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Opinion

Op-Ed: The immigrant experience, as told by college essays

ME.0830.Then31.North side of number eight in early morning light. Garbled tile roofs with copper Got
Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles.

For more than 20 years, Marcos M. Villatoro has read and graded hundreds of essays about immigration as a writing teacher at Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles. Here are excerpts from two student essays.

‘What if this coyotaje stole her daughter?’

I don’t know whether my mother left my father or whether she tried to get him to come with us to America. I like to think that my dad didn’t want us to leave, but my mom chose herself and [me] rather than a man who wanted to hold her back from all the infinite possibilities a new life in America could only give her. Only she and I crossed the border. We went on an airplane. The winds howled and the rain felt like it shook our plane. I screamed every time I saw the lightning and heard the thunder that followed. I was 4 and this is one of the truths I wish I could forget.

I was later told that when we landed, my mother was instructed by a coyotaje to separate from me and allow me to go with her and pretend she was my mother. They said it was so we could all blend in better. My mother refused. What if this coyotaje stole her daughter? There would be no way to track me down. The police wouldn’t help her, her family wouldn’t be able to help her because those that were already in America barely had a faint grasp of it and those who were in Mexico could do even less.

— Diana Rodriguez, who graduated in 2018

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‘The day that my uncle got deported’

Santa Fe del Rio, Michoacán, is where I am from. I was brought into a new country with no self-expectation nor self-identity. I did not understand what it meant to be far from home until one day, the news [came] that my grandparents’ visa was no longer valid and due to circumstances, they could not apply for a renewal. The day that my uncle got deported is the day when I was old enough to understand that odds are, I probably won’t ever see them again.

For a good period of my life, I did not care about the fact that I was and am undocumented, however the time to apply to college began and I noticed that being undocumented according to others is who I am. ... When the personal statements were due, my college counselors would repeatedly tell me to write about being undocumented, but I soon came to realize that being undocumented doesn’t make me. ... Esa no soy yo (That’s not me).

— E.O., a student who asked to be identified only by her initials

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