I was 11 years old. My classmates and I were rehearsing folk dances in the school auditorium when my parents checked me out of school and took me on a 24-hour flight around the world. The buckets and pails that I used every morning turned into hot showers and white subway tiles.
The air was different in Alabama; my asthma got better after leaving the polluted Manila. Besides that, I never really fit in despite the kids at school commending my good English. Until the 8th grade, I wasn’t friends with anyone; I would just stay home due to my mother’s fear of Americans. I’ve never been afraid of this new world, though. The concept of freedom in many forms led me to hold the same democratic values of an ideal America that I wanted to call home. Eventually, I established myself as an important member of my community. With my parent’s guidance, I did my best to become a great candidate for colleges.
I’m 18 now, and nobody could have seen it coming.
In hindsight, we knew there was a chance that we wouldn’t get to stay here forever. The timeline of our green card application was cutting it close to college application season. When COVID-19 became a global pandemic, the USCIS shut down. The following backlog extended way past the amount of time we had left on our visas. My family and I were forced to go back to the Philippines. Any hope of going to college as a legal resident burst into flames, and applying as an international student is more complicated and expensive.
I told my friends that I was “moving” instead of “preemptively self-deporting” because I didn’t want things to be weird. Almost everyone around me wouldn’t fully understand my situation. I fell down a dark hole. I kept thinking about how my friends were born with intrinsic worth to this country, whereas mine just comes from my legal status.
But I know that I am more than a document or a number, and this is a fact that my parents have always known ever since they made the decision to move us here and give us a better life than before. I just hope I can finish what they started to make them proud. Maybe then, I’ll be able to look at myself in the mirror and finally see someone worthy of success.