My name is Tania Chairez; I am undocumented, unafraid and unapologetic.
I was born in northern Mexico, where poverty is the norm, education is scarce and the opportunity to rise through the ranks is virtually unheard of.
My mom tells me stories of when we used to live in a shabby one-room house: one bed, one restroom, an old stove and a small table all in one.
I have heard stories of how my dad had to walk for hours just to get to work, only to earn abysmal amounts of money in the end.
My parents did not want me to grow up in that environment because they envisioned something better for me.
They wanted me to experience the American Dream that promised opportunity, equality and freedom.
We considered this our salvation. This ideology brought us to the United States when I was only 5 years old and my home soon became Phoenix, Ariz.
In my youth, I did not understand why I did not fit into this new culture or what it meant to overstay my tourist visa.
First grade was a living nightmare. I would come home crying every day because I could not understand the language or what was expected of me.
Finally, I managed to become bilingual, but even then I was standing in the middle of two cultures — never fully Mexican, never fully American.
Soon enough, the political climate in Arizona directly addressed this uncertain limbo, and — with just one look — people could make assumptions about my life.
I experienced what it is like to live in incessant fear: fear of what others thought about my status, fear of deportation to a country I did not know, fear of being separated from my friends and all I had ever known.
I experienced the shock of having my mother feel ashamed of her culture and her background as she walked down the supermarket aisle asking me not to talk to her in Spanish.
I even witnessed the direct discrimination against my father as his employers mocked his Mexican accent and called him a “wetback.”
Even then, I did not fully understand what made me so different from everyone else.
Was it the color of my skin? Was it my language or my culture? Was it general stereotypes that allowed people to judge me?
I considered myself American: I had dreams of a successful future, my parents paid taxes and we contributed to our community.
It was not until high school that I finally began to see the barriers my legal status put in my way.
My classmates went through their coming-of-age stage, and I had to make up excuses every time someone asked me why I did not have a driver’s license or why I could not apply for a job.
I felt alone, ostracized by the very country I called my own.
And even though I thought that higher education was impossible because I lacked a nine-digit number, my public high school in Phoenix did not think that was a good enough reason.
Soon, the entire administration was on board to help me figure out my uncertain future.
And here I am, almost 3,000 miles away from home at our prestigious University. Here I am, no longer willing to sit in the shadows as my rights are being violated.
I am undocumented and will continue to fight for my rights as a human being and as an unrecognized American who is redefining what it means to be a “citizen.”
Tania Chairez is a Wharton sophomore. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.