It's Luis' blog

The problem with being born in the "wrong" country

December 06, 2019

On October 10, 2019, I received an email from Project Alloy, notifying me that I was selected for power grant to attent AWS re:Invent 2019, a conference being hosted in Las Vegas, Nevada. This is the greatest AWS event, and Project Alloy would cover my flight, my hotel room and my entry to the conference during all days of the conference.

Naturally, this was the greatest piece of news I had ever received. I told every single member of my family and all my close friends, and obviously, to my boss. I’ve been using AWS for a year now for every project at work, and this was a huge opportunity to learn and create connections with people who work on the same thing. All my years of coding and hard work were finally paying off and I was ready to boost my career, or so I thought.

Project Alloy paid for my flight to Las Vegas from Punta Cana, where I live, booked my hotel room and gave me access to the platform for attendees, where I was able to select the keynotes I wanted to attend. I spent hours trying to choose the sessions, because re:Invent happens at multiple hotels, and each hotel has multiple session types every hour.

So I had everything ready to go. The only thing I needed to attend re:Invent was a US visa.

In order to get one, I had to pay a fee of about 166.70 USD, collect as much evidence about myself as possible: bank statements, proof that I’m a student, letter of invitation from AWS, employment letter from the company I work for, and fill a form with a lot of information about myself, including social media details. I did all of that carefully, as I was taking this seriously and there was no other way.

The last thing I had to do is an interview with a US consulate officer. I was so anxious I didn’t sleep throughout the entire night before the interview, but at the moment of the interview I was pretty confident, looking at the officer’s eyes and replying very quick.

The answer was a sad “maybe when you graduate”. Yes, she said no. She didn’t ask for the evidence I brought, and seemed ready to say no from the beginning. Most questions were questions about me (who do you live with, what do you work on, when did you graduate), and not about the event, why I wanted to assist and whether or not I could afford to go or who’s paying.

The decision could not be appealed, and the conference was 1 week ahead. There was nothing that could be done, not even re-applying.

That was not in my plans, but wasn’t totally unexpected.

I did get tremendously depressed. My motivation to work and my motivation to continue with my projects and continue to learn was down to zero. Why work hard, why learn a bunch of stuff if I’m always going to be limited by my nationality, which is something I can’t change?

Many people have told me they see me as an example as I’ve been actively coding since 2012, when I was 13. However, none of that seemed to matter because I had the audacity to be born in the wrong country.

I can’t attend conferences in the US, Canada or Europe without going through the same visa process for each one of those countries, no matter if they’re inviting me.

I had no plans to stay in the US and I was ready to present as much evidence as I could but none of it was asked.

I did end up reflecting, and thinking that maybe I should just work harder and use this to “boost” my motivation, so I can prove I’m not an “illegal alien” but someone who genuinely wants to learn and contribute in technology.

I notified the team at re:Invent and Project Alloy and they did tell me to re-apply next year, and I want to really thank them again for the opportunity. Even though I couldn’t assist, they did as much as they possibly could, and they continue to work to improve diversity in tech. You should check them out.

I will apply next year, maybe I’ll have better luck. In the meantime I’ll continue to work hard and learn as much as I can. You might probably see more posts from me here :)

Thank you for reading! I don’t usually write, but I wanted to let this one out.