The immigrant American dream

Chris Flores

Jan. 24 was a special day: It marked nine years of having my green card and around 20 years of the Department of Homeland Security’s operations. Happy anniversary to us! On that day and every day, I am reminded why we are meant for each other. The department was started to surveil people it could deport, and I am people. Like a kick in the gut, Homeland Security takes my breath away. With each cramped detainment cell it does. It makes me happy to know I’ll always have them… especially when I need a ride to the airport. As Maya Angelou said, “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” 

I hope to keep chasing the American dream, but as someone who lives in the moment, my destination is uncertain. Yet, Homeland Security reminds me of the endless possibilities.

What is certain at this moment is that I am the first in my family to attend college, a feat I could not have truly accomplished without my mother. She heard Angelou’s quote and ran with it — literally — so we could have a better life than what we had in Mexico. When I was growing up, she was a single mother working grueling hours — had she been in finance her work would’ve made her wealthy. But my mom didn’t work a high-paying job —  it was hard to find one without a high school diploma. To make ends meet, my mom was, like many immigrants, innovative. She worked while I was at school, while I was asleep, while I even ate dinner. Had my mom been a Williams student, our workload would’ve been nothing to her. But the need to constantly work resulted in our isolation from our neighbors and our community. Family was not even a place to turn to as our family members were either still in Mexico or had severed relationships with us.

While many find peace in distance, our isolation was not accompanied by relief.

In our isolation, affording life was a math problem with many variables. While in Mexico, my grandmother could babysit me, my aunt’s house was a place to stay, and family endeavors offered work. In the U.S. we had none of that. The state did however provide some resources that we were fortunate to access, like food stamps and Medicaid. Yet as an immigrant with no recognized education and skill certifications, our situation left my mother with only her labor to be valued. It did not matter that she had worked at businesses from bakeries to copper mines since she was a minor. It did not matter that she had to commute a fifth of Arizona’s latitude for every round-trip to find any employment. It did not matter that she had to fear the worst until she came home late to find her kids asleep because she could not afford a babysitter. To the market, these experiences were not relevant to my mother’s employment and wages. 

Coming to the United States gave us new opportunities, but it left us at square one.

Even after years of living the “American dream,” my mother has not had the chance to  take care of herself, let alone pursue a GED — the equivalent of a high school diploma. She is still too stretched out to consider starting the arduous process. However, the myth of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” still resonates with her. Coming from a small pueblo, or town, in rural Mexico where jobs were sparse, America, where she could access the bare minimum, was still greater than what we had before. Yet this complacency for admiration, that even I used to share in, seems more and more like an “immigrant American dream.” Who else is willing to do the work to build the houses we sleep in, to tend the yards we gaze at, to cook the meals we consume, and jump at the opportunity to fill the holes that most don’t notice?

The immigrant American dream motivates me and many others to continue day after day, to realize the potential we have. This inspires but also masks. It masks the ever-present potential of having hopes taken away. In an instant, homes can be lost, employment can be terminated, and deportations can be ordered. 

Do not let our aspirations and efforts vanish because of these threats. We have come too far to stop now. 

Instead, let us build communities that grant the homes we did not have and the friends we could not make. I have been fortunate to find community at Williams, but there are so many out there barely starting their lives, in similar ways to mine. And while my time here has been short, there have been many that have aided in my current journey towards citizenship. My friends from all walks of life have been there for me during the long calls with lawyers, my professors have been understanding of the time my situation requires, and my community has reassured me with the optimism I desperately needed throughout the process. Yet these cherished people have stepped in for what I hoped the College could help with. Costs of transportation to immigration appointments stacked up, barriers to campus employment have made affordability of the process even worse, and balancing this journey with demanding academics has taken its toll on my mental health. Williams has done so much for me, but I hope it can do more for the next generation to ease the costs for its immigrant community, better serve the mental health needs of its students, and stepping up its efforts to build a community that so many need.

Chris Flores ’26 is from Tucson, Arizona.