The day after my first birthday, my mother and I immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Growing up, I never knew I was different until I was in elementary school and I was made fun of for being Mexican.
I didn’t know I was undocumented until I asked my mom why I was being teased in school. “We’re immigrants, mija. We’re from Mexico and we’re working on our papers to be here safely.”
I became a legal resident at 6 years old. My mother married my stepdad, a citizen of the United States, and my family was able to receive certain resources that allowed us to live with dignity. Even though my mother worked constantly with multiple jobs, we couldn't afford to buy all that we needed to stay afloat. My mother was able to receive WIC which helped provide the nourishment my little brother needed. When we needed food assistance, we applied for an EBT card and due to our low income, we were eligible to receive support. My mother would go to local churches and pay $15 for a box of food. Our immigration story, though hard, was not as hard as the immigration stories of today.
I was 14 years old when I attended the U.S. naturalization ceremony in Detroit. I was proud to stand with the rest of the young immigrants; black, brown, and white, all standing together with our hands over our hearts promising to love and respect this country.
I love and respect our country, our city, and this community that I am happy to call home. Detroit has given me all that I am, and I am committed to giving back what was provided for me. All too often, immigrants carry a stigma that creates cultural division; I will work, as a member of City Council, to do everything that I can to combat the divide that exists. We all deserve a fair shot, representation, and care from our local elected officials.
My journey has not only created a sense of pride in who I am as an American and Detroiter, but these experiences have instilled a sense of gratitude and purpose. I will always fight for a better quality of life for all of us. Everyone deserves to have access to resources needed to survive, to clean air and water, and to the opportunity to live with dignity. I'm here to fight for all of us.
Gabriela Santiago-Romero is the Policy and Research Director at We The People Michigan and a candidate for Detroit City Council, District 6.
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