Zero. Inspiration

She had time.  The application was due at 1 pm, and it was only 11:50 am.  For once, she wasn’t rushing to meet the deadline.  She would be able to change out of her bath robe, staple the sheets of paper, and walk leisurely to the office, and still hand in her application before 1 o’clock.  Somehow, she had been able to answer the prompt fairly easily and quickly. She glanced over her printed paper one last time to ensure she had not deviated from the objective––What is one prevalent issue of society that affects us?

At the center was the title: “Aliens” Searching for DREAMs.

She wouldn’t change her essay, but it wouldn’t hurt to perform one last review while she walked across the street from her room to the Legal Studies office.

“Since its founding, the United States of America—a nation dubbed as the country of dreams—has always struggled with this vague concept of foreigners.  Although Native Americans had resided on the soil for generations prior to the Revolution, Americans viewed them as the outsiders, invading their land and eventually expanding into the current boundaries of the U.S.A.   Xenophobia had even loomed over the country in the late 1930s and 1940s during Pearl Harbor and World War II.  Afraid of Asians, particularly the Japanese and Japanese Americans, many—including the dearly revered President Franklin D. Roosevelt—stared at them with discriminating eyes.  In fact, the government forced anyone with a Japanese-sounding-last name to enter internment camps.  Hence, they sold their possessions at unfair, cheap prices and could not pack most of their belongings into a duffel bag.  Today, as much as issues regarding immigrants prevail in numerous countries, they constantly press against societal America.
With a growing number of undocumented immigrants seeking a home on this expansive land, legislators as well as the common people have highlighted such problem for years.  For various citizens, the problem does not merely represent a possible overpopulation or even the fact that these immigrants live on their land.  What it does suggests is losing employment to immigrant workers who are more willing to labor for lower pay or simply have greater motivation to perform their menial tasks.  Fear, understandable yet does not exempt people from displaying racism, ultimately incites the desire to deport the ‘aliens’ to their motherland.  In consequence, Arizona passed SB 1070, which essentially allows state officials to interrogate any citizen who carries the characteristics of an ‘immigrant’ and validate the legality of his or her residency in the state.  However, several conflicts arise from the statute; racial profiling—a form of discrimination—and encroachment of Congress’s intents.  The authority granted to state officials interferes with the federal government’s duties; and, for this matter, the Ninth Circuit upheld its ruling on SB 1070’s being unconstitutional, preventing the bill from taking into effect.   Evidently, this issue of immigration has spread to diverse sectors of law and has affected Americans’ perception of ‘foreigners.’
Congress, too, has encountered and continues facing the aforementioned dilemma.  Unanticipated support for the DREAM Act’s passage among congressional members sustains the life of the bill despite its failure.  The DREAM Act permits certain illegal immigrant students a 6-year permanent residency on a conditional basis.  Conditions entail the following: character morality, a continuous residency in the country for at least five years prior to this legislative proposal, must have been a minor at the time of entrance into the U.S., must have either served two years in the military or completed two years of education at a four-year institution.   Already, several states—California, Texas, New Mexico, New York, Washington, Illinois, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, and  Utah—have enacted laws that provide in-state tuition aid to illegal residents who attended high school in the state for at least three years.   Its failure to be passed as a law and shortage of the necessary four votes to fulfill the 60-vote rule in the Senate signifies Congress’s divided opinions regarding this matter as well.  Although the DREAM Act has yet to garner the support of the majority, it has progressed tremendously during the 10-year-battle.
As congressional members, executive officials, and the common people of the United States America plan on continuing debating about topics concerning illegal ‘aliens,’ this legal issue will remain a priority on everyone’s agenda.  The question is, ‘Would it be more beneficial to reach a compromise between the two parties or for one end to persistently fight for the current nature of the Act, maintaining its integrity?’”

Her feet came to a halt.  It was time.  She would slide her application under the door and hope the selection committee would feel her beating heart in those words.

Even aliens have DREAMs.


Half. The Alien

He certainly seemed normal with his black-washed denim, Converse, white polo, skateboard, and shaggy, black hair. He seemed like just another skater boy roaming the streets of his suburban neighborhood.  Nobody would have known had his family not disappeared one night, the summer of his freshman year in college.

