BLOOMINGTON – Fred Diego is sitting on a bench in the hot sunshine. Its a summer afternoon outside the Indiana Memorial Union, with students on their laptops, seeking shade and drinking Starbucks beverages.
Right now, 20-year-old Diego is leaning back in his seat and laughing about discrimination.
Noooo, he says, when asked whether strangers would guess hes a good student. People dont even think I go to college.
Then his expression changes, and his voice loses the laughter.
Thats the kind of discrimination we face, he says, searching for the right words, A general disregard for our capacity.
Diego has a full ride to IU. Hes also an illegal immigrant.
Originally from San Nicolas, Mexico, Diego grew up in Chicago and graduated from George Rogers Clark High School in Hammond. His parents brought him to the U.S. when he was not yet 3 years old.
Its not like we had a choice, says Cristian Delgado, a friend, full-ride scholarship recipient and fellow illegal immigrant, entering the conversation. Delgados family left Mexico City when he was 7 and raised him in Indianapolis. What was I supposed to do – say, Naw, Dad, dont bring me?
Diego nods, agreeing. Youre a 2-year-old kid. You cant.
Thats one thing about Latin Americans; we have these really strong family ties. ... They brought us here so we could be a family, so we could thrive as one.
Diego knows his parents broke the law by coming to the U.S. without papers, but when he speaks about their sacrifice, you can see the respect he has for it.
They gave up their families, he said. My dad knew coming here that he wasnt going to be there when his mom died, when his dad died. He gave up being next to his father when he had his last breath.
The stories of Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S. for opportunity are as prevalent as the immigration issue is controversial.
But for Diego, that story is his life.
My dad, he always wanted to own his own house and have his own car. I remember him telling me a conversation he had with my mom when my mom didnt want to come to the States, Diego says.
My dad said, We come to the States, I can buy a house – he was a truck driver – I can buy my truck. We can have one or two cars; we can go out to eat every weekend if we want.
Those things sound really normal to us. ... Things that are simple, things that are negligible parts of everyday life here, like new clothes every season, are luxuries in Mexico.
Delgado agrees, nodding and gesturing at his shorts and tennis shoes.
The vast majority of Mexicos wealth is concentrated in a very small portion, Diego continues. Sure, theres a Chilis and a Sears and Roebuck in Mexico, you can buy an Xbox and games in Mexico – but you really cant. A very select group of people can, and its not everybody else.
Diego has to rely on what hes read and heard from family about Mexico – hes never been there. If he leaves to visit, he wouldnt be able to come back.
Theres also the chance that he could be kidnapped. Since his family is in the U.S., people in Mexico think they have a lot of money, Diego says, and hed be at marginal risk for violence or extortion.
Life in the U.S. is all hes known, but its not his legal life. Living here, Diego and Delgado are both at risk of deportation.
You literally live in this borderland, this very nebulous, very tumultuous place where your life is governed by uncertainty, Diego says.
But to most kids here, that wasnt an issue until they turned 16 and tried to get a job and realized they were undocumented. ... Now at this point, were 20 years old. In two years were planning to graduate and were going to want to get jobs.
What are we going to do with our degrees? Delgado asks.
Delgado wants to be a teacher and soccer coach. Diego is studying cognitive science. They arent sure yet what theyll do to get jobs, or where their lives will go after graduation. Right now, neither of them drive, because they dont have the documentation needed to get their licenses.
Both are involved in the Indiana Student Coalition for Immigrant Rights, an organization represented on several college campuses around the state. Through it and DREAM IU, a club started to support the DREAM Act, which would have given amnesty to the undocumented children of illegal immigrants, they give presentations to classes.
They educate students on the hundreds of thousands of young adults in positions like theirs and advocate for legislation that would make the futures they want accessible to them.
At first, I was afraid of saying anything because I didnt know who to trust, and then I started, like, networking with people, started coming out of my shell, Delgado says.
Id tell what happened, this and that, and now they (my friends) have my back; theyre supporting me.