Defining Identity: Person of Color. Woman. Poor. Fatherless. Undocumented.
Some of you may know the experience of having a secret about yourself that when revealed makes you have to completely reframe your identity. This happened for me in my junior year of high school when I was offered the opportunity to travel through a college bound program. That is when I learned I was “undocumented.” The reality of the broad impact of this label set in with each evasive answer my mother gave when I asked if I’d be able to not only travel, but drive, or work to help pay the bills. Being undocumented threatened my dreams of going to college; it threatened the possibility of a better future.
I was born in Mexico, and as proud as I am about my ethnicity, there is only one place I know as home, the United States. My father abandoned us when I was 3 years old and this set everything in motion that would lead me and my family to the U.S. When we struggled without his support, my older brother left for the U.S. in search of a better life at the age of 14. My mother’s love for her oldest son drove her to leave her home as well. When my brother learned she was considering leaving me, his young sister, in the care of my uncle while she visited him, he insisted she brought me along. I have now been in the U.S. for 25 years.
Since learning of my lack of legal status, living in the U.S. has been a bittersweet experience. There were instances I felt profound confusion about who I was and where I belonged. Even though I tried to be optimistic and dodge every insult fired at undocumented immigrants, I felt the ill effects. Guilt, shame, and depression all knocked on my door, and I welcomed them. The label thrust on me weighed as a burden. I wrongly carried guilt that stemmed from believing I was responsible for the “crime” I committed at the age of 5. The accusations were distressing and made me fearful of my situation and future.
Living in a single parent household in one of the most dangerous cities in Orange County, Calif., exposed me to the difficulties of poverty in the U.S. Many times I wondered what life would have been like with my father’s emotional and financial support. Even though I could have chosen a path of least resistance out of desperation, God had something else in mind. Not one woman in my family had a college degree. Everything seemed to point toward that direction for me too.
God's grace allowed me to break this cycle with the help of my mother, counselors at my high school, and the people who ministered to me at the community center in my neighborhood that was run by a local church. I am filled with deep gratitude for the center. This ministry embraced me unconditionally. They helped widen my horizons by providing opportunities and connecting me to resources. Loving and generous people came alongside me. Some of them have now become champions for immigration reform in our city because of people like me. These church leaders were role models for me and helped me grasp God’s dreams for my life. At the center, I was introduced to my Savior and experienced the sweetest thing ever — a relationship with God.
Time after time God provided. Generous individuals from the church have also shown me Christ’s loving generosity by providing most of my tuition for college with full awareness of my status, believing God would make a way in this area as well.
One of the most significant impacts on my life was my time at Biola University. I learned about God in depth, and inquired about what God tells us concerning the sojourner. Slowly, the truth began to surface. Today I know Jesus himself was a child immigrant. God tells us to aid those in need: the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, the poor, and the sojourner. I came to realize that not every human-made law is in accord with God. Most importantly, God drew me close to God and God’s heart for justice.
In the midst of these experiences, I had to define the core of my identity. I am a person of color. I am a woman. I am poor. I am fatherless. I am an undocumented immigrant. Indeed, it has been excruciating seeing myself in the eyes of this world, a cursed human being. Except, I learned about my true identity. Above all other labels, the truth is, I am a child of God.
Adriana Mondragon works as the Wilshire Site Coordinator for Lighthouse Community Centers in Santa Ana, the same ministry that helped her as a youth. Adriana has a B.A from Biola University and a M.A. in Psychology from Chapman University.
Image: Handprint identity concept, Cbenjasuwan / Shutterstock.com