I came to the United States in 1994, in the arms of my mother, who was originally from India. My parents brought me to the States because they wanted to provide me with opportunities, opportunities that they did not have growing up in poverty.
My earliest memories growing up are living in the basement of my great uncle and watching “Spiderman” with my older cousin’s. Spiderman for some reason has always appealed to me because I thought we were so similar- here you have this very nerdy one-dimensional kid in Peter Parker – who’s good at science – but he’s very socially awkward and is socially anxious all the time. And I saw myself just like him. But then one day, Parker has a radioactive spider land on him, bite him, and the next day he becomes this well-rounded superhero. So, in my head, it just made sense. I was like, “Mom, all I need is a magic spider to come and bite and then I can become a superhero.
One thing from Spiderman always stood out to me, it was what his Uncle Ben tells Peter. He said that, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And in my life, I’d actually learn the opposite, I learned that with great responsibility, comes the capacity to build great power.
And I’ll admit, growing up, I had no real sense of responsibility. I’m sad to say that I took my parent’s hard work and love for granted. And the only questions I really asked them was, “What are we having for dinner?” “Can I have that?” and “Can so and so come over today?”
But then things started to change in 2006. My parent’s immigration case was denied and with that my life slowly began to unravel. I saw my dad quit his job at the hotel. I saw my mom quit her job at the Northern Virginia Community College, and pretty soon it was common to see my parents come to my little brother asking for money out of his piggy bank.
One night my dad was driving home from work and the police pulled him over because he had a broken taillight. The end of the week, it was Aug. 8, 2008, Immigration and Customs Enforcement actually raided our home. And that was the last day I ever saw my father in person.
Now I was asking “Will I ever see my father again?” “What will happen if my mom is also taken away from me?” “How am I going to become a makeshift parent figure for my younger brother, who is only 13?” I’m only 16! “What are my friends going to say to this?”
The media and the government refer to people in my situation as “illegal.” So I was this “Illegal alien” and I‘m not a human being like you, my friend. I’m not going to be able to go to college with you when I graduate high school.
Ultimately, both my father and mother were deported in 2009. And the same fate awaited me on August 13, 2010. The deal was that I’d be allowed to graduate high school, but at the end of the year I’d have to go back to my “home” country of India, a country I’ve never seen in my life.
On August, 10, 2010, my lawyer announced to me that I would be granted deferred action and I’d be able to remain in the United States. I was only 1 of maybe 20-50 people in the entire nation who was granted that relief that year. So it was in that moment, I understood that I was in a special situation, and that it was my responsibility to speak up for other families like my own and other youth like myself – to confront my social anxiety and my shyness and become a well-rounded advocate for the millions of undocumented individuals living in the United States.