#WordsMatter — No Human Being is “Illegal”

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By: Karla Martinez / Coachella Unincorporated

As a child, I thought anyone born on this earth was part of the United States. I did not know what being “legal” or “illegal” meant. When I heard the word “illegal,” I automatically thought about drugs or murder. So when I began to hear people being called “illegal,” I wondered whether it meant these people were as bad as drugs and murder.

Then I started to see terms like “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant” in the news. It seemed like everyone was reporting on what these “illegals” were doing. But I still didn’t understand why these people, who looked like me, were being branded “illegal” when really, they are just undocumented.

I personally know the struggle undocumented people go through just so they can work toward a better life for themselves and their families. My father was undocumented until I was 10 years old. All I knew at that early age was that we needed to be careful. I remember hearing the words “illegal alien” thrown around, and I immediately wanted to hide my father, just like Michael and Elliot tried to hide E.T., because that is what I thought it meant to be an “illegal alien.” I felt like it was my job as an eight-year-old kid to protect my father’s identity, and I thought if I tried really hard, no one would know that my father didn’t ‘belong.’

Growing up in the Eastern Coachella Valley, a predominantly Hispanic and Latino community,  I can tell you that my family’s experience is no different than hundreds of other families who live here and across the nation. And because I know these undocumented people are my neighbors, family members and friends, I care about the words they are called.

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