Week 49 (Sept 23 – Sept 29): Reclaiming my own story

Lately, I have been ignoring requests for interviews. Be it from reporters working on stories or audiovisual materials of deportee experiences, academics who are looking for “subjects” to interview for their research projects, or “experts” that want time to “pick my brain.” This is mainly a decision that arises from the entitlement to my story I have perceived from people that clearly are here to further their own work, whether there are consciously using people like myself or have convinced themselves that they are contributing to the cause.

I am certainly thankful to the people that in the past few years have extended their platforms and have offered me empowering ways to tell my story. Early on in my “coming out of the shadows of deportation”, I encountered the two extremes of the ethical scale when it comes to using migrants stories, on one end where your agency to tell your experience is respected and on the other, when it is plainly used to silence you. I have been subtle about this in my writing and I feel I need to be more open about it.

Media publications like El Nuevo Sol and Latina Lista were instrumental in giving me the courage to write publicly. They encouraged me to process my own experience through my own voice. Along the way, came Eileen, who from the initial interview she had with me to document my deportation/post-deportation experience, always saw herself as a medium to tell my story which would be included in her book Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for their American Dream. I participated in book presentations in Mexico which eventually helped me find my own voice and words to describe what had happened to me.

At the same time, I did not anticipate that the aftermath of having my story public would entail encountering the type people who lacked these noble intentions.

Post-deportation Journal 49.jpg

The first of these experiences was with the book project “Los Otros Dreamers.” In 2016 I had expressed my frustrations and the reason why I was no longer involved with this incipient effort to organize deportees and returnees in Mexico. However, there was another aspect that would later became a reason I no longer trust researchers, mainly because my story was no longer labeled as my own. Details of the book such as how the authorship would be registered was not collective decision although most of us had written our own stories, we shared our networks and resources to raise money for the crowdfunding campaign and helped with the distribution of the book. If you look at who is cited as the author(s) of the book, it becomes clear that our stories where appropriated and are now someone else’s intellectual property. My story was used to further that project, but when I started to question the approach to organizing around post-return/deportation, I was told the way I do advocacy is wrong and divisive. It’s always the excuse for people who want to avoid accountability.

This experience would continue to repeat itself in other ways, when researchers from both Mexico and the U.S. would treat my story was as if it out for their taking because it was public. I would later find my deportation experience being cited in some education blog, article or book without my knowledge or consent. And even when I tried to ignore it, perhaps expecting for all of this to lead to some common good, I realized that it didn’t do anything for me. It wasn’t about making our lives better or contributing to alleviating our post-deportation struggle. At the end, it was to further someone else’s academic career or expertise. Most of these researchers never gave anything in return, neither knowledge that was useful nor tools to further the advocacy projects I was engaged in. Often times, I felt robbed of my insights, ideas and work. I often wonder how much of what I have written on this blog has been appropriated by others.

I have also encountered journalists that ask the same recurring questions: ” Tell me about you arrived in U.S.? How was life as undocumented migrant? Why and how were you deported? What happened after deportation?” To put it simply, I am asked to relieve my trauma. Additionally, some of them do not even bother about the accuracy of the details or care to read any of what I have written. I just become a tool that helps them get through their reporting deadlines. Others lack the courtesy to tell me if they ever published the story they interviewed me for. Not all journalists are like this, but in my experience, it is the majority.

I have also been used to gain access to the deportee population and to insights that you are rarely going to have about our experience unless we let you in. I am just tired of this. I am tired of others feeling like they can exploit my story, voice, and understanding of the issue instead of using their resources and privilege so that people like me can share our own experiences in our own voices; to actually help in sharing our perspectives instead of chopping our stories in quotes that support their story angle.

This is partly the reason why I will continue to be unresponsive to email requests for interviews, whether you are a reporter, researcher, or a policy expert. If your interaction is mainly to extract, rather than to find reciprocal ways to collaborate, I will ignore you. I prefer to keep my work limited to this small corner of the Internet than seeing it distorted or misused in mainstream media. Perhaps it is time for people like us to start creating and propelling our own platforms, those that at least have ethical consideration and reflections of how our voices, experiences and intellectual contributions are used.

As I get closer to ending my 10-year ban, I feel like my story has already been extracted of its journalistic use. It is a documented national case study, it has been overused for research purposes. I have already endured the research burden that a subject is supposed to be exposed to (I know, I have studied research methodologies and ethical approches to research). I no longer have a need to retell my story for these purposes. Anything else that remains to be said, I want to do it on my own terms.

Let me remind you. My story is mine and I will fight to keep it that way.

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