We had to decide whether we were going north or south to get into California. My friend decided it was best to go south, to avoid a big snowstorm up north. But south would take us through Arizona. I really, really didn’t want to go through Arizona.
I got more and more nervous. I felt paralyzed. My friend kept asking me what my problem was. Finally, I told him: I’m undocumented. I came to the United States when I was three with my family. And Arizona had just passed a law that gave police officers the authority to check peoples’ immigration status. If we got stopped in Arizona, I could be detained and deported.
My friend is white. He comes from a really privileged, upper-class background. He attended a private high school, then Santa Clara University, with me. I went on scholarship. Politically, he sees things a little differently than I do. We’ve had our disagreements.
He was quiet for a while.
Then, he barraged me with questions. I answered the best that I could.
Then he told me about his grandfather, how he hadn’t been able to find work in Ireland, so he decided to hop on a fishing boat, and get off in New York. He worked as a janitor, without citizenship. Now his son, my friend’s father, is a high-ranking bank executive.
The whole time, through Arizona, my friend drove, like, 50 miles an hour. He didn’t even wanna change lanes. He told me he wasn’t gonna lose his best friend. He wasn’t gonna let that happen.
The immigration debate became real to my friend in the car that day. We had a very different conversation than the one politicians are having right now. The minute actual undocumented immigrants are included, the conversation changes.
Now, I’m completely open about my status. I’m still afraid. Conversations don’t always go well. And it’s always a risk. But as long as I remain in the shadows, I will never really get to know you, and you will never really know me.
With a Perspective, this is Jose Arreola.