OPINION SERIES: America is no longer a safe country

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By Jennipher Vasquez

We talk about the supposed American dream in ways that glamorize life in the United States. We have “the best schools, more opportunity to make money” and the so-called “safer neighborhoods” people migrate here for. 

People come to the States with the goal of leaving behind a life that wasn’t safe to hopefully break long-reigning barriers of poverty. 

I hear about both successes and failures.

What happens when the dream becomes a nightmare? When the safe neighborhood where the life you’ve cultivated a home for your family is home to the school where your child has been slain? Is that really the American dream?

Like many, I can’t shake the images of the parents of students who died at the hands of yet another teenager with a gun in Texas last month. I hear the voice of a man who pleaded with people to keep an eye out for his son, Rojelio, who he later found out did not make it. 

As a child of immigrants who came in pursuit of the American dream, it was heartbreaking to hear his pleas and later find out his child was one of the victims. To see someone who resembled my parents crying and holding his phone with a photo of his son was devastating.

When I was attending Bullard high school, we received bomb and shooting threats twice in 2014, which caused administration to cut the day short and send everyone home. The hours leading up to our dismissal were no different than the reports I’ve seen on school shootings from the mainstream media. There were many signs that the bomb threat was coming our way, but nothing was done until it reached a breaking point. Luckily, the aggressor was apprehended but that’s not always the case. The disaster is hardly ever avoided in a country that is supposed to be a safe haven and refuge to many.

When we were released from lockdown, many of us were met at the gates of the school by our parents who had all been there for hours, frantically trying to get us out. This includes my mom, who left work to pick me up as soon as she heard of the threat — just like Rojelio’s dad did. 

The first tweet I saw about the shooter was from someone questioning if he crossed the border to commit the act, based on his last name.

No. An immigrant did not cross the border to kill kids. Immigrants came to the United States and their child was killed by an American.

My parents didn’t come here and invest in a home in one of the safest neighborhoods in my hometown to later be worried that their children weren’t safe at school. 

This is not the American dream any of my family, every person locked in an ICE detention center or parents of school shooting victims envisioned.

The convoluted phrase “Land of the free” needs to stop being used so loosely in reference to America and its principles. The only version of freedom I have seen is the Uvalde shooter freely entering the campus while the students’ parents were the ones being detained outside for trying to save their children. 

I am not open to the argument that you need your guns to be safe, or that it is your right. Those children had every right to live their lives to their full capacity more than you need your guns.

Many children of immigrants, like myself, are working daily to take full advantage of our parents’ sacrifices and make their journey to America worth every struggle. I shouldn’t have to fear going to school. I shouldn’t have to be relieved that one of my little brothers is homeschooled yet worried about the older of the two every time he goes to his college campus. 

I shouldn’t have to worry that my parent’s will be left without a child or that their life’s work towards the American dream will amount to nothing within a matter of seconds because of how easily, unknown and frequent these shootings have come to be.

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