"Happiness, not in another place but in this place...not in another hour, but this hour." That's Walt Whitman. It's also what's weighed on my mind as I stand on the cusp of moving halfway across the country. Shortly after writing this I'll start making the drive from Madison, WI to Washington, D.C. In the chaos that has been packing, and cleaning, and deciding what's important enough to bring, I wanted to stop, and really consider what this all means.

I came to Madison a little over six years ago. When I came here I was eager for a new adventure. A change of scenery. In the time I've been here I've seen myself completely change. I'm sure you're thinking that makes sense, considering how much time has passed. However, I feel like it's more than just the superficial changes brought about by the passage of time.

When I came to Madison, I had two years of college completed — having taken a lot of time off due to finances. Since then I've been able to finish my degree. When I came here I serving, and hating it. In the time I spent here I was able to see myself grow in a professional space. I lived a career I never thought I'd have. When I came here, I was frustrated at myself for feeling like I wasn't fulfilled in the things I actually wanted to be doing: specifically writing. In the time I've been here, albeit in small doses, I've been able to see myself grow as a writer. Pitching, getting published, getting paid for my work (What?!). I've grown to have enough confidence in myself as a writer that I literally paid for the website you're currently on to have a professional space for all of it.

Taking a second to really step back and consider all that I've been able to do while here finally allowed me to appreciate the time I've spent here, the things I've accomplished, the friendships I've made. It also brings me back to what it all means.

"Happiness, not in another place, but in this place...not in another hour, but this hour." The lesson I'm taking from my last six years here is to allow myself to give in to everything this current moment has to offer, and not get so enamored with what I could, or should be doing for my future, that I'm letting it overtake the experience of "now."

While I was here, I spent a lot of time thinking of seeing myself living in a bigger city again — complaining about having friends that were so far away. At times, not appreciating or cultivating the friendships I made here; not putting myself out there enough to make this feel more like what I thought I was missing. So, that's the lesson I take from this entire experience, and as I find myself moments away from leaving it all behind for something new (scary!): to find happiness (what ever that may be) in the current moment, and not let it take me moving halfway across the country to really appreciate what I have.

When Ana Ramirez Castillo, 19, first applied for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in May of 2017, she had consulted with immigration lawyers who warned her against applying. "At the time, immigration lawyers were still saying, ‘we do not recommend applying for the first time.’ But I had to."

More than six months later (at the time of our conversation) she has yet to get an official approval or denial of her application. Ramirez Castillo, who was born in Puebla, Mexico and was brought to Washington state by her parents at 6 months old, had just been elected to a student government position at Western Washington University when she decided to apply for DACA. "I held off applying until May because that’s when I was elected,” she said. Working in student government was a paid position, so she would need the work permit DACA would provide.

When President Obama first announced DACA, Ramirez Castillo was just 14 and too young to qualify. When she was able to apply the following year, her parents held her back. Although she has a brother a year younger than her who is a U.S. citizen, her parents worried if she applied for DACA she’d be less likely to want to move to Mexico with them should they decide to move back. “I was financially dependent on my parents,” she elaborated. “They didn’t want me to apply and I so I couldn’t.” The almost five-hundred-dollar application fee proved to be too much without their help.

When she arrived at Western Washington University, located 30 minutes south of the Canadian border, she made connections with other undocumented people on campus. By then, the 2016 presidential election was in full swing, and an unlikely presidential candidate’s divisive immigration rhetoric suddenly made applying for DACA for the first time a risk. "All these immigration lawyers are like, 'we should wait until after the election,’” Ramirez Castillo recounted about the advice she received. “We don't know if Trump will win, and if he does win, what he will do with DACA."

Ramirez Castillo, currently in her sophomore year of college and double-majoring in Political Science and Archaeology, is a six-hour drive from the town where she grew up, where her parents and brother still live. “I had a hard time because it was my first time away from home,” she shared. "Being so far away from my parents was hard because my mom kept telling me about how she would see Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).”

“That's really scary to think about, especially when I’m so far away from them. What if something happens to them?” Ramirez Castillo mentioned how each time she leaves for school, she wonders if it will be the last time she sees her parents, who are also undocumented. If something happened to them, would she have to drop out of school to care for her younger brother?

Ramirez Castillo is financially dependent on her parents, which makes it difficult for her to be "out" as a lesbian to them. “I am not out to my parents,” she said. “My parents are very homophobic, and I know they would kick me out of the house if they knew I was a lesbian.”

The dichotomy of having parents whom she relies on financially, but who she knows wouldn’t accept her, is difficult for her to reconcile. “I love them. They are my family. They crossed the border so I could have a better life and be in the U.S.”

Her parents aren’t the only people in her life who she feels she has to code-switch with, however. “There is a double closet I have to come out of,” she shared.

“I have a friend who didn’t know I was queer...and [when I told her], she was not very accepting. She had always known I was undocumented and was accepting,” she continued. “Sometimes people are very accepting of one identity and not the other.”

Ramirez Castillo struggles with her identity in romantic relationships as well. Last year, she was romantically involved with someone who didn’t know she was undocumented. “I don’t know how to bring that up. People always ask a lot of questions. They want to know all these details, and sometimes you don’t want to share every last detail.” When it comes to “coming out” as undocumented in her dating life, she always waits to share that information. The same holds true for platonic relationships.

