Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Anna's fight for citizenship

Anna Cruz came to America from Mexico to pick strawberries when she was ten.  Her father moved the family to Oregon in pursuit of the American dream. She’s still waiting on papers to prove she belongs.

“I know it’s wrong, but someone had to pick those strawberries,” she says.  “Try picking a strawberry when it’s frozen.”

Cruz’s father managed the home that housed seasonal farmers from south of the border. Those farmers rose at 4:00am to head to the farm to pick strawberries.  At ten, Cruz stayed home to take care of a newborn baby. She started picking strawberries with the grownups when most girls her age played with dolls and had tea parties to pass the time away.

She started thinking about citizenship in high school.  “My counselor told me my grades were good enough for a scholarship.”  The thought of attending Oregon State University came to mind.  “Then I got the bad news.  I couldn’t get a scholarship because I’m not a legal citizen.”

Bad days followed the news that she couldn’t go to college.  She got pregnant.  A bad relationship was enough to encourage her to seek shelter in the arms of the man who would become her husband.  They moved to Durham, NC to find a life away from the strawberry fields.

She found work at a Durham restaurant.  She works hard, pays her taxes and does the hard work of a mother to keep her children out of trouble. She started a business with Alfredo, her husband.  He’s a videographer and she does photography. They are living the American dream. 

Is that possible when the DMV will not authorize a driver’s license?

“They told me I have to have citizenship,” Cruz says.  “I have to be able to drive to take care of my children and get to work.”

How long does it take to become a citizen? “They told me it will be another 5 years,” Cruz says.  “My father got his citizenship after I turned 21.  I was married, so I have to do it on my own.” Ten years have passed since her father became a citizen.

“I would like to work in the medical field,” she says. “Especially since all I have seen.” She told of experiences at the hospital of overhearing workers talk about her or others nearby. “When they ask me if I speak English I say yes.”

People are often hurt by the assumptions of others.  Cruz keeps smiling.  She wants to go to school so she can help others.  “I love my job.  I’m thankful for all I have,” she says.  “But I could use more money.  I would like to do more to help others.”

She tried to get a job at one of the Duke University community clinics.  She couldn’t get the job because she’s not a citizen.  Maybe one day she’ll go to college.  Maybe after her children graduate from high school and the paper work comes through to grant her the freedom to pursue more of the American dream.

“You learn where not to go,” Cruz says. “I can’t visit a person in jail.  I can’t go to the library because they ask for your driver’s license for ID.”  

The fear of deportation subsided when she got news from her father that they can’t send her back to Mexico.  Her case is in process.  She’s one step closer to the American dream.

“My father had an attorney that was helping on my case,” she says. “That person turned out to be a fraud.” Money was lost on the quest for the American dream.  Thousands of dollars down the drain due to the manipulative ways of those who prey on the hope of citizenship.

“The hardest part is I have never seen my mother,” Cruz says as her drive to remain positive did battle with her tears. “I talked to her once on the phone.”

Cruz has come a long way since picking strawberries in Oregon. She has a long way to go.  The goal of becoming an American citizen dominates her thoughts.  She keeps pressing to move beyond the stigma of not being an American.

Her papers remain on the bottom of a stack of others waiting to be approved.  Some consider her America’s problem - one of countless illegals who crossed the border in pursuit of the American dream.  She’s a symbol of the need for change. More than that, she’s a wife, a mother, an employee, a home owner who pays her taxes.  She stays out of trouble, and works hard to keep her children on the right path.

Like most of us, she simply wants the American dream.

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