Nobody would have known that he was an alien.  Choiceless, he became one after seventh grade when his parents’ Visa expired.  His parents, who had no intentions of overstaying their visit on this land called America, planned on returning to their lavish lifestyle back in Korea after some time.  That is, before he revealed his unwillingness to return “home.”  A liberal soul, he relished the freedom in America.  He could advocate marriages among homosexuals.  He could, ironically enough, openly express his distaste for the elite and Republicans without worrying about shaming his parents.  But he was only able to do so because of his one right–the freedom of speech.

While he possessed the First Amendment right of free speech, at the same time, he lacked such right.  The law officially deprived him of the liberty to communicate his thoughts, something embedded deeply in his identity.  Just like with his secret, though, he never completely exposed his true self–a writer, who enjoyed engaging in polemics and aspired to become a lawyer.  Even as a child, he found politics and law to be seductive and fascinating, but now, as an alien, his desire to succeed in law only amplified.


Three-Fourths. Aliens in America

As much as his parents tried to conceal the truth from him, there came a point when they needed to reveal everything.  They sat down at their dinner table in the kitchen.  The silence and stillness enveloped all three of them.

We have something to tell you.  You’re now a freshman in high school.  In two years, you’ll reach an age where you can drive a car.  In three years, you’ll start applying for colleges.  We just want to tell you that our decision was because we love you so much.  We know how much you love it here in the states, and you know that we arrived here on a B-1 visa, which has an expiration date.  We didn’t have any intentions of living here past five years, so we never applied for an extension.  So, since 2 years ago, we no longer have our visas and are illegal residents.  But, don’t worry about college. Your grandfather in Korea has been supporting your education and our costs for the past 7 years, and he will pay for your college tuition as well.  This means, though, that you won’t be able to apply for a driver’s license or call yourself a legal resident on college applications.  We haven’t figured out what the process will look like, but we promise that you will attend college in the states.  We’re sorry.  We love you. 

He was an alien in America.  What would he call himself now? A foreigner? An American? A Korean?  Clearly, there is no option called “alien” on college applications.  So, what would he mark? Would he even be able to stay for college? Would he have to return to repressive Korea?  The questions, hounding at him, paralyzed his body.

Did this mean he would not qualify to apply for financial aid either?  The idea of relying on his wealthy grandfather for his entire life sickened him.  Was this, really, the only way of achieving his dreams?

Bleary-eyed, he climbed up the stairs to his room, and his feet barely carried him to his desk.  Hopeless about his situation yet naively still hopeful, he googled, “illegal residents in the usa.”  He certainly did not meticulously map out his future and goals for fun and leisure; trashing them was not an option.

Apparently, there was a bill called the DREAM Act.  People like him prayed for its passage.  Although he never believed in this God whom his mother worshipped despite having accompanied his mother to church every Sunday, he secretly prayed to God, asking that the bill pass before his high school graduation.  If the bill became law, then he would have the opportunity to graduate with a degree in political science from his dream college–Yale University–and even attain citizenship afterwards.

Until then, he would remain an alien in America.


One. Different

With a pair of red-rimmed Calvin Klein glasses clasping onto her ears and her mother’s navy Faconnable polo hanging loosely from her body, she gazed at the landscape dully.  Playing a rough game of dodgeball did not fancy her at all.  How her girlfriends could enjoy scrambling about in the confines of a white rectangular parameter under the blazing sun perplexed her.

Everything seemed a bit too normal for her taste. Whatever happened to the bittersweet good-byes?  After all, they would graduate from the fifth grade and move on to middle school: a whole new, fiercer society.

Perhaps, she was being unnecessarily dramatic, again.  Her friends never quite understood her emphatic nature, calling her the “weird one.”  Yet, despite such marginalization, she still yearned to be different.  And different is what she received.


Two. Birth

She wanted to be different.  But not in the typical sense.  Unlike other girls, she did not wrestle with her Asian physical features, maybe because they weren’t so Asian.  At the same time, they weren’t so Western either.  Nonetheless, she had been blessed with the envied creases above her eyes, a relatively sculpted jawline, and–-as adults would say–-a “sharp” nose.

