It’s something I’ve been struggling with greatly myself. How do you keep from feeling the past X amount of years were a complete waste of time? What about the five years it took for me to graduate when my parents paid in sweat, tears, and untold sacrifices. How many times did I wake up in the morning and tell myself, “What’s the point?” and went back to sleep. Boy, I remember days I’d stay in bed all day. Why get up? College is done, work has been denied to me (specifically because of my status), and I have nothing else to do (or to live for). So mentally exhausted and tired that every fiber of every muscle in my body begs me to take a permanent rest.
Running away from it all and going to Canada or going back to Jordan is so easy to consider. I’m in deportation now, and there are times I am tempted to save everybody time and money and just deport myself. There’s a point you hit that you begin to feel surreal. Like, am I really alive? Does my existence mean anything? To anybody? At all? Am I really here? It’s like getting high off your own life. No drugs necessary.
That’s the depression. And then there’s the anger. Untamed, uncontrolled, and unpredictable, it comes in waves hurting only those close to me. Ahh, it’s when I realize I do exist, but only as a burden. Yes, an emotional burden that weighs heavily on my family’s shoulders. It’s heavier than any boulder.
I live in a constant state of anger. And when I’m not angry, I’m doing all I can to contain my anger. The mental and physical exhaustion from this is too much to handle.
How do you take it out on an entire system? Damn it, I just want take this messed up system and physically dismantle it, I want to tear it apart and rebuild it fairly, build it with a foundation of real justice! What is that like? Justice? How does it feel to be able to present your papers without looking over your shoulders a million times? It’s like having a physical jail around you all the time, but you can’t see it. Where the hell is it?! I want to break it, I want to physically break out, but these chains are invisible so I can’t touch it. I can’t break it. The frustration is more than I can take, it literally feels like a hand is squeezing my heart and I can’t handle it. My chest actually physically hurts. The pain is real, but no doctor will see it, no medicine will cure it. I have to pause to breathe.
Pause. Breathe. Think.
Why do I feel this way? Why do I feel so worthless? It took me a while to realize it was because I was falling short of people’s expectations and how others defined success. I took it as my own definition; it’s how I was raised: you go to school, you do well, you get a job, make money, be successful. No job, no success. I wasn’t living up to what I was “supposed” to do. And I was trying to do it in a system that’s designed to make sure I got nothing done. I can’t win. In this system, I’m meant to fail. And when I do fail, when I fall flat on my face applying for jobs that want my nonexistent papers, I’m looked down upon for it. Humiliated.
Here, at this point, my anger changes, and my focus is clear. I don’t feel bad for not having a job. But I sure as hell won’t accept it. I still want that job, I want to put my degree to good use, and I will. I take what I know, what I learned and put it, in full force, driving it up against the system and all who work for it who want me to play in its rigged game.
Dear DHS, ICE, and every immigration officer who would love to see me deport myself, please wipe that ugly smug smile off your face, because I’m about to rewrite every rule you spent your life enforcing.
Of course, they’d love to see me silent, depressed and scared. Hell no. I exist. You want to ignore me? I will be in your face, in the newspapers, on the radio, I will be loud, but most of all, I will be resisting my depression by simply existing. I will block traffic, do the unthinkable and get arrested, and let every person, officer, bureaucrat, and citizen know I’m undocumented. You still won’t confront me? Pretend my issue doesn’t exist? I will block your way to work. What’s wrong, you have a job to get to? Was that the same job I was offered first but couldn’t take because of my status and so they had to do with you? Oh excuse me but today I’m owning it, no more excuses, I’m rising above the depression because my worth isn’t recorded on any diploma administered by any human. You won’t find my worth on any social security card, passport, license, ID, or even this written piece. There are no words for my worth but the closest it gets to is DIGNITY.
It’s the same dignity that gives me the unapologetic courage to say in the face of the biggest bigot that I’m fighting for nothing short of full equal human rights, the same you take for granted every day. Does my existence offend, confuse, or threaten you? Good, because I plan to keep on existing. Right here.
I have dignity enough to know your measure of success is flawed, to know I have my own standards and if they don’t conform to society’s standards then that’s too bad, but I sure as hell won’t let anyone humiliate, intimidate, and take an ounce away from my dignity. Yes, I graduated with a degree in architecture two years ago. No, I have not interned with some big name firm that builds expensive buildings for rich people who don’t need them. I’m in organizing. I played a small part in pushing for the IL Dream Act, which makes it easier for undocumented folks like my brother go to college. I organize events. I harass people to go vote even though I can’t. You know what that is? That’s having the audacity to make a change in a country with laws that placed me in deportation.
What wonderful nerve of undocumented folks everywhere to refuse to stay asleep, to refuse to stay silent, to refuse to play by the rules, and to confront unjust laws unapologetically. The nerve of these amazing folks to organize, get arrested and break the fear in Chicago, Atlanta, California, Arizona, and North Carolina. We have enough trust in each other, in our skills and talents (that we fostered in school and on the ground) to know that even when we are placed in deportation, we have nothing to fear. Success? This right here is the definition of success! We have a purpose, a goal, a reason to change the laws for our communities and ourselves.
I remind myself I’m more than a diploma, more than a paper, and I use my degree every day designing and working for organizing. I went to school to educate myself to be a better person; the diploma was never the end goal. We continue to gain skills and to educate ourselves. Sure we still need jobs, but I also have faith enough in our skills and talents that even if you and I don’t have jobs, we will come up with alternatives. I have no doubt in my mind we will. Look at everything we’ve done so far. What are you waiting for? Let’s get to work!
Alaa Mukahhal, 9/08/2011