A friend once asked me, “When will you stop being a deportee?”
Although I can’t recall what I answered, I still remember this question because it struck me as an odd one. Being a deportee is not a state of being or as fluid as my emotions. It is more like a permanent label that I have slip into as a result of political and legal systems. It is a fact that I was detained and expelled from a country and that will never be erased from my past; but I hope my deportee status earns me some karmic brownie points with the birth lottery system in my next life. But I digressed, going back to the question… If my existence in Mexico and my work around activism, migrant rights, and my current career path as a migration scholar were all propelled by a label that has become a part of my identity – can I live without it? Has my quest to dignify this stigmatized label constrained my existence post-deportation?
To complicate matters, I have attached another identifier to this label by calling myself a “deported Dreamer” as a way of acknowledging my own experience as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. and connecting it to my struggles here. It was also a strategic choice for me as I wanted to convey the message that I was still part of political movement in the U.S. propelled by (what I call) the “millennial Dreamers”. I mean, we are of the same kind. I have much in common with them, we all arrived as a children in the U.S. and growing up in the country that would later become home as undocumented immigrants. The main difference was that I was part of a generation who lived mostly in the shadows. We were also not as organized as the millennial Dreamers are today, and of course since 2009, I’m no longer in the U.S.
Being a Dreamer on the south side of the border (I thought) was part of extending the immigrant right’s struggle to Mexico, because being a returned migrant in Mexico is no walk in the park, as I have tried to illustrate in most of what I written here since I started blogging in 2012. My new found purpose was wrapped around a fight for recognition in a country that won’t have us back, that doesn’t want us back. Four years later, I find myself at a crossroads and I have made a decision others in U.S. Dreamer movement have made – to drop the label. I am no longer a Dreamer.
First, I am doing this because I’m disappointed in the Dreamer leaders and activists I have met over the past year. I know they are not representative of a diverse and divergent movement, but they are part of an advocacy machinery that has neglected the deported. I bet that won’t change any time soon, it hasn’t in the six years I’ve been living in Mexico. In fact, it has been this movement that has shown me that there is the only one kind of Dreamer that matters… the one residing in a U.S. zip code.
Those who have visited Mexico as allowed by Obama’s Deferred Action program (DACA) have done it at our expense. They now have access to Mexican politicians and academic institutions that are increasingly catering to them to show them how much their “country welcomes them with open arms” with paid “study abroad trips” for Dreamers while those of us who are here indefinitely face unnecessary obstacles in accessing educational opportunities and jobs outside a call center. Adding insult to injury, our DACAmented counterparts have felt entitled to take the spotlight during their visits to Mexico to speak about how they feel as outsiders when they attempt to “reconnect with their roots” while forgetting they are not the ones that have to live in Mexico indefinitely. They have returned back to their homes and families in the U.S.
I could go on and on, and criticize efforts that divide rather than connect our struggles, and about the naïveté of the millennial Dreamers who willingly allow a co-option of their own fight by governments and institutions that use them. Take the two presidential candidates for instance. Both Clinton and Sanders have added Dreamers to their campaign teams, using them to appear friendly on immigration to buy the Latino vote, and in exchange for what? Haven’t we learned anything from the two Obama administrations when it comes to immigration?
U.S. millennial Dreamers have failed the deported. They have not been able to be the allies they themselves demand for their own cause.
But there is also a lesson to learn through these series of disappointments. For me, it has been about collaboration based on true solidarity by identifying when the latter is missing. An ally will not have a hidden agenda, will not try to speak over you (or for you), will not make your cause about them, will not exclude you, will not try to tell you how you should be fighting your fight. Allies know when to step aside and let you decide which direction your cause will take and support you. The bottom line is that unless you are deportee you have no clue what it is to be a deportee, not even a study abroad trip will make you understand. That my friend is the reason why I still keep that label, because it has become part of my life experience which has shaped my perspective on life, socials issues and the politics of politics.
I finally understand why my friend asked me the question and this is how I answer it today: I am no longer a Dreamer, but I am a deportee, and much more than that; I am activist, a blogger, a researcher, a woman, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover.
The fight for recognition by a movement in the U.S. that has failed to include me has ended. I am over it. My activism is now free to embrace others struggles, because migrant rights go beyond the Dreamer experience. The refugees I have met from Central American and those coming across through the Mediterranean are a constant reminder of that.
Also, life is much more than just fighting. I’m ready to live it a bit more.