“Mamita, we made it!” I ecstatically told my mom upon receiving my acceptance into the White House Internship Program in the fall of 2012. It wasn’t an achievement on my behalf, it was an achievement on behalf of my family and my community.
At four years old, my parents, sister, and I immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua in hopes of escaping political and economic torment. I grew up in the impoverished neighborhood of Inglewood, California, disheartened after witnessing how our immigration status translated into barriers of unemployment, education and health care inequalities. Amidst the struggles, my parents instilled in me a sense of hope that with hard work and determination, the land we left everything for, would see to it that I would succeed.
Five years ago, I stood amidst a crowd of 4,000 others representing 31 different countries as we proudly took the oath of citizenship. You could feel the excitement in the room as many shared their American Dream stories. The hands of immigrants built this land and every hand raised that day was ready to contribute as a productive citizen.
Today, I acknowledge that I am one of the fortunate ones to have endured the long road to citizenship. I acknowledge that the path I took as an undocumented immigrant was unjustified, but in everything I do, I understand I have a sense of duty to give back to the country that offered me a better chance of a prosperous future.
As an intern for the Office of Public Engagement I had the opportunity to do just that. The office serves as a front door to the White House, listening to the needs of its diverse constituents and engaging them in solution seeking conversations. It was an honor to work within the Latino and Immigration outreach teams as we communicated the priorities of the Administration to education, business, and faith leaders while having personally experienced the complexity of the issue myself. Furthermore, as a STEM graduate and aspiring physician, it was encouraging to partake in briefings noting the contributions Latino immigrants have made and continue to make into our health care work force.
With 11 million undocumented immigrants, the time is now to reform our broken immigration system. The time is now for many young DREAMers and families torn apart to be given an opportunity to come out of the shadows and be embraced as key contributors of the American thread. The time is now stand with faith leaders and echo the idea that we were all strangers, before someone welcomed us in.
As an American citizen today, I don’t take this title lightly. I take it working with utmost discipline knowing that I’m not an American because of my blood, but as President Obama has stated, because of my “allegiance to our founding principles and the faith in the idea that anyone from anywhere can write the next great chapter of our story.”
Lydiesther Martinez is a graduate from the University of California, San Diego, with a Human Biology degree. Prior to joining the White House Internship Program, Lydiesther served as a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Public Policy Fellow in the office of then Democratic Vice Chairman, Congressman Xavier Becerra. This summer she will begin working at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as an ORISE Fellow while concurrently applying to medical school.