My name is Ayaan Siddiqui, and I am an American.

My name is Ayaan Siddiqui, and I am an American. People may say it cannot be the case. But in reality, I am. The floor I walk on is American. The walls I touch are American. The trees that have given me ample shade all my life are American. Those neighbors and friends that I hold so dear to my heart, that have made me into the individual I am today, all call themselves American. I have lived my life as an American.

But in 4 years, I won’t be.

In 4 years, I will be 21.

This is my unique story. The story that tells of a boy who lives in one world, but is told that he is from another. Every time I come back home from a trip and get asked “What is the purpose of your visit?” by my fellow American, a page of the story is written. Every time I have to renew my visa to stay in the country as if it’s like paying off a recurring debt, a page is written. Every time I talk to my parents about the future of my life as if it’s the backwards, medieval story of an exile being banished from the land of his belonging, a page is written. And ultimately, these pages compile into a tragedy. I don’t want my life to be a tragedy. I’m seventeen. I just got my braces off. I don’t want my life to be a tragedy. And I won’t let it be.

I immigrated to the United States at 18 months old. All I can remember is America. As a UNICEF Youth Advocate, I fight for all children who feel as if they don’t have a place to call home. I fight for all children who seek greater opportunity. I fight for all children’s rights because they are an extension of my own. I know what it’s like to feel helpless as a problem much larger than you looms over your head like an anchor does to the fish at the seafloor. I know the stress and struggle that children feel whilst living in an adult world. For me, children’s rights are the embodiment of children’s empowerment. In my fight for children, I have to become more globally-minded and civically engaged. Because if I don’t, I risk staying that way: a Dreamer.

Across all generations, there is an overwhelming understanding: that we are a nation like none other, a nation of immigrants who like to be loud and like to be heard. Our patriotism is serving this country by calling out its unspeakables, and broadcasting its unseeables. Our ability to debate and question is our patriotic duty. Citizenship in America is not just seeing where America is, but rather where America could be in the future–that “City Upon a Hill” that John Winthrop envisioned so long ago. Citizenship is why the founders dreamed of not just a perfect union but rather a more perfect union. One day I hope to be recognized as an American citizen — but until that day comes — I will continue to fight, continue to dream.

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Improve The Dream

We are a youth-led organization advocating for and supporting the 200k children of long-term visa holders who face self-deportation. Visit ImproveTheDream.org.