Current Events/Inculturation/My Culture

Citizen of Heaven: a Dreamer’s Story

This story begins in Mexico City. There are men screaming at the employees of a small bank branch threatening to shoot them. A single mother with a seven year-old at home is held at gunpoint for the third time in her life.

This was the reality that my mom was living in. Violence at her workplace, crime in the streets, and limited opportunities for growth in all aspects of life.

For that reason, my mom brought me to the United States. I was only seven years old, and from that moment I became labeled a DREAMER.* What makes us dreamers, though? It’s not that in our home countries we couldn’t dream, it’s just that when we arrived at this country our parents (and eventually ourselves) were able to see those dreams become realities.

“Legal Status”

Fast forward a bit to my junior year. The scholarship program that I was a part of announced it was changing some of their policies and regulations. One of those changes was that legal status of those eligible for the scholarship was going to be taken into consideration going forward.

Legal status. Those two words have been my nails and thorns for years.

When I heard this news, my mind went into a frenzy. What was going to happen to my scholarship? What about all those years of dedication to maintain a good GPA? What’s going to happen after I graduate? Will I ever be able to go to college at all? How is my mom going to feel about this?

The director of the scholarship program sat down in my living room telling me that I needed to graduate that same year so that she could guarantee me receiving my scholarship. You will not believe the amount of prayer and time spent pleading to God that I could make it to college with my scholarship. It was my mom’s dream for me to obtain my college degree, and it had become my own.

Thankfully, it happened: I graduated early, earned my Bachelor’s degree in microbiology, and was able to participate in many research projects throughout the years. Part of the dream came true.

Looking Back

With the current political climate and the legal decisions that have many anxiously anticipating their futures, I can’t help but reflect back on my own journey and truly be mesmerized at God being with me at all times.

When we first arrived, the people that took us under their wing were a couple of religious sisters. Even after 20 years, they are still walking side by side with my mom and I, and remain our close friends. They were there to help us find a job for my mom, they helped me get into the right school, and always opened up their home to us for a warm meal. They have celebrated our accomplishments with us, and have consoled us in our troubles and sadness. It was through them that I was able to see the face of Christ and come to know what true love looks like when it comes from Him.

It was through their example and way of life that I learned to stay close to Christ in my hardest moments throughout my journey, and where I learned that this life was much more than just obtaining a legal status. I then had a new dream: to show the love Christ has to offer to others through the way I live my own life, and being there for others, both in times of joy and sadness. This is my way of paying it forward, of being of service to others, and of loving my neighbor. My mindset had to change and think beyond just me; I had to begin thinking about how God sees me, and how He is waiting for me to respond to the love He has given me all throughout my journey. God doesn’t NEED our love, but He definitely DESERVES our love. This can be our common dream: to figure out HOW to love.

Moving Forward

I recently read about a young adult woman who said, “Everyday I do what I can to better myself professionally and as a Catholic woman, for I know whether deported or here, I will be OK.” The power these words had on me lies in the single most important word: Catholic. Without the Catholic identity being expressed, there is no way I would have felt the peace and relief I did when I read these words.

With all the talk on immigration, pressure to mobilize Congress on our behalf, and keeping up with our own legal processes, stress and anxiety start to creep in. But then I remember that the most important status that I actually need to keep in mind is my status in heaven. Above any legal status, I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven, a co-heir to the throne of the one and only true King. No matter who is president, Jesus is still my King. Aside from me being identified as a Mexican immigrant, Hispanic, a microbiologist, a DREAMER, what matters the most is how I identify myself first: a daughter of God; a saint in the making; a citizen of my true home, heaven.

Dreaming Together

During these difficult times I look to my community and friends of the faith to be there for me in any way they can. Some friends are able to take action in activism because God has given them that gift; others have the gift of prayer, others the gift of listening.

Whatever gift God has given you, I ask that you use it to help support and be there for us, your brothers and sisters, the DREAMERS. Because no matter our legal status or background, we are all children of God; therefore, we have a duty to act towards each other in ways that honor and respect that basic truth.

Above all, my friends, I ask you to pray for all of us to have the peace and healing we need, because we all have our own crosses to bear. Like Jesus did on the way of the cross, we need the help of our brothers and sisters in order to endure our toughest times. If we can help one another, we can dream together, and begin to make heaven a reality here on earth.

*Editor’s note: DREAMER is a nickname given to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a program introduced in 2012 which shields people who were brought into the United States as children from deportation. The status is renewable, lasting two years at a time, and does not provide a pathway to citizenship. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reports there are 689,800 active DACA recipients as of September 4, 2017. The current administration recently announced the program will end on March 5, 2018, saying no new applications would be accepted and a “wind-down” would occur for current enrollees.

About the Author

Jessica Maciel Hernandez

I love going to concerts, musicals, all types of shows, and going to the movies, A LOT. I still believe in snail mail and love writing letters, especially because it’s how most of the saints communicated in the past. (Oh and also, I LOVE ALL THE SAINTS.) I am currently blessed to serve as the Coordinator of Hispanic Youth & Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of Des Moines in the great state of Iowa.