Photo by Gabi Lemus

With as little introduction as possible, we’d like you to read about Santiago–a young man in Asheville, North Carolina with a story to tell. Santiago shared his story of danger, discrimination and hope at an event in Asheville this past weekend organized by UNCA’s HOLA group (their blog is here.). Thanks for reading.

To my mother, living in Michoacán meant living in the shadows of the poor. In her own country she lived discrimination for being illiterate and for her dark-skinned complexion. When my father migrated to the U.S., leaving his wife and four children behind, his family would physically abuse us and eventually evicted us out of our one-room house. After living under trains and people’s backyards and eating people’s leftovers, my mother decided to migrate to the U.S. to find my father. The cost to bring all my siblings was too much, sewing and cleaning houses could only pay for two. With a heavy heart, she left my older siblings with my grandmother, and we began our journey to the United States.

I don’t remember our crossing to the United States because I was only a few months old, but my mother recalls that on our eighth day of walking, she accidentally dropped me on a cactus bush while hiding from immigration officials. I had thorns on my back, and due to the incredible heat it led to an infection and a burning fever. Because of my sickness my mother decided to turn back, but on our way back to the border my mother met a woman who took her in and helped her get to North Carolina.

I can’t say that it was hard for me to adapt to this country. I grew up speaking English with a little southern accent; my first ABC’s and numbers were in English. Back then I was the only Latino student in my elementary school class; being a child, I never paid attention to the difference of my skin color and that of my classmates. From the beginning, I knew that this country had been built on people like me, so at times I secretly felt more American than some of my classmates.

As I got older, I began to see that life in the U.S. was very hard for my parents. In my eighth year of life, I finally understood what being illegal was when my father’s parents became terminally ill and he was unable to go see them one last time. I experienced that feeling the following year when one of my friends died while visiting her family in Mexico and I couldn’t accept the fact I wouldn’t be able to see her one last time. From that day on, the word ‘illegal’ was deeply engraved in my mind. That same year I learned how to balance school and work; I gained experience in harvesting diverse fruits, working with tobacco, galax and gardening.

It wasn’t until I was nine that I finally lost my virginity to discrimination. During that time, we were the only people living on our street, until a white family moved next door. After about a month, they began to randomly shoot at our house at night. My parents were scared of calling the police because they were undocumented–so we endured the shootings by sleeping on the floor and not walking around the house at night. The shootings became scarier, until finally one night a bullet almost hit my dad on the forehead. After that night, I felt that I had had enough of being scared; I knew that nothing would change if we didn’t speak up. I called our landlord against my parent’s approval. Our landlord helped my parents take the case to court, and the couple was sent to jail. After that I told myself to never be ashamed of whom I was, and to fight against the injustices we were forced to endure.

Unfortunately, that was only the beginning of the injustices I would face. Throughout my childhood, I lived discrimination due to my color, economic statues, race, sexual orientation and immigration status without the emotional support of my parents. But every mean comment, every physical and psychological abuse I lived through only gave me a stronger will to live.

Today, as a high school graduate, I am still swimming in a fish bowl of injustice. I have voices telling me I am not worthy of a higher education. I am being pointed out for a choice I didn’t have in my hands. I am living in the shadows of the dreams I held close to. I am unable to make the mistakes any young person should have the right to make. Yet I’m still here and if I can still stand here and bore you all with my story, then I sure as Hell can make it through more. I am here existing for justice and to prove to anyone who wants to stand in our way of being treated as human beings, that we won’t step aside and won’t back away.

I am not just a Mexican or an American; I am not a poor fool; I am not a penis-loving gay prince; I am not an illegal alien; I am not a victim. Those are just dry labels that decorate my life, because at the end of the road, I am the only one–no one else–who has the right to define Santiago V. Garcia.

Do you live in western NC and want to get involved? E-mail for more info, or call at (828) 251-6408. Thanks.