With the Trump Administration trying to repeal DACA, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about DACA and immigration in the past few months. I’ve been reading stories of young people about the same age as me going through something I couldn’t even imagine myself going through. But after drowning myself knee-deep in empathy for those people, I learned that I could have been one of those people. I could have been a Dreamer, had the circumstances of my life been even slightly different.
I know you’re wondering: “Michiru, how could you have been affected by the repeal of DACA?”
If you don’t know by now, I am half Japanese, and my mother is from the Okinawa Prefecture of Japan. Okinawa is a small island in the Pacific Ocean, 400 miles south of the Japan the rest of the world knows. My mother isn’t an official citizen of the United States, and she’s been here for over 20 years. She doesn’t plan on being an official citizen, either.
The difference that sets me apart from other children of immigrants is the fact that my mom is a permanent resident of the United States, meaning she has a green card. A Visa, if you will. This is because she’s married to my father, who is a veteran of the US Marines. That’s how they met, actually. But that’s another story, for another day.
So I listened to the stories of these Dreamers. These young people who, just like me, were raised by an immigrant in America. I listened to the stories of these Dreamers. These young people who, just like me, were raised in the culture of America, all while trying to keep a hold of their roots, roots from a culture that they may have not experienced fully. I listened to the stories of these Dreamers, who are afraid to be sent to a country they don’t know, and that they can’t call home. That’s when I realized my privilege, the privilege I actually do have as a minority in America, as a child of a legal immigrant.
But I couldn’t shake the stories of these Dreamers. I couldn’t shake the feeling that, that could’ve been me. I spoke to my parents about my Japanese heritage. I’m currently enrolled in college, and majority of my credits this semester come from my Japanese language class. Believe it or not, I’m at the elementary level. Yes, I’m a beginner. So don’t ask me to say shit to you in Japanese, because I won’t. I can’t. I don’t know enough. All I know is what my mom has taught me and, unfortunately, my mother wasn’t able to teach me much. Is that her fault? Not at all. It’s hard for her, and I harbor no hard feelings towards my her for that. Things happen. Life happens.
From talking to my parents, my dad told me something very interesting. When I was about a year old, I lived in Okinawa for a while. It was only a few months, but I knew this already. I was supposed to live the first few years of my life in Japan. I have a photo album with many pictures from this time period. Pictures with my aunts Mi-chan and Chi-chan, my Kaachan, my Tochan (may his body rest in peace and his soul find life again), and many of my mother’s friends. I know that I once had a chance to live my childhood there, but like I said, things happen. Life happens.
Unfortunately, I have no memory of that time.
Here’s the gag: according to my dad, I knew how to speak and understand Japanese before I knew English. He continued to tell me about how I would run around, talking to my grandparents, listening and understanding whatever it was they told me. He told me how even he would have to speak Japanese to me, because I real life didn’t know English. Finding that out, especially now, shook me to my core. Like, y’all. He told me this two weeks ago. I’m 20.
I used to look at those beautiful pictures, all taken by my mother, of my beautiful Okinawan family with longing. I look at little me, living my Okinawan life. I think that is the privilege I have. To have been able to experience at least that much.
Now, I struggle with Japanese like no other. Embarrassing as this will sound, I’m very sure that the international Chinese students in my Japanese class are doing better than me. Some the white kids in class hold whole ass conversations with the professor. Simple conversations, yet conversations nonetheless. But that is my truth. Now, the English language is my strong suit. I always had the highest marks in my English courses throughout my life. From grammar to comprehension, I even tested out of English for college, and my papers still give me the decent grades I have now. The contrast is so drastic.
I wonder how that Michiru was. How she sounded, how she acted, how she carried herself. I know I sound crazy but, seriously. I wonder how I would’ve turned out, had I lived out my childhood in Japan like my parents had planned. But, low and behold, things happen. Life happens.
Because now, I can’t even hold a conversation with Kaachan without the help of my mother. I can barely talk to Chi-chan, the only reason why I can talk to Mi-chan is because she knows a decent amount of English. I couldn’t tell Tochan myself how much I love him, how thankful I was to have spent the time I did with him, and now I will never get that chance. But little Michiru was able to. My aunts have their own kids now, my amazingly bright, strong, talented younger cousins (I’m the oldest), that I can’t even get to know fully because of the language barrier. The Michiru I could’ve been would’ve been able to. But that’s where I’m at right now. Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.
Last week in class, we watched a video that documented a day in the life of the children in grade school. Sometimes we watch videos like that in class, because it helps us to learn more about the culture in Japan. Usually I thoroughly enjoy watching them, because I grew up watching videos like that, courtesy of my mother. So I knew some of what we watched. I’d get excited to revisit the ideas and principles I once briefly touched over in my childhood, because I used to long for that life.
But last week in class, I stormed out of the classroom ten minutes early, in tears.
Now, I think of those beautiful pictures with envy. I think of little me, living my Japanese life. The Japanese life I know little to nothing about. The Japanese life I dream about. The Japanese life I’m not yet ready to live.
The life I’m not ready to live.
Just like those Dreamers, who also lived their lives here. Those Dreamers, who don’t know the country, or life, this administration is trying to force them back to.
Because we’ve been living here, in the United States.
I wonder how the other Michiru would’ve been today. Where would she be in life? How would she feel about the repeal of DACA? About those Dreamers? Sadly, I’ll never know. But I do hope she’s proud of the progress I, Michiru Christine Nishihara Carroll, am making today.