It was three years ago, in the month of May, when my life in activism started in Mexico. I spoke about my experience of deportation for the first time in a public event in Tijuana. It was the first of many moments that led me to meet others with similar experiences. I was becoming hopeful of the possibility of a movement of deported and returned youth in Mexico.
Two years after my post-deportation “coming out”, I found myself sitting in a conference room in Mexico City with a group of around seven people. The plan was to discuss ways in which we could organize around a cause, identify a mission and objective and immerse ourselves in the theory and history of political movements so that we could build from the knowledge of the past.
Among those engaged in the dialogue were “voluntary” returnees, couple of us de facto deportees, and a few handful of allies of “the cause”. What united all of us was the “Los Otros Dreamers” book which would featured our experiences of return/deportation, a project that would give us a label many of us would adopt. The book was scheduled to be released on the same weekend of our transnational encuentro we had started in that conference room with the leadership group.
As the coordinator of the training agenda, my intention was to create an open, safe, and powerful space from which we could discuss how we would advocate on behalf of a generation of US-educated youth that had been returning (in)voluntarily to Mexico in mass numbers for years. But in the middle of the dialogue, we seemed to have different visions and it was not clear they would be compatible. Although I did not realize this in that moment, overtime it became evident that we wanted different things. Yes, we all had good intentions of being inclusive of the diversity of experiences and perspectives, and we wanted to help in some way; but at the end, some of us would later end up feeling left out.
A debate emerged about the narrative we wanted to portray to the public. One side wanted to advocate a certain pride of being Mexican (because being American in Mexico would be rejected) and about our desire and willingness to be a positive contribution to Mexico, not a burden, not a victim.
But some of us felt we needed to talk about the social and institutional discrimination we had experienced for simply being raised outside of Mexico. What about our right to binationality and our options to return to the US? And why are we labeled victims when choose to speak about our struggles?
The thing is, I am not a victim and talking about the injustices that I was subjected to in deportation process doesn’t make me one. On the contrary, I have felt empowered to speak of the unspeakable and I have allowed myself to be angry enough to take action, and to demand transnational justice. However, I realized that my outspokenness makes people uncomfortable, including some of my counterparts who returned to Mexico “voluntarily” and who are determined to focus on their successes, of how their dreams, deferred in the U.S. were made possible in Mexico. Some have even felt entitled to advise me on how I should see my situation – a blessing in disguise instead of a tragedy. I should start collecting money every time someone tells me that.
In my attempt to reconcile these emerging conflicts of experiences, in what at times appears to be a “voluntary” returnee vs. deportee divide, I remembered a comment a former ally once told me – about the importance of honoring all stories and experiences equally. That sounded fair at first, but over time, I learned that when it comes to social justice, you can’t give equal platform to experiences that have different levels of oppression, different layers of privileges. This is exactly how I felt about many returnees who are back Mexico. For many of them, it is important to discuss their own choice of giving up an oppressed life as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. to pursue their dreams in Mexico. However, a deportee will unlikely express their return to Mexico that way. The experience is radically different and thus, the vision and the demands of what social justice is exactly that, a demand, not a platform for self-promotion. I have met many voluntary returnees who have gotten tourist visas to travel back to the U.S. I am yet to meet a deportee who has been able to do the same.
After reading story after story of those that want to publicly speak about their success stories in Mexico, especially when it is told in the context of Los Otros Dreamers, I am only forced to speak up, and to say that I don’t share this narrative. I don’t feel it is compatible with an inclusive social justice agenda, in fact, one success story can be misused to completely erase the struggles of many others or even be co-opted by right wing anti-immigrants that advocate for self-deportation policies. I refuse to have my story be used that way.
I can criticize the unacknowledged privilege of others because I have to constantly check on my own. I am a privileged deportee who has traveled and studied in Europe, who has been able to capitalize on a U.S. education in Mexico and abroad (despite the hurdles). However, I find it hard to subscribe to a “dreams in Mexico” narrative because I know my experience is not the norm, and it would be irresponsible of me, as I have seen others do, to say or imply that anyone who has been deported, if they tried really hard, could accomplish the same. In addition, it simply dismisses the grave social conditions Mexico is undergoing (human rights violations, femicides, killed journalists and activists, forced disappearances, poverty, growing inequality, corruption.. should I keep going?).
I don’t have to look too far to understand my own privileges. I see other struggles through my immediate family, including my parents who arrived in Mexico with a lower education-level (primary school) and who have limited opportunities because of their age. Thank goodness they are healthy, I could only imagine how difficult life would be if they had chronic health issues or a disability of some kind. However, I hardly see anyone discuss and address the issues that are not convenient for the success stories.
In the past I was very public about my affiliation/collaboration with the Los Otros Dreamers network, Dream in Mexico and company. It is now time to also be public about why I am no longer involved with them. For me, they have stop being about the social movement we were trying to bring to fruition in the hopeful days. I certainly don’t want to continue to be the deportee poster child of any organization or projects in which I have to fight for my own inclusion, and where I am told my perspective, opinions and work are wrong.
If I am wrong in standing in my truth and doing what feels rights, then I am glad I am wrong. I am not here to honor every story or experience, but rather to open spaces and platforms for those whose voices and lived injustices have been marginalized and silenced, including by so-called allies. I have made this sort of statement about factions of the Dreamer movement in the U.S., now the criticism is for those on the south side of the border.
I am sure a sit alongside many activists around the world, whose fight went beyond oppressive systems, including the one they also had to fight within. I would not trade the experiences, knowledge, and insights I have gained in the past year through my own battles and disappointments, and how they have become the greatest lessons. Today I find myself re-building my own path in my activist journey with others I have met along the way who share the same sentiments.