She wanted to be different.  She would cultivate her own dreams.  No way would she conform and follow the boring medical school or law school route. Her nose wrinkled as she cringed in disdain, reading the memos her Indian and Asian friends had written for their school’s annual “10 Years from Now” book.  They were all too systematic and predictable, wanting to go to either UCLA or Harvard Medical School.  Is that really what her friends dream for?  Or were they simply conforming to parental expectations?

She groaned and pushed away the pages.

Until then, she had exuded an unassailable confidence about attending law school.  It made sense.  The world of law intrigued her excessively curious mind, and her skills aligned with those of a lawyer.  More importantly, it was in her blood.  That validated yet invalidated everything.


Three. The Alien and the Girl

She met him in the first grade, but neither initiated conversation for another two and a half years.

What held their friendship was their mothers who met at least once a week.  Through their weekly meetings, the two learned to appreciate each other.  She found his vast knowledge and words of wisdom to be refreshing yet intimidating.  For once, a sense of inferiority stirred within her. And he, who detested probing by others, faced the challenge of nurturing patience around her.  He had never encountered someone who could engender both exasperation and compassion in him.  She, recognizing what annoyance her meddling caused, controlled her inquisitive mind.

Because she stopped asking questions and he stopped confiding in her, she did not discover his secret until her sophomore year of high school when–by coincidence–she overheard their tutor’s remark.

You know better than I do that you probably can’t apply to any Ivy League schools even if your grandfather pays full-tuition.  Just aim for UC Berkeley.  It’s safer for you.

By the time they entered college, California would most likely have enacted the DREAM Act.  Given its dense population of immigrants and undocumented residents, Democratic California promised a higher chance of doing so than white-dominated states such as Connecticut or New Hampshire.

His radical opposition against the Republicans no longer seemed irrational to her.  Why he criticized her Republican views, why he supported the Democrats, and why he censured Republicans for being narrow-minded now made sense.  Remorse and deep shame suddenly overwhelmed her as she recalled her selfish, ignorant comments from the past about undocumented residents.

Why should we allow them to stay here when they free-ride on our taxes?  It’s their fault they came into the country so recklessly. 

She shut her eyes and shuddered in humiliation.

Who would have guessed an alien sat inches apart from her at that very moment?  Furthermore, she had been friends with him for the past six years.  Not only was she within a close proximity of an alien, she knew him on a personal level as well.  Quite contrary to the depictions of the media, he and his family did not rob the citizens’ money, for they paid their due taxes and lived without financial worries.

If the DREAM Act never comes to fruition, what would happen to her alien friend, she inquired her mother.  He would have to either marry a U.S. citizen to acquire citizenship or accept deportation, her mother wistfully replied.

What if he married me?

She shook her head for conjuring such a foolish idea.  If only she possessed the power to pass the bill or change his legal status.


Four. The Path Taken

Her parents cheerfully laughed and congratulated her.

That’s great, honey! We’re so glad that you’re happy with your new career plans and changed major.  We always saw you as a better fit for the legal field and a political science major.  Your grandfather will be so ecstatic to hear that you want to go into law.  Blood doesn’t lie (피는 못 속인다–-a Korean adage). 

She could not care less about her grandfather’s opinions.  No doubt, she still valued his support, but situations changed since the fifth grade.  In contrast to nine years ago, his verdict neither validated nor invalidated her decision.  Instead, memories of her alien friend reaffirmed her childhood convictions to pursue law as a profession.

The last thing her mother mentioned about him was that despite his undocumented state, NYU offered a substantial amount of merit-based scholarship and would renew it yearly, contingent upon his undergraduate academic performance.

Following the night during which he and his family faded into darkness, not a single soul heard news about his parents. However, periodically, he posted updates about his college life in New York on Facebook.  Even on the social medium, though, he cautiously accepted friend requests and defriended nearly everyone from high school.

In her, thrived a fervor to fight for the DREAM Act in honor of him, for every individual–-legal and illegal residents alike–-owns the right to dream.

She slipped her Legal Studies application under the office door and prayed for the day when her favorite aliens could remove themselves from hiding.