The lingering anxieties of growing up undocumented.
I’m trying to remember when I first knew I was undocumented. We all were—my mother, my brother and sister, too. It showed itself in our lives. In Jamaica, my siblings and I had idyllic childhoods, with backyards to run and play in, and mango trees for climbing, and there was a time, for a little while at least, when my father would take us to the beach on Sunday mornings. He was a pastor, and his job required frequent relocation; my childhood is mapped by the houses we lived in and the church congregations we visited. On Ward Avenue, in Mandeville, my sister and I watched our cat give birth in a closet, and when we lived in Clarendon, I remember how the spikes in a church-graveyard fence went through a little boy’s leg and he was taken to the hospital. One August, we moved again—my mother took us to New York, leaving behind my father, who had been abusive to her and was less than interested in me and my siblings.
My mother taught high school in Jamaica, a respected position in our community—I remember going to the market with her and the market men and women would call out “Teacher!” to draw her attention to their stalls. Now, she taught in day cares in Brooklyn where she was paid three hundred dollars a week. We lived in tiny quarters, for a time the four of us in the same bed; my clothes were purchased from thrift stores; and when the time came, my maxi-pads came cheaply made in large boxes from the dollar store. My mother taught me to stack one on top of the other, so I wouldn’t leak. It would take twelve years before we finally got our papers, when I was twenty-four. I’m twenty-eight now. Read More