VIEW: Through an Immigrant’s Eyes

Andrea Duarte-Alonso is a Latina living in her hometown of Worthington who works at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and with the Southwest Initiative Foundation. She is also working on “Stories from Unheard Voices,” an online platform of immigrants in Southwest Minnesota.

After wrapping up an early morning meeting, I gathered my work items and headed to the living room, where I could hear the television playing out the start of the Presidential Inauguration. As I took my spot on the couch, my mom approached me with a hot, dark-roast coffee in each hand and plopped next to me. She asked in Spanish, “What time do they get sworn in?”

I searched the schedule for the day and handed my phone over to my mom. She squinted to see it. I thought to myself, “What is going on with my mother? She is interested in investing time on her day off to watch new people run a system that has not been filled with action for noncitizen immigrants?” 

For the last four years, the country and the rest of the world have heard the previous Administration’s rhetoric and hatred. Even before his time as President, Trump filled his campaign with xenophobia, creating stereotypes of immigrants from around the world, including his notorious comments about ‘sh*thole countries,’ ‘they are not sending their best, and ‘they are rapists and gang members.’

From the Muslim travel ban to ending DACA, his anti-immigrant language was loud and clear that immigrants are not welcome here. Yet while Trump and his Administration ran with hateful rhetoric and anti-immigration policies, it is also important to remember that this attitude is not new. Since this country’s inception, immigrants have had to deal with racism, degrading attacks, and policies that have continuously dehumanized them.  

On Inauguration Day 2021, my mother watched the screen meticulously, making comments about the outfits being showcased by the families of Biden, Harris, and Obama. She listened to Lady Gaga’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and was mesmerized by each performance and speech. My mother does not always understand English, but when she is dedicated and willing to listen, she will pay attention by reading the subtitles on our television. From the corner of my eye, I swear I saw a twinkle in her eye and a grimace on her face. 

A few weeks before Biden’s Inauguration, there was talk around his immigration plans, which would reverse Trump’s immigration policies, and new plans to give a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants. He has made immigrant community members like my mom eager about what he offers, but their sentiments come with distrust. They are not getting too emotionally invested.

Other Democratic presidencies also have made promises. During President Obama’s time, he successfully brought DACA to life, yet DAPA (deferred action for parents of Americans) was not successful. His Administration ended up committing more deportations than any other President before him. The devastation has been real.

As I continued to sit next to my mother on a ‘triumphant’ day filled with ‘what-if’s,’ I recognized my privilege as a U.S. citizen daughter of Mexican immigrants. I understand that promises, especially the broken ones, hit the first-generation, noncitizen immigrants on a different level than I will ever understand.

While my life has been significantly impacted by my family members and those I interact with, their stories are not mine to tell. Instead, people like myself need to find ways to bring immigrants with us and use our platforms to elevate their stories by handing them the mic. 

During the Inauguration, I looked over to my mother with admiration for her resiliency and her hope (even if dimmed). Like many other immigrants, she wants to focus on the present with her family and see her life advance and change for the better. My hope is that noncitizen immigrants won’t feel remorse for deciding to migrate to a country of “prosperity” and “freedom,” but can demand a better system of immigration rights than the one that has been built on white supremacy.

As the events continue, I watch as my mother’s eyes glisten and her facial expression softens. Maybe she still does believe that, one day, freedom and prosperity will come for all.

I look forward to seeing the Biden and Harris Administration, including Congress, move policies forward to improve the lives of immigrants and their families who are putting trust and aspirations into this country.

I am hopeful that those working in state and national organizations working alongside immigrant communities will keep each of our elected officials accountable for their promises.