Monday, July 16

I Grew Up 5 Miles from a Detention Center — This is Everything I Know About Life on the Border.

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In the summer of 1992, my family moved from New Jersey to South Texas. This is our story.

In the early 1980s, my parents emigrated from India to America to practice medicine. For them, the move was simply part of chasing the well-branded American Dream. But that chase would never have been possible without the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Previously, the US immigration system gave preference to Europeans and restricted Asians and Africans. The act was created to eliminate discriminatory preferences based on national origin and to give priority to immigrant professionals. If you ever wondered why America tends to have so many Asian doctors or engineers – this is why.

But back in 1992, my parents had gotten tired of the East Coast version of the American Dream. There was a high cost of living, pressure to pay for private school, and cold winters. A call from a recruiter with a good offer changed our lives forever.

When we arrived in the “Rio Grande Valley,” as locals call it, it was hot, humid, and mostly farm land. At six years old, I couldn’t believe my parents could leave a bustling city on the East Coast for some small town in the middle of nowhere. It took a few years before I understood why.

The Rio Grande Valley had wide open spaces. During the day, it was so bright and sunny it put Southern California to shame. The skies were so blue you’d want to dip your paint brush in. I remember my mom remarking one night after our move that it was the first time she’d seen the stars in years. There was no traffic — roads were shared with a few pick up trucks and tractors. All around us were palm trees and citrus groves, fresh fruit and produce. The tropical climate brought beautiful birds and wildlife. I spent my best years playing tag alongside orange bushes, off-roading in open fields and beaches, and biking through miles of nature.

My friends and the rest of the population were almost entirely of Mexican descent. I never encountered any “rapists, criminals, or drug dealers” — just open doors and friendly people ready to share a culture with a strong sense of community. I remember countless potlucks sharing botana platters, heaps of Delia’s tamales and Whataburger, and being pushed onto the dance floor at every wedding and quinceñera. To this day, the friendships that I made in the Rio Grande Valley are those that last a lifetime. These are friends that I can call after years apart and not miss a beat in conversation, friends I have never felt judgement from, and friends that, will, without hesitation, show up with a truck.

Growing up, I did not know if my friends were undocumented, “aliens” or citizens. I never asked and never cared. They were just my friends. Their parents, their grandparents, and often times they themselves, had come to America chasing after the same dream my parents had. Many of them left persecution and poverty to take on a tremendous risk for a better life. But when these countries so close to each other had their border divided, the paperwork was never clear cut. Immigration laws like most laws in America were never intended for the benefit of minorities. It was only through activism for equal rights that we have and can continue to have the opportunity to make America a more inclusive place.

When I see the images of detention centers, of children being ripped from their parents, of the conditions we keep people in whose crime is wanting something better, all just miles from my home town — I’m devastated. Part of me questions my parents’ decision to come here at all. “Was this the America you left India for?” But then I remember, the Rio Grande Valley was and is one of the few places the American Dream still exists. Families there can still afford to own a home, pay for their kids’ college, and live in a community that loves and accepts them. So, I’m calling my representatives, I’m writing my letters, I’m asking for better immigration, and I’m urging you to do the same. I won’t stand by as families are deprived of their American Dream in the same place that I got mine.

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