With walls all the rage in today's America, it pains me to admit that I almost let a wall of sorts stop me from writing this. Here is where Donald Trump fans will find their first joke: “HAHA. A wetback stopped by a wall that’s not even there? Don't make me laugh.” Well, none of us are laughing. Not now. Not with November 6 so close. Especially not this former “illegal” Mexican.
The wall I’m talking about is Trump himself. For some time now, I've wondered what might be more dangerous: the prospect of letting this piece sit in a vault—another nugget of inaction and indifference in the face of Trump's bigotry—or the prospect of this material being used against me in some not-so-far-off, not-so-hard-to-imagine Trump dystopia?
Ok, so maybe that’s dramatic. But it’s only because I'm afraid. Actually, I’m terrified. For my friends, for my family, for myself, for our democracy. Though I'm a college-educated, once-undocumented immigrant, now-permanent resident, I'm not convinced that I'd be safe in Trump's America.
I’m 29 years old, and I’ve lived 26 of them on this side of the border. After spending three months in Dallas, my mom and I moved to Chicago on the 4th of July in 1989, fireworks serving as our North Star. After 22 years there, I moved to New York City, where I have been for five years.
My slow, deliberate way of speaking comes from a place of fear I’ve felt since I was three years old. The fear that I’d be somehow found out as “illegal.” I practiced words like “the” in front of the mirror till it hurt the tip of my tongue. To blend in. Just in case. When my mother needed to communicate in English with clients at her daycare business, I’d become her pint-sized translator. In school, I paid obsessive attention to how Americans spoke, how they gesticulated, how they pieced together slang. I ate up every bit of pop culture, learning the language as much from watching "Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers" as from my third grade teacher.
Soon, I had won a full scholarship to the Latin School of Chicago, a prestigious private school where I studied alongside the children of CEOs and politicians. After my high school graduation, I hit another wall: paying for college. Without legal status, I did not qualify for financial aid so I worked 48-hour weeks at a neighborhood grocery store while I attended Columbia College, an arts school in Chicago, full-time—at one point requesting a meeting with the vice president of the school because I could no longer keep up with tuition payments. After viewing my grades, he approached the administration to set up a mini financial fund for me. With his help, I was able to graduate with a 3.88 GPA.
Many more years of struggle awaited me until I was finally able to receive my green card. The process was emotionally and logistically taxing, involving collecting binders upon binders of financial materials, affidavits, photos, and processing logs and acceptance letters from programs. Family members, who had naturalized through The Immigration Reform and Control Act, petitioned for me through so I could avoid having to leave the United States while my green card application processed. At 24 years old, I had to dig into my hard-earned savings and pay roughly $6,000 to cover legal fees, the penalties for having crossed here illegally (at two-and-a-half years old), and other costs. Despite the burden, I was elated to do it. After years of treading water, it felt like I could finally stop and become one with the liquid blue.
Yet here I am, coming out as a former “illegal alien” for the first time—even to many close friends—because I’m deathly afraid of a Trump presidency, afraid of what it might mean for everything I’ve worked toward.
You may be wondering why I’m worried; after all, I’m not undocumented anymore. But it’s a slippery slope. As Holocaust survivor Esther Littman Gorny recounted to The Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus, having one Jewish grandparent alone—that is, just one quarter Jewishness, two generations removed—was enough to garner inclusion into one of four categories into which Jews were placed under the Nuremberg Laws. This is what I’m afraid of: that dehumanization will tilt toward dominoed dehumanization. “BUILD THE WALL!” could quickly become “BUILD THE CONCENTRATION CAMP!”
No matter how you categorize my hyphenated self, I'll always be an immigrant, something I wear as a badge of honor. I'd prefer it didn't instead become a scarlet letter. I ask, what wall can be built between immigrant me and American me? At what point would I, as a hypothetical father, teach my son that what (and who) he's been taught to hate is precisely what makes him an American? Who exactly do you become if the country you love hates you for loving it?
If you think I’m being alarmist, ponder these questions: In rounding up 11 million undocumented immigrants, how do you account for a misspelling of a name? What do you feed them while they await deportation proceedings? What do you call the places where you’ll hold them? (Detention centers? Surely not internment camps, right?) How do you console the millions of Americans who have come to know them, befriend them, fall in love with them? Better yet: When in the history of the world has the forced mass movement of people ended well?
It also bears asking: Under a Trump administration, who becomes an enemy of the state? My friends? My coworkers? Any LinkedIn connections not willing to give me up in a mass roundup of immigrants, once-immigrants, sons of immigrants, grandchildren of immigrants? As Gorney tells it, not only was she not allowed to date Germans, “but neither could she go out with full Jews. She could only socialize with half-Jews, like herself.” So would I be allowed to love in the time of Trump? Or must I do so knowing that my lover reciprocates at her own peril?
In some ways, I’m more American than Donald Trump will ever be. One of us understands and respects the First Amendment. One of us has actually earned his stars and stripes. One of us comprehends that “the American Dream is something no wall will ever contain.” The other is a demagogue who affiliates himself with totalitarian leaders, who prides himself on taking advantage of unprincipled opportunism, who wields populism and nationalism like night sticks and who calls for national renewal as his freakin’ tagline. It is not that Donald Trump is promising a wall—it’s that he and his supporters are the wall, obstructing the rest of us from a better America.
Bogar Alonso is a poet, writer, editor and filmmaker who hails from mid-Mexico and the Midwest. His work has appeared on Vice, Gawker, The Huffington Post, and Complex.