I’m the daughter of Mexicans and proud of my heritage and tan skin. But it’s not always easy being the daughter of undocumented immigrants in America.

Protesters carry the Mexican and U.S. flags during a demonstration for immigration reform in Chicago, Illinois, 1 May 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

By Daniela Martinez

There’s something satisfying about being made for the sun.

I’ve always taken secret satisfaction switching languages in mid-sentence. Or in knowing my parents can cross deserts and in checking off “Hispanic” on applications. My culture drips with color, tradition and ambition. I am different, and it’s satisfying.

But it’s not always delightful to be the daughter of undocumented immigrants.

I had seen seven springs go by when one afternoon, my father picked up my little sister and me from school.

The air was sticky inside the car, and my sister was quick to fall asleep. I began to do the same. Suddenly, the music on the radio fell silent as the car rolled to a stop.

A man with a deep voice asked my father for his driver’s license. My stomach dropped. He knows how to drive, I wanted to explain. He doesn’t have a card, but he doesn’t need one. He works hard and every single day. He’s good.

But I said nothing. Papá stammered in his thickly accented English. The car door opened, the police put my father’s hands behind his back and handcuffs snapped shut. I dug my nails into my skin and clutched my sleeping sister.

“I was afraid they’d take him away.”

Another police officer peered into the car, sunglasses obscuring his eyes. “Do you speak English?” he asked me slowly, articulating every syllable. I held my sister closer, swallowed, then nodded. I wondered if he could hear my heart pounding.

Mamá was there in a couple of minutes. Back home, I waited by the window with my sister. We watched the sunset. My baby brother waddled over to us and tugged on my braid. He held his arms up toward me. He was in a fresh pair of pyjamas and smelled of soap.

Then the front door swung open, and we heard the sound of our father’s footsteps. Running to him, I almost dropped the baby. He laughed as he squatted to gather all three of us in his arms. He kissed the top of our heads. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his wrists were still red.

Between sobs, I asked him how he had got out. “You know your piggy bank?” he sighed. I nodded. “They asked me for mine,” he said, smiling. “It wasn’t that big of a fine.”

For the next couple of days, I did not want to go to school. I was afraid they’d take him away while I was away from home. I’m still afraid.

“My parents are undocumented, not illegal.”

Strangely, this fear propelled me forward. I told myself: I have American citizenship, I might as well use it. I hit the books. And I decided to follow my passions and try to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Like many things, a good education comes at a cost. Financial status is not an issue for every immigrant’s kid, but it matters in our household. Thanks to organizations that assist low-income students, I am able to study abroad in France, and I plan to continue my education at a top boarding school that ordinarily would have been out of my financial grasp.

I have met other students like me, young people from different backgrounds, with different mother tongues and unique childhood memories. We are resilient dreamers.

My father’s arrest may have disturbed me, but it also stirred my pride in who I am. I am proud of my tan skin, of where I come from, of my Mexican heritage. Our income does not approach that of my classmates, but so what?

There’s something about America that transcends our current condition. There are organizations and aid programs that give me confidence that students and their parents will be treated fairly and offered a chance to grow and thrive in America.

My parents are undocumented, not illegal. No one is.

This land was made for you and me.

Daniela Martinez Arcos was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, and is the eldest of  three children. She attends St Mark’s School near Boston, and this year is studying at School Year Abroad France. She enjoys riding horseback, traveling, writing and reading literature.


Immigration: “I’m proud of my tan skin.”

  1. Dany felicidades me has echo sertirme muy orgulloso de ti y de ser parte de tu familia todavia recuerdo ese dia de tu primer examen para ingresar a la orozco que el resultado fue inmejorable desde entonces has demostrado que tienes una ambicion por lograr tus metas espero que siempre sigas por ese camino y sobretodo sin olvidar tus raices y principios creo que tus papis deben estar orgullosos de tener una hija como tu por que saben que ahi esta el esfuerzo y educacion que te dieron gracias dany por ser parte de mi familia te quiero mucho dany.

  2. Dany me has hecho sertirme muy orgulloso y espero que sigas cosechando triunfos y metas en la vida por que tu has demostrado que tienes una capacidad incomparable tadavia recurdo el dia de tu primer preuba para ingresar al la orozco y el resultado fue inmejorable y creo que sigues por el mismo camino gracias dany por no olvidar tus raíces y principios y sobre todo por saber como hacerles saber a tus papis que todo su esfuerzo y educacion que te han dado estan y seguiran rindiendo frutos estoy muy orgulloso de ser parte de tu familia te quiero dany.

  3. Two nationwide court injunctions blocking the Trump administration from ending DACA are temporarily keeping much of the program alive, but with no legislative solution in sight, uncertainty about the long-term prospects for the hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers who have benefited from the program continues. To recap: DACA, established by former president Obama in 2012, offers temporary protection against deportation and also provides work authorization to a subset of young undocumented immigrants, including many current or former college students, who were brought to the U.

  4. Dany I’m so proud of you. You are an amazing girl. Thank God for gave the opportunity to be part of your family. Love you so much

  5. Mi linda Daniela, que puedo decirte? Tu paso por la Academia Orozo no fue coincidencia. Desde tu ingreso hasta tu egreso sacaste siempre la casta. “La abogada” como siempre te llame. Defendiste tu mision y tu vision con garras. Esa valentia te ha llevado a donde te encontras el dia de hoy. Me siento orgullosisima de haber sido parte de tu formacion academica. De haberte dado la oportunidad de expresar tu sentir en cada momento. Hoy por hoy es tu turno. Tenes un gran talento y sabes perseverar. Tambien sabes como mantener tus ideales y como luchar por ellos. Hoy saboreo tus exitos porque ellos tambien son mis exitos. Como educadora me deleito al saber que ese fue el rumbo que escogiste desde niña y tu progreso es el fruto de tu dedicacion al estudio para engrandecerte y engrandecer a tus padres. Felicitaciones!!

  6. Daniela, I yet have to meet you! I have heard many stories about you from when you were a little baby until now. How you might ask yourself. Your Tia Lily! I haven’t met you yet, I am very proud of you. You have accomplished so much. I know that you come from a loving family and I wanted to congratulate you. May God continue to bless you in this journey. Never give up! You are an intelligent, beautiful, independent young woman and I’m sure you motivate many people. Keep doing what you’re doing and much success to you.

  7. Querida e inolvidable Daniela, al leer lo que escribiste, sentí una emoción muy profunda, orgullo por lo que has logrado hasta ahora, y certeza absoluta de que continuaras siendo una “Resilient Dreamer”, haciendo realidad tus metas, con inteligencia, dignidad, amor y orgullo de tus Raíces Mexicanas.
    Dearest Daniela, reading your piece I felt a profound emotion, I felt proud of what you have accomplished until now, and the firm conviction that you will continue to be a Resilient Dreamer, fulfilling your goals in life with intelligence, dignity, love, and pride of your Mexican Roots.
    I love you, always! ❤️??

  8. Fantastic piece, Daniela! You’re amazing. I remember you as a little kid at Orozco. Keep standing up for what’s right.

  9. I’m so proud of you my amazing daughter. You are a give of God to us. Keep up the good work. Tu papa que te quiere Leo

  10. Wow Daniela you had me in tears ?
    I want you to know how proud I am to know you and your family, I met you when you were just a toddler and I always knew you were going to go far in life, your selflessness and your parents sufferings made you strong and ambitious. There is no limit, you go as far as you want to, and never settle for less, I too love your tan skin!! I’m so PROUD OF YOU, keep up with your studies and never ever give up!

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