I consider myself lucky to have been born in America. Maybe my folks could have done better than New Jersey, still - I'm thankful to be an American citizen. I grew up in a very specific time and place that, looking back now, CLEARLY defined not only my identity, but my perspective. I grew up in a suburb of Newark, NJ called the Ironbound.
At that time (the 1980's-90's), the Ironbound was comprised of Portuguese, Spanish (Spain), and Polish immigrants. Italians had long ago fled north, and African-Americans were forced out in the Aftermath of the Newark riots. For all intents and purposes this was a white European Ghetto. And it was around that time that Ecuadorian immigrants started to arrive. I don't know who the first one was, but I imagine him as a small man wearing a high fitting fedora and JNCO jeans. My parents arrived in the early 80's and, unfortunately, did not wear JNCOs.
I grew up feeling different from everyone. I had no siblings and only a handful of kids in my school were Latino. The majority of those kids immigrated with their parents and were funneled into the ESL program, where I was not enrolled. In terms of familiarity (faces and names I felt comfortable around) it was just me, my parents, and the "paisanos," my extended family and friends of family, that came up to America from Ecuador after my parents were established in New Jersey. My discomfort came from growing up around casual racism: slurs, refusal of service, and, in some cases, violence.
This racism wasn't apartheid, far from it, but it was everywhere and it was unchecked. I remember specifically, in the fifth grade, my history teacher tried to ridicule me in front of my classmates, of which I was the only Latino, after I answered a question "wrong." My answer was "Leif Eriksson." Her question, "who discovered America?" I knew it wasn't the answer she wanted, and I honestly didn't care. But I wasn't wrong, I was just not "right." And, because she couldn't explain why I was so "wrong," she decided to embarrass me instead. "You think you're right, but that's not what the book says. See, when your not from here sometimes you get things mixed up. You probably think the Boston Pops are soda huh? Its not Soda haha, they're a band. You'll learn how to answer questions 'right,' when you pick up the language better." I was never part of the ESL program, despite initial protests from the school's admissions office. In fact, I grew up fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese - and still am.
I told my mother about what happened, and she stormed into my school the next day, ignoring the fact she didn't speak a lick of English. At the time there were no Spanish speaking faculty members available to translate, the one Spanish speaking teacher was busy handling a class of 30 ESL students, in a classroom that fits 20. So, I served as an interpreter for my principal, vice-principal, and history teacher, translating to the best of my ability the fire that was spewing out of my mother's mouth. In case you didn't know, fire is the same in all languages.
I did the best I could to capture my mother's anger, and a lot of what she said flew out so fast, that I can barely remember any of it. But what still sticks with me was what she said with the most vitriol; "My son is no different than any other child in this school! He is smart and speaks perfect English! Better than some of the teachers here (points to my history teacher). His words mean as much as any other child's. His answers mean as much as any other child's. He means as much as any other child because, he is an American." The next day, I was transferred out of that class, and placed into AP classes, where Leif Eriksson was not necessarily the right answer, but it sure as hell wasn't the wrong answer.
Donald Trump's immigration policy, if enacted before my birth, would have given me a very different childhood. The part of the policy I refer to specifically, is the elimination of birthright citizenship. I am an American citizen because I was born in the United Stated of America, and am subject to the jurisdiction thereof. This is the language of the Fourteenth Amendment and has been in place since 1868. If this amendment were struck as part of Trump's immigration reforms, I would have been born in the United States, but not considered a citizen of the United States.
Thankfully, Trump's reforms were not enacted before my birth (because Trump hasn't figured out time travel...yet). But, I know what would have happened if they were. If I were not born a citizen, my parents would have had to apply for my citizenship. But, odds are they couldn't have, because they were not even citizen's yet themselves. The naturalization process is daunting and costly - needing resources immigrants don't have readily available: time and money (which is also what I call my left and right fist). This means I would have grown up as a resident alien, or possibly even an illegal alien. I don't know if you've ever felt the fear of an INS raid on a sweatshop, but my mother described it to me as: "imagine the police are making a drug raid at your job. They kick in the door and run in with dogs and guns and screaming to get down on the ground. Most people would be a little scared, but they did nothing wrong, so they get down and wait for it to be all over. Now, imagine you... are made of cocaine."
I have never felt that fear. I can only imagine what having that fear in grade school would do to a child. Trump's policies, if enacted, would not impact my citizenship status. I'm grandfathered in. But it would do two things for future generations. It would create an environment of fear for immigrant-born children. And, it would rob immigrant-born children of their confidence.
I was never in a position, growing up, where my citizenship was seriously questioned. No one ever asked me for my papers. Also, I didn't understand all of the rights and liberties that my citizenship awarded me, or the vulnerabilities for that matter. All I knew was, no matter what anyone said about my appearance or my efforts, It didn't matter, because I was an American. And that confidence, meant everything to me, even if I didn't know it at the time. And now, it's possible that future immigrant-born children won't have that confidence. Instead, they could grow up feeling institutionally marginalized. They could grow up terrified of being caught in a drug raid, because the government has decided, they and their entire family, are made of cocaine.