"I tried going to some LGBT organizations on campus, but I feel like I just don't fit in. Most of the people there are white, for starters. They are LGBT, but they don't understand what it's like to be oppressed by both identities. Even if I share my story, I feel like people don't get it all the time." There are some people with whom she shares both her identities, but mostly it’s one or the other. “There are some within the LGBT community that only know about my queer identity and not my undocumented identity. I feel like I can't be fully myself most of the time. It's really hard to not be able to express myself and be who I am, all the time all or most of the time.”

Not being able to be herself is something she thinks about a lot, especially when the possibility of having to leave the U.S creeps into her mind.

"My parents have this idea that, if one of us gets deported, we all have to go back to Mexico as a family. I don't want to do that. I don't know what that would look like for me as a queer person.”

The thought of being outed to her parents also weighs on her. “What if I am there and I have to come out to my parents and they disown me? Where am I gonna go in Mexico? They're all I have there, and if I'm disowned by my parents I'm not going to have anywhere to go. I’ll be in this country I’ve never been to.” Therein lies the conundrum many young undocumented people face: how will they survive in a country unfamiliar to them? For Ramirez Castillo, she questions if she can even speak the language well enough to be successful in school there.

As she awaits a final decision on whether her DACA will be approved or denied, Congress has been unable to stop an hourglass started by the Trump administration, which leaves current DACA recipients and other undocumented people in limbo. Ramirez Castillo shared mixed feelings at the possibility of getting an approval letter in the coming weeks. “I would be very excited, but also I would be almost heartbroken because I would be protected for two more years but I know that everyday 122 DACA recipients lose their status.” She went on, "I would feel sad that I would be protected but all these other people wouldn’t."

I originally wrote about Ana for a series at Into. This long-form piece was the first incarnation of that series.

  • Jose Alonso Munoz

Updated: Jun 7, 2018

I'm sure you'd had a familiar feeling: waking up one morning and thinking to yourself about the many ways you’ll seek to make improvements in your personal life, professional life, or maybe even the world. Have you ever considered how the ways you’re looking to do better are just hurting you in the long run?

Let me stop talking about "you," and start talking about me. What if the ways I'm looking to "do better" are actually hurting me. There's been multiple times over the past few weeks where I've wanted to share a news article, YouTube video, or other moment of current events through a Facebook post. What's stopped me, or made me think twice, has been my inability to find the right words to share the many ways I'm angry or hurt, by that particular news story.

I recently posted on Facebook about the lovely, totally not racist, misunderstood, white man who threatened to call ICE on two deli employees who were speaking to customers in Spanish. I shared an anecdote about growing up with an English speaking mother who would routinely speak to me in Spanish while in public, and the (at the time) inexplicable anxiety it caused me. A day later I posted a story about the Republican Gubernatorial candidate from Georgia and his "deportation bus." That post was one I went back to many times. Eventually, after deleting and rewriting multiple paragraphs, I posted it with a simple "sigh."

Since then, there's been many times I've wanted to post something newsworthy along with a rant about race and social justice. I've had a lot of things to chose from, too. Like, Starbucks and their racial bias training, "lost" undocumented immigrant children, the killing of a young undocumented woman from Guatemala, Roseanne - I can keep going. We're living in trying times, with a seemingly infinite number reasons to get upset about the state our our nation and the people in it.

So, why, you might ask, did I decide against these posts? Why self-censor? While originally subconscious, the answer to this has became clear recently - I just didn't have the energy to spend on something so ineffective. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot to be said about educating those around you, or bringing awareness to social issues. It didn't feel like I wasn't doing that, however. In all of the incarnations of potential posts, I was declaring my own fear, or pain at these events. My own outrage. It felt performative. "Here is the gay Mexican immigrant I'm friends with on Facebook, looks like he's scared or angry, or upset, by some new thing Trump or some racist did. Yikes!"

Every "like" or "angry face" my post garnered on Facebook became less and less a moment of solidarity, and more and more ammunition to keep the show going. To what end? Ultimately, I asked myself: What did I want to get out of it?

Both leading up to, after the election, I found myself carrying on multiple conversations with many well-meaning white people on Facebook. Even before the election, I've never been shy about posting my opinions on social issues, or engaging in heated debates in the comments sections of a friend's post. I just kept coming back to this question: What did I want to get out of it? Was I going to change the heart and mind of your aunt Becky? Was Margaret going to admit that she doesn't know nearly as much as she thinks she knows about the intricacies of immigration law? Most signs point to no.

Then what? Was I going to make my well-meaning white friends more aware of social issues. Possibly. What was more likely, at least in my mind, is that I would share my fear, anger, and pain, with my Facebook friends, just to share it. Just to help them see how the barrage of awful headlines aren't just isolated incidents, but rather, incidents that speak to the higher systemic problems prevalent in the lives of people of color across the nation.

While that's all well and good, when I stepped back and analyzed what I was doing, I realized while I was "doing better" by bringing awareness to these highly important things, pouring my anger or fear just felt like I talking to a stadium full of people with a microphone that wasn't on. Eventually I just felt like I was feeding their outrage. In some ways, contributing to creating a numbness to these current events.

What to do instead, then? The truth is, I don't have a definite answer yet. While I'll continue to engage in conversations around race in these especially volatile times, I'm consciously asking myself: What do I want to get out of this? I'll point my internal compass away from "to tell this person off." It's easy to tell someone off. I know that well enough to know that isn't "doing better."