From Undocumented and Alone to Surviving and Thriving: My Immigrant Story

The Statue of Liberty

There are a lot of immigrant stories out there to inspire people. We are all part of a melting pot of hidden narratives. By sharing my story, I hope to add to this history, and inspire young women with my transformative life experience. I was born and raised in South America, Venezuela, but from a Chinese background. My family and I endured poverty and hunger throughout my childhood. 

Due to the lack of funds, my dad could not afford two children to be in a private school, so only my sister was in a private school, while I attended public school. Education in public schools is not as good as in private schools, and formal schooling has always been for private schools only. As a result, my education greatly suffered. I was around five or six years old. 

As finances remained uncertain, I recall how my parents used to fight a lot in front of my sister and I, which reinforced my behavior problems at school. I was a little impulsive with my classmates, and I developed some early anxiety issues, but I never knew why until years later, when I came to the realization of how my parents' fighting triggered my mental issues. It took me years to learn to control my behavior, after failing to make any friends from kindergarten to primary school. 

I was not a good student when I was in primary school. I was irresponsible and often skipped classes. I didn't like to be at school, and made excuses to my parents for not showing up to classes. My teachers and parents never encouraged me to be in school and did not even ask me why I was so unmotivated. My classmates did not want to talk to me, and I was invisible to the teacher. I was bullied, and no one ever defended me. I felt lonely at school. I was the kid that had skipped most activities and had no sense of curiosity about the world: introverted, isolated, and frankly, uninterested.

At 13-years-old, my situation improved as I transferred to a new private school and met new people. I stopped being the lazy girl and became a more responsible student. I got high grades, and most teachers seemed to like me. I met my best friends and started to have a social life. 

However, as time went on, the country's situation collapsed, and an uprising of political opposition to the President compounded Venezuela's humanitarian and economic crisis. Inflation soared, and food prices rose higher and higher every single day. I saw how people, especially the elderly, starved, salvaging food from the garbage to feed themselves. It was heartbreaking to see my country fall into ruin.  

It was difficult to coordinate meetings with friends since the outside was not safe. My belongings were stolen several times while I was walking on the street. We were never able to enjoy the day freely. 

94% of Venezuelans lived in poverty, causing many people to emigrate, including my family and I. We, like many others, had no choice but to pack our stuff and leave our home country. It was the toughest decision we ever made. I left my home, my friends, my childhood, and everything I knew. 

In 2017, at the age of 16, I split paths with my parents and sister since I decided to come to New York independently while they moved to Hong Kong. This is where the most challenging time of my life unfolded. I began my high school year as a sophomore. The school style and culture were all foreign to me. I was a stranger in a new world. 

The most challenging obstacle was being undocumented at the time. I remained silent for so long, and I even went through a long depressive episode due to my circumstances. I had no proper identification. I kept myself locked inside for extended periods of time and missed my family so much. 

I was fortunate to have met a teacher who supported me throughout my high school years. I shared my story with her, and she was caring and kind to me. We became really close, and eventually, I met other great teachers who saw something special in me. One day, I was matched with a social worker who connected me with a public organization located in Manhattan. This organization provided legal services that changed my life forever, pairing me with many professionals who helped me with my immigration status. I needed a guardian to clear up my issues, and one of my social studies teachers elected to become my mentor and school mother. She was willing to help me and signed up to be my guardian for the case. 

The process was tough, and the case lasted for two years until I was in college. I faced so many obstacles up to that point, and I often doubted myself and wondered if I should give up. Thankfully, every ounce of time and effort was worth it. I got support from unexpected people and places, which I am forever thankful for. This arduous journey changed my life forever, and for the better. It's been five years since I moved to America. And there’s no looking back. 

From a lazy girl with no ambition, to a strong working student. From an illegal immigrant to a survivor. Life has different plans for me, and today I am speaking out to my younger self, and to girls around the world, to say that your current troubles are only temporary. It was not easy to begin a new life alone and isolated from my family, but tough times have made me grow, and inspired me to climb higher to achieve my dreams. 

Today I am a college student in my junior year, majoring in English and minoring in Media Studies, and working at the same time. If you find yourself in a challenging time, don’t be discouraged. You are not alone. And there is a light on the other side. You're a survivor and stronger than you know! 

Written by: Stefanny Leung Yu

Instagram: @stefflyp

1 comment


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