When my father first brought it home, he laid it on the table and stared at it for a few hours…drinking and thinking, maybe praising God (although, as an atheist, his God is the God of his mother, not his own—for if he had a God, He would be the silent type). I walked over to the table to look at it, too. So did my mother, although she had seen one before. It looked like…well, like an ID, except for the holograms and seals and multitude of numbers. It had his name, including that J which refers to his middle name, but which is not really his middle name, but his last name, or the name of his father’s father. It was, of course, green.
Emancipated, situated, defined, constituted: words made relevant for the first time by a document. A piece of plastic with ink, numbers, a picture, and a signature. The signature was his universal seal. It was his document; he had a name; he was a subject. After all of that, he could walk amongst the citizenry without fear. He could demand his rights. He could testify! At least in theory. But he was now different than his fellows, than those who surrounded him, even my mother, whose documents wouldn’t come for another 10 years. This document legitimated his status as a worker, as a legal entity, and, as a man. So long as he carried it, he carried the weight of a matanarrative that said he was not to be fucked with.
The news soon spread. Cousins, uncles, friends, came to the house to congratulate him and take a look at the thing. A cousin took his out and compared it with my father’s: “see,” he said happily, “mine almost looks real!” He had bought his at the Tropicana parking lot, in San Jose. It was then that I saw the document’s real power. Those that heard Cousin say this blushed—they felt sorry for him and his deception. He was a false man, a fabricated subject, an illusion! Sure, they didn’t say this, but they didn’t have to. Cousin’s subjectivity was tied to his lie. He was committed to it—in social spaces, he couldn’t take off his mask even if he wanted to. He was, in fact, still human; but only in fact. As an “undocumented,” he was still on the fringes of humanity—at least in the US. And they all knew it, or believed it. My father, on the other hand, was documented, written into the archives, into the narratives of the just and the free.