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.
This happens to be the existential question I ask about myself when I read about the type of U.S. campaigns launched in favor of immigration reform, because they completely disregard my existence.
As I was weaving through the headlines in Mexican and U.S. publications of what appeared to be a Pope Francis vs Trump fight over the pope’s comment of the unchristian-like campaign of the leading Republican candidate, I stumbled upon the following NBCNews article that began its headline with ‘You Deported Me’. I immediately thought, “wow, FINALLY!” we start hearing about the stories of deportation in the immigration debate in mainstream media, and coming directly from deportees.
But my excitement was short lived when I read the rest of the headline “… Campaign Highlights Undocumented Asians” which reinforced what I know about the immigration advocacy efforts in the U.S. We don’t exist for them – but this is a new low. Now they resort to talking about hypothetical deportees because they lack perspectives of real ones.
To give them some credit, as you read the rest of the article and learn about the FWD.us pro-immigration campaign, you understand that the underlying message is about what it means for undocumented immigrants to live under fear of the threat of deportation. Yes, it is a real one and I definitely understand it, I lived under that fear for 20 years.
However, there is an astronomical difference between living under the fear of deportation and actually going through one. To speak of these two as if they were the same and at the same time fail to include the voices of the deported, it shows a disregard for the over 2 million people and their families that have been affected by the deportation policies under the Obama administration.
Please stop talking about hypothetical deportees and get closer to real life deportees.
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 heresince 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.