Peeling Off the Immigrant Label

By Jack Gabriel

Alien. Illegal. Lazy. Criminal. Bad Hombre. The labels that undocumented immigrants are forced to wear go on and on. Now with Trump as President and his bombastic claims that a wall will be built on the border, the immigration crisis is back in the spotlight masking undocumented immigrants behind a veil of stereotypes. With an increase in coverage, many misconceptions about undocumented immigrants are rearing their head. And, quite frankly, not only is it scary, it’s dangerous.

No, they are not here to steal our jobs. No, they are not all criminals. Yes, they do pay taxes. Yes, undocumented immigrants can and do benefit the nation as a whole. When it comes to immigration, the only way to really learn about the issue at hand is to actually talk to undocumented immigrants and see how they live, which is why I am so glad that I went on an immersion as a part of my neighborhood class.

I never thought that I would end up doing an immersion. When I found out that I was required to participate in one for class, I wasn’t too thrilled. Being forced to wake up early on a Saturday morning and stay overnight with a family I did not know or truly care about was not my idea of an exciting weekend. While I may initially have been dreading it, I am incredibly grateful that I went on the immersion.

Our first stop was to do farm work in Apopka followed by a trip to the Hope CommUnity Center to learn more about the immigration crisis and hear from some undocumented immigrants. While these two parts of the immersion were informative, the overnight stay was what stuck with me most.

The family I stayed with had two little boys, Bryan and Ethan, who were eight and five, respectively. While their parents understood little to no English, the children knew just as much as any other American student. Bryan and Ethan liked to play video games, watch Netflix and draw their favorite game characters just like every other normal kid. Now, to fully understand why I was so moved by Bryan and Ethan, I need to talk about my own life and childhood a bit.

I grew up next to the neighborhood rec pool. Every day of every summer was spent there. I would have swim practice in the mornings on the local club team, the Rec Racers and then the rest of the day would be spent swimming, playing games and any other pool-related activities. As I grew up, I began to outgrow the games, and even the Racers, but never the pool, so when I was old enough I became a lifeguard and swim coach. I was fortunate enough to be able to coach kids who were just like me when I was young. For the past three years, I have spent my summers as the 8-and-under swim coach for the Rec Stingrays. I loved my childhood. I also love being able to coach kids the same age as Bryan and Ethan how to become better swimmers and people in general.

Moving away from my memories, it wasn’t until I was lying in the bottom bunk of their bunk beds after playing the PS4 with Bryan and Ethan that I started to see their situation in a different light. It wasn’t until then that I was able to better understand undocumented immigration. Illegal immigrant is really just a label.

I don’t care what Trump or anyone else has to say; these people aren’t inherently evil or here to ruin our way of life. If anything, they can make America even greater. I look at Bryan and Ethan and I see the 8-and-under kids I have taught how to swim. I hear them talk to me and have no way to know their parents’ status or even their own. I see them staying up late playing video games when I see my older brother and myself. While they were progressing through Lego Batman on the PS4, I fondly remember my brother and I playing Lego Star Wars on the PS2. As I saw Bryan draw pictures of Plants vs Zombies characters better than I ever could and talk about school, I remember what math, both of our favorite grade school subjects, was like and even my teachers who taught me. And as I lied down to go to sleep after a long day, I couldn’t help but let the nostalgia get to me as I thought about the bunk beds my brother and I shared until high school.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where they or their parents were born. They are American. Sure, there are definitely major differences between my family and theirs, but I see no reason for them to be seen as any of these negative labels. No one ever wants to be forced to leave their home because their jobs didn’t stay. No one wants to have to leave their family behind. A major part of our statement here at Rollins is a cry for global citizenship: the idea that borders should not define our identity because we all share at least one thing in common—we all share a sense of humanity. We need not denounce our nationality (I love America, maybe not Trump, but America nonetheless); instead, we must realize that our first priority is to the global community, then the country we call home. Where you are born should not dictate what kind of life you can have. Yet too often it does. Stupid. Dangerous. Job-Stealers. Rapists. Murderers. They are all just labels that have been unjustly placed on anyone who comes into the country illegally.

A major part of our statement here at Rollins is a cry for global citizenship: the idea that borders should not define our identity because we all share at least one thing in common; we all share a sense of humanity.

The only label a person should be called is their name.