Late one summer night in Ithaca, the town I went to college in, I was catching up with an acquaintance I bumped into. We found each other interesting and friendly, so as the night wound down, we ended up where most of my nights ended when the weather permitted: on the front lawn of the house I rented off campus. We sat on lawn chairs and talked into the night, until the buzzing student neighborhood grew quiet, more deeply than I had talked to people I met at crowded house parties. Maybe it was the looming senior year anxiety starting to wash up at the end of summer, but I unexpectedly confessed to him all the different things I had imagined being.
“What haven’t you wanted to be?” he asked me, in obvious confusion as to how one person could veer into so many paths. Despite my longstanding indecisiveness about my future career goals, no one had really asked me that point blank.
“My sense of imagination about my many possible futures had been on overdrive since 2012, when I became one of the 800,000 people in this country newly empowered by an executive action .”
The truth is, I was always pretty obsessed with planning out many possible lives. I was addicted to the future. I spent years dreaming up possible careers, not just with lofty goals but with direct, well researched pathways to careers in response for my underlying passion for social justice, ingrained in me for as long as I can remember. I knew the Google answer to how to become a public defender, an immigration lawyer, an anthropologist, a politician, a school administrator, a museum educator, a marine biologist, a journalist, an environmental lawyer, a high school teacher, and even an OB/GYN. I was proud of my abilities, intellect, and work ethic and believed no matter what, I could achieve my ultimate goal of making a difference in the world, and I was eager to figure out how and where I could best do that. My sense of imagination about my many possible futures had been on overdrive since 2012, when I became one of the 800,000 people in this country newly empowered by an executive action that had an impact so large many probably didn’t foresee.
Yet only a year after that conversation that allowed me to be self aware about just how wild my imagination had gotten, I felt the wheels of the future start to slow, as that same executive action came under threat. In September 2017, the Trump Administration rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, a 2012 program established through an executive action by President Obama which allowed people like me, who immigrated to the United States as children and were now undocumented, to be on low priority for deportation and obtain work permits. In most states, DACA recipients also had access to state IDs and driver’s licenses, and in some, even in-state tuition for public colleges and universities.
For me, DACA could not have come at a better time. I had my newly obtained social security number as I applied to colleges. While at the time colleges and universities were still figuring out how to adjust to DACA, I had a new sense of empowerment and mobility. I looked forward to a bright future in a way I hadn’t before. Despite my overachiever tendencies, I had always known it might be tough to make my dreams happen after I watched the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform fail in Congress multiple times. DACA was an answer to my hopes and prayers. I went through college hopeful and optimistic, knowing that despite the boundaries of DACA, at least I know I could make my goals happen with that work permit.
When DACA was initially rescinded, I felt optimistic that we could harness our power and finally get a legislative solution. I even wrote a letter to DACA recipient students the day after the announcement of the end of DACA, encouraging them to keep their heads up high. That optimism started to feel tougher to embrace as passing a Dream Act kept being pushed further and further down the line, culminating in a bipartisan solution being shut down in the Senate this past week. The “master dealmaker,” Donald Trump, refused to do that which is essential to a political deal, compromise, and instead played with the lives of over a million people like me.
“But I can’t and frankly don’t want to wait. We’re not exaggerating when we say we need a Dream Act NOW.”
For a lot of people, political issues play out, and even the most important ones feel distant. For me, I’ve been getting these blows as far back as I was old enough to put on CNN and CSPAN, but this time was the first time I had spent five years feeling like my future was very real. I’ve heard the same tired, “Don’t worry, this stuff takes time, we can do it,” over and over, but this time the blows are heavier and harder to take. It’s hard to be told by even your allies that our time will come, we just have to wait until we flip seats, until the blue wave, until Mueller does this or that, or until we defeat Trump in 2020. Those things are all true, and those are things I am proactively working toward through my community involvements. But I can’t and frankly don’t want to wait. We’re not exaggerating when we say we need a Dream Act NOW. We’re already losing protections, being detained, and watching our futures be torn away from us. DACA was never enough if one small set of close minded people could sign a piece of paper and erase it all. We want permanence, but it’s starting to feel like we might not get it.
Some days, I feel like I can fight harder than the day before, like this is just another bump on the road and I can keep pushing. But I’m afraid those days might start to be outnumbered. I tell people that anything they feel is valid, but I feel ashamed that a lot of days I’m feeling disillusioned, hopeless, and exhausted. It’s a strange feeling to have the optimism that’s been so characteristic to your sense of self feel so irrational when all you see is evidence that nothing is going to happen and that the future, or futures, you used to imagine will never come true.
As I pull myself through every disappointing day, I keep thinking about that conversation, on a front lawn long before I even imagined Trump would have the power to derail my future. I keep remembering it like a love story gone wrong. Except the guy on the lawn chair wasn’t the protagonist. Instead, I was pursuing my future like someone pursues a love interest, and it seems like rejection is probably the end of the story.
“You feel embarrassed and sad because you know that you shouldn’t even daydream, let alone hope for those possibilities.”
This is just like that feeling when you meet someone, you really like them, but it’s just not going to work out. You keep daydreaming about what could happen with them, but you feel embarrassed and sad because you know that you shouldn’t even daydream, let alone hope for those possibilities. That’s how I feel every time I catch myself uninhibitedly imagining my future some days.
You know when that person you hope will reciprocate your warm and fuzzy feelings instead says, “I’m sorry, I don’t think this is going in that direction,” and you feel deflated, like the day dreams that sustained your excitement over them just got knocked out all at once. That’s what the Senate just did to me this past week. Except this time, it’s not like it’s a person I met and I can tell myself clichés, like, “Julia, there’s plenty more fish in the sea,” and keep daydreaming. This time it’s the country I grew up in saying, “I’m just not ready for something serious right now.”