Editor’s Note: Last week, when Texas high school valedictorian Larissa Martinez revealed she was undocumented during her graduate address, it caught our attention. If you have not seen her speech, click below to hear her open up about her life as an undocumented immigrant and then read Beat Reporter Miguel Bibanco’s open letter to Martinez.
— ABC News (@ABC) June 10, 2016
I want to tell you so many things. I want to thank you for having the courage to be undocumented and unafraid. I want to let you know how proud I am at all that you’ve accomplished and, as a fellow undocumented person, I want to tell you I’m sorry.
I’m sorry about those who think less of you simply because of where you were born and I’m sorry that there are people that think you are unworthy of all your achievements.
I know, however, that you won’t let negativity stop you. If you can graduate as your school’s valedictorian while living in a country that radiates hostility at your existence, then I know you can do anything.
As you forge new paths for yourself and break with the expectations that others have had of people like us I encourage you to take pride in your story.
The reality is that what you’ve achieved is a tremendous task. I am, however, not talking about your academic success. I am talking about the trials you’ve faced as an undocumented person living in the United States. I know the uncertainty and fear that you have most certainly felt, the frustration with a system that is so utterly broken.
Just how many times have you been unsure of the future? How many times have you worried about the safety of your family in a country that refuses to see their humanity? If your experience is anything like my experience, then it’s been too many times.
Many will recognize you for your achievements. However, many will fail to see you beyond that. How many will recognize an undocumented person who has faced hardship in a country that can be inhospitable and outright hostile at times?
Your success and you hardships are both part of your identity. One cannot acknowledge a person if they are unwilling to see both. I hope that our country becomes one where we can acknowledge its people for their humanity; for their struggles as well as their successes.
I know your story has inspired many. I hope that you continue to take pride in your story and the power that it has. If people can see your experiences and acknowledge you as a human being then they can do the same for all undocumented people.
Our parents, siblings and friends who are undocumented all have different stories. Some of them will be recognized for their achievements, but others may not. A doctor, lawyer, or valedictorian who has made tremendous tasks seem attainable is only a part of the story. Often our parents and other loved ones made great sacrifices to give us the opportunity to realize our potential.
All immigrants are people, undocumented or otherwise. I truly believe your experience can help people understand this fact. When people finally acknowledge this truth we can begin to move beyond our xenophobic and racist environment. We can’t make true lasting change without ensuring people understand this.
I wholeheartedly believe almost everything you said during your speech. However, I found myself in slight disagreement with one of your most powerful statements. You said, “America can be great again without the construction of a wall built on hatred and prejudice.” But I believe America has never been great because, throughout it’s history, it has refused to accept the humanity of people like us. People of color and people it has named “illegal”.
What I do agree with is that walls built on hatred and prejudice are not what we need.
The truth is that, while some are worrying about the past, we are moving towards the future. While others are stuck trying to relive the past, we are focused on creating new opportunities. If you’re worried about making America great again you will fail to see how amazing it can become.
The future looks promising because it will be created by people like you, Larissa. It will be shaped by people who can look ahead and accept others for who they are. It is only by accepting our diversity and individuality that we can accept the humanity of those who live besides us and the only way we can build a better future is by working together.
So take pride in everything that you’ve accomplished and take pride in who you are. Build a better future for yourself and for your family. Inspire others to build a better future for themselves and for others. Make the world a better place for people who have been impacted by your story; people like me. Don’t doubt yourself for a second. I know that you can do all of these things in the future because you’ve done them in the past and you’re doing them right now.
Go out there and create, inspire and fight. Build bridges instead of walls. Have the courage to be yourself. Don’t worry, we’ll be right beside you all the way.
Miguel Bibanco -undocumented and unafraid-