The following was originally written as a scholarship essay by an undocumented high school student in Granville County, North Carolina. Feel like taking a stand? Come to our Youth Empowerment Summit on November, 6th.

One of the happiest memories from my childhood was playing in the rain with my cousins and friends with no shoes on, wearing an oversized t-shirt in Honduras. As a young child, my parents were not present in my life. Instead, they cared for me from afar, in a long distance relationship. All I knew was that they were somewhere else beyond my reach, or at least it sounded too far away when I would talk to my mom over the phone. I knew that we were apart so that they could properly provide for me; however, now that I am living with my mom I know I would have been happier to see and hug her every day.

When the rain stopped, so did the game. I remember clearly that I had to say good-bye to my friends that day, friends who I loved and who shared my passion for mathematics. We were always competing in class, trying to see who could get that perfect score on the test. But now I was to leave on a journey with an unfamiliar man who was called a “coyote”. At such a young age, I could not fully grasp what this adventure was going to bring. All I understood was that I was going to see my mother again, and that was all I needed to know. I knew I could take on any math problem or any other struggle that life might possibly bring as long as I could embrace her once again.

As time passed, the journey became exhausting, even for the curious and courageous eight-year-old boy that I was. The coyote would say, “This time we’re going to make it, just be quiet and pray we don’t get caught.” It was not until the third time behind bars that the fear really set in. I was in a cell surrounded by strangers; my heart was racing and I felt as if my brain was going to explode. I was terrified. I wanted my mother more than anything, but this time, even more than my mom, I wanted freedom. Why was I being detained? I was just an innocent child who wanted to be reunited with my parents. Why were these people in green uniforms blocking the way for this wide-eyed little boy with a salty wet face who could barely eat the cold tortillas provided in the cell? I wanted to bury myself; I wanted to wake up in a different place, in a different life. On the fifth try, I finally made it through Guatemala and Mexico, and arrived at the border that brought so much happiness, yet so much fear. To me, it brought my beloved mother. It brought me dreams of a life and a future.

When I woke up from the terrible nightmare that was my journey to the United States, I soon realized that the challenges were not over. Although we are all created in the image of God, I was the alien sitting in Mrs. Jeanne’s fourth grade class. My favorite part of the day was the math lesson; it was the time of the day where I spoke the same language as everybody else. Sometimes I even spoke it a little bit better than the rest of my classmates. Yet, the other students spoke in such a different tongue. Why could I not understand them? I felt I had been freed from the walls and the bars just to be isolated in another world. I vowed this would never happen to me again. From that point on, school became my source of life, and education my freedom. In some of my classes I excelled and was labeled as “gifted” and in those subjects that proved to be more challenging, like English, I worked extra hard to succeed.

Now as a senior, I no longer feel like an alien, though politicians and many people still refer to me as one. The storm is not over yet, but I can already see the sun rising behind the dark clouds and it feels warm and soothing. Writing this essay in English, a language that at one point was foreign to me, gives me the feeling of success. It proves that I am capable of doing and overcoming anything; all that is necessary is knowledge and perseverance. Today, it is still fun to compete in class to get the best grades. It’s also fun to play in the rain, even though I am a bit older. Struggling to break a language barrier, and of course that other barrier – the border – has given me the determination to continue on with a higher education. I must pursue my dream of becoming a doctor so that I can be someone and live a prosperous life, an opportunity I never would have had in my native country.