Gabriel Belmonte

Gabriel Belmonte

San Jose, CA

When I was I kid I used to practice holding my breath as a game. I would try to see how long I could last and then try to go even longer. One time I lasted a minute and a half, it felt as though a hammer was beating my lungs.

I never imagined that I would be holding my breath for twenty years. I was always aware of my status, even as a young boy my parents had told me about it. They explained their reasoning for coming here and what our goals and aspirations as a family where. So I grew up always knowing, however it was only until junior year in high school that I really understood the gravity of our situation. And with that understanding came a downward spiral during which I practically gave up all efforts in school; my reasoning was, why bother with all this work if it’s not going to amount to anything. I managed to better my grades and keep my hopes somewhat up during my last year in school, and even flirted with the idea of applying to some universities, but with out status and with no money it was a difficult journey ahead.

So rather than begin my college studies with the rest of my peers I proceeded to join the underground economy and with my share of odd jobs, save some money. During that time I joined my father in community gatherings and forums to promote a bill allowing undocumented students to pay instate tuition. At these gatherings I spoke to families about the potential of our youth and the benefits of this bill, I talked about the difficult choices that an undocumented teen had to make when there was no means to gain access to higher education. It wasn’t until a year after graduation that hope finally came in the form of AB 540, allowing me to enroll in a local community college. While working fulltime and going to classes at night I managed to transfer to a state university in 2005. One of my dreams having come true, I continued to work fulltime and go to school at night, focusing on school rather than any form of social life. On weekends it was either overtime, or being in the library.

What drove me was the somewhat naïve idea that once I graduated everything would somehow magically work itself out. So the time passed, and in the winter of 2007 I graduated Cum Laude, with a degree in Industrial Engineering. Graduation was a bittersweet day.

Having finished school and still being undocumented I had no prospects other than to stay in the underground economy and let my degree lose value as the time passes. Sure I had met my goal and facing difficult barriers obtained a degree. But now what? Being in my mid twenties I see all the time that has passed me by, and how a lot of it has been wasted by this constant worry that not having nine digits entails.

I look at all the opportunities missed, the demeaning jobs, anger and despair and realize that I don’t want undocumented kids just graduating from high school to go through that. I also look towards my future, or lack of, and feel the tugging of time as each year passes. To be a 30-year-old fast food worker is not something that I aspire.I want to be able to finally breathe. With the failure of the DREAM Act in 2010 my emotional state took a nose dive.

Motivation and drive almost disappeared and i was left as a specter of who I used to be. It has gotten a lot harder, but i take it one day at a time, knowing that regardless of what many say, i am home and one day I will breathe free.

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