Last fall, I was captivated by a man I met at a screening of a PBS documentary called, America By the Numbers, which is all about the changing face of America and its impact on the elections. He was one of the speakers and, as he spoke, I was struck by how much he knew about immigration and its influence on presidential politics.
He talked in a thoughtful, soft-spoken sort of way. And, as he presented a slew of statistics, the conversation soon turned to undocumented immigrants, and more specifically, to him. Quite matter-of-factly, this expert on immigration mentioned that he, too, had been an undocumented immigrant.
The entire audience, 100 or so of us, did a collective double take. Did we hear right? Had this scholarly young man, a faculty member at a prestigious university, just say he grew up as an undocumented youth?
Yep, it’s true. His name is Tom K. Wong and I was so taken with his story that I had to interview him. So, just before the holidays, we sat down and chatted about his life, his dreams, and his mission to help other undocumented immigrants become citizens, too.
I learned so much in our short time together, but the biggest takeaway for me was realizing that when most of us think of undocumented immigrants we picture a Latino face. A Mexican face. But in doing so, we are missing the point.
Undocumented immigrants come in all shapes and sizes and from all parts of the world. True, there are many undocumented Latinos living among us. But there are also countless undocumented Asians, Europeans, and Canadians. They don’t all “climb over a wall” to get here. Nor, are they all smuggled into the country. Some arrive on planes or trains. Legally at first, with a visa, and then the visa expires and they’re still here.
For the undocumented children, who were brought here by their parents, this may very well be the only country they know. They have friends here. They’re going to school here, and playing kickball, too. And often, they don’t know the truth about themselves.
There are many paths to becoming an undocumented immigrant. But there are so very few to becoming a citizen.
And, the undocumented are not all migrant workers, maids, janitors, and the like. Some have white-collar jobs. Like Tom, who is on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego.
I hope you’ll read my interview with Tom that I wrote for my new Hey Neighbor! blog. His is quite a fascinating story.
Please be sure to read Tom K. Wong on Life as an Undocumented Youth and do let me know what you think! Here’s a preview: