Letter to my younger self

Living as an undocumented immigrant in America

Jazmin Chavez, Guest Writer

Jazmin Chavez takes a moment to pause and look among the trees on campus. (Caitlyn Schnider)


It’s October, so by now, if you were here with me, you would have turned nineteen. You would have seen the campus vibrating hues of red, brown, yellow, and your favorite color, orange. Sometimes, I imagine, that if you were here, you would stand underneath a Japanese maple tree, staring up, smiling at the twirling branches and falling leaves. You always seemed to soak up autumn, in the way some people absorb the sun. I admired that about you. There was a child-like wonder in the way you looked at the world.

But the world did not look at you the same way and it did not attempt to hide the hate it had for you. To the world, you were a product of your parents’ sins. You were an alien, a rapist, a criminal, a job stealer and a monster. You were undocumented, and you could never be anything but the stereotypes assigned to you.

Yet, you still loved the world. I could never understand this about you. How were you able to love a world intent on hating you? But more importantly, how were you so happy living among people who could not even muster an ounce of empathy to call you human?

Then I understood. You weren’t happy, and I am sorry it took me until your senior year of high school to realize how hurt you were. I should have seen it earlier, but you were just so good at hiding your pain.

I should have noticed it when you dyed your hair blonde or when you came back to school with your hair eight inches shorter, but when you told me that you were simply trying a new look, I believed you. Had I stopped for a moment, I would have realized that you dyed your hair blonde to hide the brown. To hide the color. To hide the things you hated about yourself. To hide the differences between you and them. But you were hurting, and if hiding helped you cope with the reality of being illegal, then that’s okay.

I wanted to let you know that I saw you. I saw your hurt. The first time I realized you were hurting was when your grades dropped. As an undocumented immigrant, you knew that if you were not three times smarter than your American peers, you would not be valued. So you spent hours studying, killing yourself, learning twice as much as them. But then you gave up. Your straight A’s became straight C’s, D’s, then F’s. You stopped caring about your grades, and thus you stopped caring about mattering. Because here in America the only way you, an undocumented immigrant, could matter was if you were smart. And I hate that. I absolutely hate it. I wish I could tell you that you would have mattered regardless of how much smarter you were -how much harder you worked, but you and I both know that is a lie. A beautiful lie.

Estrellita, I don’t like lies. So I can’t tell you that everything will be okay. I can’t tell you that someday people will love you in spite of the fact that you were brought to this country illegally. I can’t tell you that you will be loved for the stars in your eyes.

But Estrellita, you are me. You are the younger me. And if I still had the part of us that viewed the world with star-like wonder, I would find a way to see the beauty of being undocumented. Because regardless of what the world tells you, there is beauty in that.

Beauty that comes from the power to make others, like you, seen. And all it takes is your transparency. Your visibility. Not the visibility or value you get when you are the smart, perfect American, but the inherent worth you accept when you step out of the shadows of shame.

So darling, do us both a favor and don’t kill yourself trying to be better than everyone else just so you can be seen. You matter just as you are. You matter simply because you exist. You matter.

Knowing this, I hope you find the time to feel the world around you. Find a way to bring back the girl who would dance under trees with falling leaves.

With love,
Your older self