The Independent Student Newspaper of Northern Kentucky University.

Seeking a healthy life: Yearning to breathe free

February 21, 2017

Maria could hear her infant sister struggling to breathe.

At 3-years-old, Maria already had a fear of losing her sister to asthma.

“All she needed was an inhaler,” Maria said. “She just needed to breathe.”

Maria’s family struggled to find proper medical treatment in Mexico and began to panic.

Soon after, Maria’s father lost his job and all hopes of supporting his family.  

After getting her infant sister stable, her father fled to the U.S. illegally, leaving the family behind. It took five years for her father to build enough income to secure a future for his wife and children.

“Not having him was hard,” Maria said. “Most of the time we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Maria said her sister’s asthma came back quickly and started to become dangerous.

When she was 8-years-old, her father gave Maria and her mother another family’s approved applications hoping to make it in time to save his youngest daughter’s life.

“Things were getting very bad,” Maria said. “My dad had no other option if we were going to make it … this is our lives he was saving.”

Reaching American soil, Maria’s younger sister received care that changed her family’s lives forever.

A freshman, Maria recalls feeling no different than other children until she realized her immigration status. She said her parents told the family to keep things quiet so they wouldn’t be deported.

“As a child, your parents want you to see things that are good for you,” Maria said. “I honestly became afraid of losing my parents at that point.”

Along with her parents, Maria said her second grade teacher was a constant source of support for her.

“She would always catch me speaking Spanish and stop me,” Maria said. “She just wanted me to learn to not stand out, but I think she knew.”

Maria’s father pushed her to pursue a college degree at NKU. Maria said without the protection of DACA, she would not be able to have the career she hopes to.

Although some restrictions exist, Maria is thankful for DACA.

“Yes, DACA covers me as a student, but I will never be allowed to be a nurse without citizenship in most places,” Maria said. “Is there anything I can do that other students do?”

She doesn’t know what she would do without her father’s grounding support.

“Because of him and my mother, my whole life I have asked myself, ‘Could I ever do what they did for me?’” Maria said.

Maria said her 15-year-old sister has just recently learned she is an immigrant. She said it is hard for her to watch her sister struggle to know only faint memories of their culture.

“She doesn’t know anything,” Maria said. “We always remind her she is in America but was born in Mexico. I won’t let her forget who she is … I can’t.”

Maria said she plans to fight and stand for her family and others who may be hiding and fearing the future. She said she was chosen to attend a conference to speak on behalf of undocumented students.

“We need good protesting,” Maria said. “I want to show the good side of this so we can come to a better understanding with each other.”

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