The mills in my hometown are all closed now and have been for a generation. The people who worked three shifts in them — many of them immigrants — so that their kids wouldn’t have to, accomplished what they intended to do: They got their kids an education.
That’s the story of parenthood in America and it has been for decades, which is why Camila Silva’s tweet this week is an American story.
When my school discovered I was undocumented, my scholarship & in-state tuition were taken away. I told my papi that I was going to drop out & work instead. My papi told me he’d cut his arm off before I dropped out. We made it work. Today I graduated & he’s why. #undocugrad pic.twitter.com/RwDuOe5xaF
— camila 🦋 (@camilaronipizza) May 5, 2018
She graduated from the University of South Florida on Saturday. What happens to her and her family now is anyone’s guess. She’s undocumented; so are her parents, she tells BuzzFeed.
“My parents kept our status a secret out of fear and shame,” she said.
When my university realized I was undocumented, my scholarship was taken from me and I had to figure out a way to pay for college all by myself, no financial aid ni nada. In that moment, I decided to drop out of school and work for a semester to save money for my next semester. I shared my decision with my papi and he looked at me and said, “Me cortaré el brazo antes de que dejes de ir a la escuela,” (I’ll cut my arm off before you stop going to school). I realized then that my education was no longer just mine. This was for my parents, immigrants to a country that tries and strips them of their culture and rejects them in so many ways. This was for my brother, a year behind me in school and someone I hoped to inspire to always strive for something more. This was for the other 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, for the 95% of them who did not get the privilege of attending college. This was for the sacrifices of the womxn of color who came before me and paved the path so that I could take up space in all the ways I now do. And maybe most important, this was for the generations of students with marginalized identities coming after me, needing me to empower and uplift them in the same ways my ancestors have done for me.
My mom began cleaning houses, her 60-year old body bending and stretching to polish the homes of people who voted to kick her out of this country, for my education. I started working thirty hours a week at a fast food restaurant while balancing a full load of classes. We made it work. We made it happen. I made it happen. Walking through the campus, answering interview questions, talking to other candidates- all pieces of this process left me emotional and reflecting on the path that I have taken to get to this point. My queer, DACA, first-gen, low-income ass was not SUPPOSED to graduate. I was not SUPPOSED to successfully apply to masters programs and interview at some of the top ranked ones. I was not SUPPOSED to thrive and make a home out of an institution that was not created for me to succeed. But I did that shit and I did it well.
One of these days, some college or university is going to present the most insightful commencement speaker ever to take the stage. It’ll be a parent who just wanted a better life for their kid.