11 years. That’s how it long me to get a green card. I was sitting in COMP140 on a Tuesday afternoon when I got a text from my dad saying that our green card application had finally been processed and approved.
I moved to the United States when I was seven. I left everything behind, as did my parents. I arrived in New Orleans, got off the plane, and went to my dad’s friend’s house. We pranced around the living room sofas, as six- and seven-year olds are wont to do. I’d never seen a house that big before. Or a bathroom with tiles that shiny. My dad’s friend said I could choose whether I wanted to drink apple juice OR chocolate milk OR soda. My seven-year-old head was spinning. Is this what’s possible? Is this what it feels like to live in America?
I went to Ridgewood Elementary and met teachers who wouldn’t resort to corporal punishment and beat me with a meter stick if I asked a question in class. In fact, the most ridiculous thing to happen that year was me crying when my teacher moved my clothespin down from ‘happy face’ to ‘frowny face’ on counts of me talking in class (not that I’ve stopped talking in class to this day, but I digress). I met my lifelong best friend, who didn’t let me be a loner. I found out what recess felt like.
I went to Metairie Academy after that, and then Haynes Academy after that for middle and high school. I played in a jazz band and made it through Hurricane Katrina. I watched the New Orleans Saints win a Super Bowl and went to a school dance (or for that matter, just danced at all). I listened to Eminem and Kanye West and watched all the Home Alone movies. I had a snowball fight and became the first person in my family to go to college here in the United States.
All of this is to say: when I got my dad’s message that afternoon sitting in COMP140, I only had one thought on repeat. I get to stay here, stay in America. I get to live in America. I get to keep celebrating 4th of July, get to keep celebrating my home, with no more doubt or uncertainty. Many more years of putting up lights and decorations on a Christmas tree. Many more years of eating beignets and going to Whataburger whenever I want. Many more years with the bald eagle at my back.
It’s been almost three years since then, and I’m going to be a senior in college at Rice soon. So, by that count, it’s taken 14 years since I moved here to be told by a stranger that I’m not an American. But hey, I made it past my 21st birthday! That’s sadly better than a lot of immigrants. Alex, I’m sorry (maybe) that this had to be you, and I don’t know you at all (you went through the hassle of sending a message request on Facebook to someone you’re not even connected with), but you had to be the one to insinuate that I’m not an American. Happens to the best of us. And of course it happened when I talked politics on the internet for the first time.
Yes Alex, you’re right. I can’t vote yet. I have no statistical say in the workings of our government. It’s a right that you were born with, but I’m still working to earn after 14 years. However, I never told you what or how to vote. I did tell you though to do what you think is best for your country, my country, our country, and to consider the repercussions that your vote has on our democracy, and the freedoms that come with it. The freedom, for instance, for you to tell me to fuck off on the internet, just because you can! And yes, I was impassioned about my belief and my disagreement with your beliefs. Of course I was! I love this country. And I’d love to have a respectful discourse. Respectful discourse is one of the foundations of progress. But that option went out the window at approximately the same time as you put on an internet loudspeaker that you’d rather get your way than even bother to consider the freedoms of thousands upon thousands of Americans. My problems were never with your political views, but rather your petulance.
This is for you and anyone else who dares think hardworking immigrants aren’t Americans. That Hamilton musical that you hear all about these days? Created by an immigrant. And for that matter, Alexander Hamilton himself? An immigrant. That Snapchat app you love sending embarrassing pictures on? Co-founded by an immigrant. That Microsoft Office package you use to basically do 75% of your work? The CEO of that company is an immigrant. That tech giant called Google that essentially runs everything you do online? Also co-founded by an immigrant.
I studied every single United States President from George Washington to George W. Bush and then Barack Obama for 7 years in school. I wrote theses in AP US History on how latitude lines shaped the development of the American continent. I own USA flag sunglasses, pants, and bro tanks. I have a t-shirt that is printed with Abraham Lincoln riding a bear and holding the Emancipation Proclamation, set to the backdrop of the stars and stripes. So come at me, fam.
I have an official driver’s license from Louisiana. My car is registered in Texas. One of my closest mentors invented the Speak-and-Spell and had a large hand in making your TI-84 calculator.
If nothing else, I skipped class once to go get Krispy Kreme doughnuts and streaked down a hotel lobby when I was 16. Just because I could (and because teenagers instinctively do dumb things). I go to a university where we have a campus wide water balloon fight every year. This is the American Dream right here.
The Mother of Exiles, the Statue of Liberty, welcomed me with open arms. I don’t need your approval or your acceptance. I have the embrace of friends who dropped everything they were doing to be my side during surgery, friends who ball with me and think they can rap, friends who played jump rope with a lonely seven-year-old kid who had just moved to the United States. An ace carrying the wishes of his team cannot lose.
I can eat Oreos faster than you. Don’t ever tell me that I’m not an American.
It’s also 3 AM in the morning, and I am slated to go to work in five hours. To close this out, I’ll turn a quote from Epic Rap Battles on Youtube (hey, another company founded by an immigrant), and finish this the way you started it:
I’ll say this once Alex, I hope its understood.
Get right back in your van, and get the fuck out of my neighborhood.