By Kassel Franco Garibay
As if filing taxes for the first time were not scary enough, today I was slapped in the face with the term “alien” once more, making the overall experience more taxing than necessary (pun intended). Rewind to a couple hours ago, I gave myself a pep talk and prepared a cup of coffee, finally clicking open the email that reminded me to file my tax forms. I navigated through the International Student website and read all the FAQs. Halfway through my cup of coffee I finally felt prepared enough to open the forms and start working on getting them filed. In big, bold, menacing letters the word “Alien” immediately jumped at me, as if to make sure that I, an international student, an alien, was filing the right form. With a knot in my stomach I clicked the forms closed and tried to move on with my day.
Whether it is because of the color of my skin, the rolling of my r’s, or the Mexico-shaped necklace that I wear almost every day, I’m not sure, I never go for more than two weeks without someone asking me “So… are you here like, illegally?” The truth is that being away from one’s country is hard, but it is doubly so when people immediately assume negative stereotypes about you as soon as they realize you were born on the other side of the border.
Although the English Law definition of alien is “a person who resides within the borders of a country and is not a national of that country”, this is definitely not the connotation that people in the United States associate with this word. Whenever I protest about the derogatory way they refer to non-residents, people shield themselves on the dictionary definition of alien, as if that made it okay to dehumanize each other. I dare you to think about a situation in which the term alien was applied to immigrants in a kind fashion, Google the words “illegal alien” and try not to cringe as you scroll down and see hundreds of examples of anti-immigrant propaganda.
Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented American and founder of #EmergeUS, wrote an opinions piece for the LA Times in 2015. In his op-ed article, he described perfectly how derogatory the term is by writing “the label ‘alien’ is nothing but alienating. And when coupled with “illegal,” it’s especially toxic.” Regardless of what the actual definition of the word is, there is no doubt that the whole purpose of the expression is to dehumanize immigrants, to accentuate the divide between “us” and “them.”
Luckily, some people are catching up on the negative impact that the word has. For example, two years ago California removed the term alien from the state’s labor code. Further, more and more people are joining the movement to make immigrants feel safe and welcome in the United States.
Kassel is a freshman International Relations and Women and Gender Studies double major, with a minor in Latin American Studies.