Ciarra Maraj

My Mother, The Green-Card Holder

Our hearts, individuality, and contributions to this nation determine who is American — not Trump

My mom came to this country from Trinidad at the tender age of 4. She lived with her parents and brother, who’s six years younger, in Flatbush, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. She has described it to me as gray and impoverished, nothing like how vibrant it is today. Middle school and high school were mostly a blur — until she became pregnant at 16. She calls her pregnancy a “chilling experience.” Her parents didn’t love the idea of her bearing a child so they kicked her out and she became a ward of the state. She never turned back.

That was almost 20 years ago. While her family became naturalized citizens in this time, she has remained a green-card holder.

Six years after she had her firstborn, she had me. My mother is independent and has always managed to provide for her children like any mother would, but it wasn’t easy growing up watching her struggle for me. I remember how she’d come home with exhaustion and despair on her face, how some nights we went without lights, and some days with just water and light snacks in our stomachs — all because she couldn’t get a better paying job due to her legal status. She lost jobs for which she was otherwise qualified simply because of it, and remained stuck in a low-paying job. She struggled to pay for expenses like rent, utilities, and child support for my older sister. While this went on at home, I was also being bullied at school. People used to make fun of my looks and sometimes my clothes, simply because I couldn’t afford to wear the same kind that they did.

I was targeted beyond school, too. When I was 12, I was walking to the train station with one of my friends one day when a cop stopped me and instructed me to approach a nearby table. I obliged, but was confused, as my friend wasn’t stopped. All I wanted to do was go home but the cop instructed me to open my bag. I realized he clearly thought I was Muslim, which I’m not. I wanted to tell him that no matter my actual religion, he should feel ashamed for targeting me in that way. I wish I had been more outspoken and asked why the stop was necessary, since there was no discernible reason other than his assumption about who I was based on my appearance alone.

In recent years, my mother and I have finally achieved a higher quality of life than we had in the past. Even though her hard work still never seems to end, my mother says that our struggle was “worth every second” because now she can see me embark on my college journey.

Then, at approximately 3:20 a.m. on November 9, I watched Trump’s acceptance speech on my laptop. I was mortified. I flashed back to the experience of being stopped by the police, of how powerless I felt — and I don’t even belong to the community they intended to target. I can’t imagine how my Muslim friends feel now that we have a “leader” who spews anti-Islam rhetoric, who ignorantly tries to stereotype all types of marginalized people, and who has made people feel more comfortable spreading their own hate-filled ignorance.

While enduring Trump’s speech through tear-filled eyes and with the beating of an anxiety-filled heart, I could think of nothing but my mom. Although she has lived in this country since she was a toddler, worked here for over 20 years, and paid taxes and raised her two children here, to this day she’s ultimately still a green-card holder. What if the law changes under Trump and having a green card is no longer enough? I understand that seeking citizenship is her responsibility, but what if she does and, in the end, they don’t rule in her favor? My mother completed her Bachelor of Arts degree here, works here, and does right by me and everyone else. It’s not fair that she’s not considered a U.S. citizen just because she doesn’t have a piece of paper. And I’m sure she’s not the only person concerned for the future. Her generation of immigrants helped build the cities and country we know and enjoy today. Does that not count for anything anymore?

Right now, there’s nothing to do because nothing has happened yet. But if (when) it does, you better believe we’ll be fighting — and we’ll be fighting from here, in our own country. Nothing will cause us to move a muscle back to Trinidad. What’s done is done, but we need to stick together and survive these next four years. We must stay strong, study hard, and remember: paperwork and an outdated test shouldn’t prove citizenship. Trump doesn’t determine who’s American. Our hearts, individuality, and contributions to this nation do.

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VMAs 2017