As an Outsider Looking In.

It’s beautiful and tragic to stand against the wall, hearing your friends talk about the most vulnerable stories of their life, their suffering, and their private sorrows. It’s beautiful because it enables you to love that person for sharing a part of themselves so freely. It’s tragic because you are the outsider looking in, wanting the change to happen now so you can obliterate the cause of suffering. But we all know that this is wishful thinking for now.

The stories were about living in the United States as an undocumented student. By now, I feel familiar with these stories and half expected myself to feel a bit blasé. But these stories are somehow endowed with new meaning from each retelling. They present new revelations about life and about your friends. You marvel at the things you didn’t know even after knowing your friends for more than two years.

Stories were read aloud as part of the reception for a new website launch,  The purpose of the website is to share the personal stories of immigration, especially from the undocumented students, with the wider audience. Many of the stories on the website are from peers who attended the same summer writing workshop I attended. We gathered in San Francisco and critiqued each other’s stories about our lives as immigrants.

It was a bond forged in sharing the most intimate part of our lives. The darkest periods that we vowed never to think of again and tucked safely underneath our consciousness. I remember how difficult and frustrating it was to bring them to surface again. But we agreed tonight that the experience of writing and reading them aloud healed us in many ways. The broken immigration system in the United States had scarred us in ways that we were not aware of until we reflected and shared. We healed through opening up and acknowledging that there is a community of us who went through the same trials.

The stories are usually about parting with loved ones. Grandfathers and grandmothers whom we left behind, knowing we’ll never see them again. It’s about the everyday objects from our previous lives that seem so precious in our memory now. The sibling who’s left behind without visitation rights. About wanting to apply for scholarships that demand social security numbers. The feeling of being considered an unwanted outsider even when we are not.

My friends ask me what I’m up to these days. I fumble through my answer, feeling tremendous guilt by the fact that I have a job at NASA when my friends are barred from working anywhere. Our only difference is the nine-digit number that grants a work authorization. We all find it silly and confusing that these nine digits can hold so much power. I feel as if I am looking in from the world of opportunity, only nine-digits away from the world that stops dreams midway through their fruition. I’m looking forward to the day when this separation no longer exist; a land where all of us live free of anxiety and fear, a land where everyone is truly equal.

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