Reflections on my childhood, lessons learnt as an undocumented migrant living in NYC

I asked the fabulous folks in my tribe to share personal stories about the things that help them to thrive and reach their full potential. Here is what the wonderful Carol Corzo wanted to share.

‘I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference’ (R.Frost) As a child, I was one of the many undocumented Latino child migrants living in NYC, and I count those years as some of the best in my life.

What did it all mean?

Through global media and recent events, most people around the world know what an undocumented migrant living in the US is. Did you know when I was living in NYC in the 80s, the common term was ‘illegal alien’.

As a child, I always found that term demeaning, as I certainly was not an alien from another galaxy nor did I wish my existence to be defined as a criminal.

Through those years I knew that I could not tell anyone that we were undocumented, neither my school friends, neighbours nor teachers due to the powerful omnipresent threat of deportation. From this, I learnt to hold a secret.

But I never lived my life in fear; instead, I learnt some very powerful life lessons, largely, because not only do I have a great family but I attended the most brilliant school in Queens, with amazing teachers and students (interestingly, it is a school that once received an F rating, but I received the best life education).

I learnt to-

Believe

Every single teacher almost daily told us that a child from a Queens can do anything, nothing is impossible. We could go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, UC, we could sit in a boardroom, we could be an artist or run a women’s shelter. At that age, you trust your teachers and you believe in them, and thus believe in yourself.

Stay curious and learn

Have an open mind, be curious, ask questions, listen, research and learn. Simple really.

Empathy

As the AIDS crisis hit in the 80s, when there was a great deal of awful prejudice all around us, at school we learnt to seek first to understand from the other’s perspective and about empathy. When there were schools closing their doors to children with AIDS and HIV (remembering the great hero Ryan White), our Grade 5 class would welcome them. Thank you to my teacher Mr Kaplan.

Inclusion

I had incredibly happy years at school in Queens, although I was undocumented I felt that I belonged.

Values

Hold on tight to your values. The below grainy image was taken in 1986, on the official reopening day of the Statue of Liberty. I believe in liberty, hope and opportunity.

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