Igrew up in Ukraine, the world’s 25th most corrupt nation. As a child I witnessed government officials murdering dissenters, stealing people’s homes, and taking billion dollar bribes. My own sister, Olga, paid her community college principal $28 for a restaurant management degree; she never attended a single class. The professor only accepted the bribe so he could feed his family, since the government checks stopped coming. Corruption seeped into every part of the nation. People kept silent and accepted this as a fact of life. There was a slight glimmer of hope after the 2005 Orange Revolution (a scheme to oust the government) when it seemed like the silent would be given a chance to speak, and corruption be put to an end. But this hope was soon dashed, and the people were once again swallowed up by the all too encompassing systematic corruption.
"Being an immigrant gave me an edge in relating to the issues affecting everyone everywhere."
- Roman S.
My mother, a highly educated woman with a real-estate license, a Russian Literature degree, and a psychology degree couldn't make ends meet to take care of herself and her two children. But she was determined to find a way. In 2009 she joined an online dating website that connected Ukrainian women with American men; she found a way to escape. Although it seems like the term “Mail Order Bride” is just another late night punchline, it was pure maternal instinct. I was only 11.
On September 13th, 2009 my mother, my sister and I got on a plane to the land of opportunity with a stranger.
William Barnes was my step father for one year and seven months. Unfortunately, I saw the man who initially represented protection start to turn against us. Seeing my mother bruised and bloody became the status quo. But we still went out to eat, went on vacations, and carried on as if nothing was wrong. At times I find it difficult to recall exactly what happened, only because it’s easier to stay hidden within myself, and deny the reality. I struggled to convince myself that life would get better.
When I turned 12, my mother found the strength to separate. During the divorce procedures, domestic violence shelters and homelessness became synonymous with our American Dream. At the time I was wandering through middle school, trying to learn a new language, and assimilate with an entirely alien culture. All of these challenges pushed me to retreat inside of myself. Surprisingly, being in an ESL classes provided me with a small sense of safety since I was surrounded by students struggling to adjust just like me. As I started learning English, my voice slowly amplified; I could finally express myself and have others understand what I was saying.
"I'm pursuing a degree in economics and international relations because I believe something can be done about the immigration industrial complex."
- Roman S.
Still homeless while living at my mother’s friend’s house and starting at a new high school, I was directly enrolled into all English-speaking classes. Other student’s inability to understand my broken English, once again, forced me to shut down. My thick accent made me an easy target for torment and I did everything in my power to hide my identity. I always considered myself a victim, and refused to stand up for myself. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I took example from my mother, and became my own hero. I asked my English teacher to recommended me for honors English after a successful first semester. His belief in my abilities pushed me to change my entire schedule to accelerated courses. Having a newfound belief in myself, I ventured into the world of speech and debate, still struggling to express myself articulately, but needing to be heard. Of all the events, I found international extemporaneous speaking most appealing. Being an immigrant gave me an edge in relating to the issues affecting everyone everywhere. I found my voice; I could finally come out of hiding. In August of my junior year my mother was able to afford an apartment, we finally had a home. During that same year, I placed eleventh (out of roughly 5,000) at the National Speech and Debate Championship in Dallas, Texas. Standing on the main stage, in front of thousands of people, at the most competitive speech tournament in the world felt incredible. I reflected on the fact that only three years before I was forced to read children’s stories while supporting my abused mother. Her ability to persevere inspires me to strive for success, and continues to push me beyond what I ever imagine to be possible.
I hope to use the $500 to buy my mother a plane ticket to visit me while I'm in college.
Growing up as an immigrant in the home district of “America’s toughest sheriff” is very complex. While Sheriff Joe Arpaio doesn’t dress me up in degrading clothing, the stigma of immigration being a plague still seeps into my life. I’ve lived in the United States for 5 years and 11 months, and there has not been a single day during this time when I am not reminded that the number on my green card is a badge of dishonor. Be it in ESL classes or at the DMV, I’m always reminded of my alien status. How Immigration is approached, both here in Arizona and on the national level, is problematic. It puts immigrant’s lives in danger, disfigures United States’ image of tolerance, and worsens everyone’s quality of life.
"There must be a path to livelihood for everyone in the world, not just the already privileged."
- Roman S.
The lives of immigrants is considered expendable, while in reality their economic benefit greatly outweighs any harms they might present. Center for American Progress explained in 2010 that open immigration channels and legalization of undocumented immigrants would reap a $1.5 trillion dollar reward in GDP over 10 years. In addition, increase in immigration does not affect the employment status of naturalized American citizens. While the deportation of an entire undocumented immigrant population, or the closing of borders will inflict a 1.757 trillion dollar loss on the United States, as spending would drastically decrease. The efforts that are currently used to continually oppressed immigrants from South and Central America are not rooted in economic justifications; it’s a racist conduit.
The solution lies in a complete shift of how immigrants are viewed. No matter how difficult the process might be it is a necessary step to create a better community. I'm pursuing a degree in economics and international relations because I believe something can be done about the immigration industrial complex. The progressive and forward looking political atmosphere in Arizona is siphoned by fear, anger, and inaction. A post secondary education will give me the resources, and the means to better a state that has already given me so much. The United States is one of greatest places to grow up, but there is nothing that says it can't be better. There must be a path to livelihood for everyone in the world, not just the already privileged.
- Roman S.