the U.S. a path to citizenship. And in the new version, you only need to have crossed the border before age 18. So, for the first time, my big brother would be included — if we could get it passed.
So when I had an opportunity to go to Washington D.C. and lobby to pass the new DREAM Act, I jumped on it. It was inspiring to be in D.C. surrounded by immigration rights activists from across the country. But at the same time, that old sorrow started to eat at me. Although my older brother would be eligible if it passes, I met many amazing undocumented leaders who were willing to do civil disobedience, risk deportation, and put their bodies on the line, who would still not be eligible
It was also hard because although I really want the DREAM Act, it was painful sitting in on the congressional hearings and listening to the politicians trying to get it passed. The politicians kept referring to the ‘amazing DACA kids that did nothing wrong’ because ‘it was their parents’ fault’ that they were taken across the border. They talked about all the perfect DACA kids with their 4.0 averages, the amazing valedictorians.
It’s true, there are kids like that in the DACA program. But I am not a 4.0 student. I wasn’t the valedictorian. And more importantly, my parents were not the bad guys either. They did what good parents do to help their kids. They risked everything to make sure we had enough to eat, opportunities for an education, and for safety. Would you really let a border that others cross daily for vacation, stop you from doing what you could to help your children survive?
The hardest part about the DREAM Act debates, was listening to the politicians working out their compromises: ‘We will support the DREAM Act, but only if the bill includes increased border security,’ — which means even more immigrants will die in the desert trying to make it to the United States. ‘We will support the DREAM Act, but only if the bill includes increased funding for ICE,’ — which means even more hard working parents and grandparents, who have contributed to this country for decades, will be deported. ‘We will support the DREAM Act, but the bill will exclude people who came after age 18,’ — the aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents.
I want you to think of the stories I told about my big brother Alejandro giving me his lunch money, keeping me warm in the desert, working the night shift in high school to help support our family, and crawling into bed with me at the hospital. This is the love he modeled for me. This care, concern and kindness he showed me, is what we do for each other — not just for our blood brothers, but for all our sisters and brothers in the struggle. So to be honest, it is hard for me to push for a DREAM Act if the compromise package means a nightmare for other undocumented brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents.
Yes, I want a pathway to citizenship. I want our dreams fulfilled. But in the political compromise game, I’m not going to be your DREAMER. I am a doer. I work hard. I build things. I make things happen. And I want to do well, not just for my family, but for other hard working families in our country too.
Juan Juarez is a Motus Theater UndocuAmerica Monologist. He is a student at Metropolitan State University, majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and is one of four brothers. He came to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 14. This autobiographical story was written by Juan Juarez in collaboration with Kirsten Wilson as part of a Motus Monologue workshop.
You can listen to more autobiographical monologues like this on the Motus Monologues Podcast, here.
Or, hear prominent Americans step into the shoes of our undocumented neighbors, on the Shoebox Stories Podcast, here.
This autobiographical story was written by Juan Juarez in collaboration with Kirsten Wilson as part of Motus Theater’s UndocuAmerica Series: Stories From Our Undocumented Neighbors.