The 24/7 news cycle that saturates our lives is filled with headlines about immigration. We’re surrounded by intense debates, shrill controversies, anger-filled epithets, and, yes, some thoughtful, reasoned reflections and analyses. For many of us, what we know about the complexity of contemporary immigration comes our way by websites, television commentators, newspapers, and wide-ranging radio outlets. What we learn may be limited to profiles about immigrants we don’t know and will never meet—people whose lives we know mostly as an abstraction. Yet, underneath all the rhetoric are real people, people whose lived experiences put a human face on the complicated reality of what it means to be an immigrant in the United States. Seventeen-year-old Nayely Furcal offers us an intimate look inside the immigration experience.
I gripped my luggage as if my life depended on it. In a way it did, because the luggage not only held the few clothes and shoes of mine that remained, but also the last tangible memories I had of my life in the Dominican Republic.
It was the summer of 2010. Like many immigrants who came before me, I’d arrived in the United States as part of a working-class family looking for a better life. I was nine years old. I walked into our new apartment, peered at the naked white walls and empty rooms, and placed my suitcase in the closet.
For the next few months, I couldn’t fully unpack my things; I felt that if I did, I would permanently leave my life in the Dominican Republic behind. When I finally unpacked my luggage, I also unpacked my hopes, dreams, and fears. The future was uncertain.
When I started fourth grade in the United States, I was scared of school, afraid of getting bullied and made fun of because of my limited English and accent. I was a timid fourth grader who didn’t ask to go to the bathroom out of fear she’d have to ask for directions. Now, as a senior, I excel in Advanced Placement English and Calculus.
I feel engaged every time I step into Providence’s Hope High School because it’s the place where I can connect my life to books, open myself through art, and develop my voice. I’ve not only found a passion for art, but also a future goal in business.
Reflecting on my life in the Dominican Republic makes me realize that coming to the U.S has opened many doors. Moving to the U.S, with all of its challenges, has instilled in me the belief that I can achieve any of my dreams. I will show my family that all our sacrifices have been worthwhile.
My Dominican accent is still strong, but it has become essential to my identity. I’ve learned to embrace my accent, which follows me everywhere; it wishes “Good morning” to strangers, asks “How are you?” to family, and says “Let me help you!” to friends.
I will keep it with me as I continue to unpack my hopes, dreams, and fears, and as I grow as a human being. Siempre creeré que el futuro es mío: I believe that the future is mine.
Nayely Furcal is a senior at Hope High School in Providence.