It has been a busy year and part of the reason for writing sporadically is because activism has become a priority in my life.
I wished I could have written more about my work in the past year, perhaps in the future I will, but in Mexico, we experienced “Momentum”[i] in our advocacy work this past year. To give you an idea, I briefly describe some of the projects that kept me busy in Mexico City since June 2014:
Education: I completed my Master’s program in Global Migration and although I did not attend my graduation in London, I received my diploma via mail a couple months ago. I hope to have made proud those that supported me on my campaign #DreamsWithtoutBorders which made it possible for me to pursue my dream of completing grad school. Unfortunately, as is the case for my U.S. Bachelor’s degree, this Master’s is not recognized in Mexico (read more below on education revalidation requirements).
Research in Interculturality and Transnational Advocacy: My newly completed “formal” training in migration studies jump started my career as an emerging scholar with “transborder experience” (wink, wink) and <i worked on two projects; the first one included a research project which resulted in my first institutional publication (Spanish) for the Mexico City government to analyze access and visibility of the population subject to rights through the Law of Interculturality passed in 2011. In the second project, I supported the planning and organization of a transnational conference that propelled transnational mobilization of youth migrant activists. Below is a link to the recorded “Talk Show” (Spanish) that reviewed the objectives and outcomes of our conference and a closer look at the stories of some of the 29 youth activists that participated.
I sit still on the chair in the main office lobby waiting to be called in for my job interview. I do my best to maintain a calm and collected demeanor, reminding myself that I am usually good at this sort of thing. I tend to be fully prepared to answer the typical questions you are asked during an interview: ‹‹Tell me about yourself? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Why do you want this job?››.
But this time is different. I am no longer that self-assured professional I once was. Sitting there is a broken soul, displaced and lacking a sense of purpose… a deportee. Her inborn instinct for survival is the only catalyst left in her. A life of 20 years in the U.S. vanished the moment she was returned to a border town she had not seen since she crossed as a child. To start again after losing everything overnight.
Friends were my guardian angels as they came to the rescue. They are always there when you need them the most. But in certain situations, help can only go so far. Those who had an acquaintance in Tijuana would help with making an introduction, explaining my situation and asking to assist me in finding a job. However, it seemed that out of politeness or respect for their friendship, their response of ‹‹Sure, I’ll help in whatever way I can››, was a courtesy that translated into empty words. But understandably, having lived a wave a violence that plagued the city with the recent War on Drugs, a possible concern of helping a deportee seemed valid. Factor in the belief that all of those deported must have committed some type of criminal offense made us be perceived as dangerous. The best possible reaction I could have received from others is one of pity. I came to terms with my harsh reality. I was forced to live once again in the shadows, now of deportation and in my own country of nationality.
Suddenly, a tall man dressed in business casual attire steps into the lobby and introduces himself as the hiring manager. We walk through the call center area, full of cubicles where I could hear employees handling calls with English-speaking customers, we then arrive at his office. As we begin the interview, I try to forget that I have been unemployed for six months so that I am able to relax and focus. He begins to glance at my resume, goes through the interview protocol, and seems to be impressed with my professional background. Then, as expected, comes THE question, ‹‹After being in the U.S. for so long, why are you back in Mexico?››.
I now know better how to answer that question. Evading any detail, I camouflaged the deportation for a story about “choosing” to return. My answer was surprisingly nonchalant, conveyed with such ease that hid the shame I was feeling underneath. Midway through my interview, I realized that I was overqualified for this job. No college degree required. All you needed was the ability to speak English well. I convinced myself to take the job offer as it was the best I could do.
That is how my transition in Mexico began, with a life of denial, negating a past that could never be erased. A nine year-old girl does not choose to cross the border illegally. After living most of your life in a country that has become home, even with the hardships of unlawful presence, returning back to a place you have no connection to does not seem to be an option. Nonetheless, I had to live with the consequences of choices that were not mine to make.
I lived an injustice that became invisible and insignificant to the broken U.S. immigration policies that have created a system of expulsion and to Mexican authorities and institutions that are negligent to the plight of returnees, whether they return voluntarily or through deportation. The process of integration then becomes as complicated as living as an undocumented immigrant somewhere else. Overtime, I have realized that those like me are a growing number and that we could not go any longer without exposing it.
In the same way as the new generation of Dreamers in the U.S. has led a movement to demand humane and comprehensive immigration reform, we returnees need to do the same back “home”. We need to ask that our countries of nationality stop a continued marginalization of an expelled community that instead, needs support in the process of integration.
Our stories need to be told and it is for this reason I am supporting two books that focus on the Dreamer experience. Last week during the presentation of Dreamers (Spanish Edition)by Eileen Truax, I was invited to talk about the book (released last month) which portrays my story of deportation. It was a powerful moment as it was the first time I declared myself in public as a deportee here in Mexico. This in turn, encouraged another returnee in the audience to also share his story.
In front of my very own eyes, I saw what could be possible if our stories reached wider audiences. What if the thousands of returned Dreamers became visible? This is the reason why I also became involved with the second book project, Los Otros Dreamers (The Other Dreamers). This book is about “young people between the ages of 10 and 32 years old [who] share what it is like to be rejected in one home only to feel homeless in another”. Los Otros Dreamers is currently seeking support through crowd-funding to print bilingual copies scheduled for release in 2014.
Although these two story projects have a life of their own and have emerged from different efforts, they both embody the same purpose: To share stories that serve as a testament to “the challenges as well as the resilience of this bilingual, bicultural generation”. Both are significant contributions to an overlooked aspect of the U.S. immigration debate.
I invite you to stand in solidarity with us and support either (or both) of these efforts so that we can raise awareness of a community whose voices fall silent after crossing the border.
Eileen Truax decided to write Dreamers, the first of its kind in Spanish, to explain the issue of immigration through the immigrant experience. The nine featured stories comprise this work with the objective of shifting from a political angle to a personal perspective, so that we can see past the legislative bureaucracy and immigration laws to understand that the issue of Dreamers is one of human rights. Dreamers, can be purchased electronically via Amazon. Book hard copy is now available in bookstores in Mexico.
Los Otros Dreamers combines first-person testimony with full-color photographs, it is a powerful witness in word and image. We are asking for funding through donations and pre-selling the book on Kickstarter.com. Even the funding model is an act of solidarity and visibility with young people that are ‘undocumented’ on both sides of the border. The campaign ends on June 30. Visit Los Otros Dreamers’ blog for more information.
I’ll like to post a version of an email I sent to my friends this weekend, sharing with them (and now with you) something I am very excited about: Having my story being featured in the book Dreamers.
Some of you I have known for a long time, others I have met recently since my “transition” to Mexico. More than three years have passed since, but it seems and feels as if it was yesterday when I lived in my Los Angeles hometown.
Today I was remembering my first week in Tijuana, in particular, the day I attempted to reconnect with my life in the U.S. I was on a mission to find a place with Internet access. After walking many blocks in downtown TJ, feeling disoriented, confused, and lost… there it was, a cyber café near Revolución Blvd. I reserved my spot, logged into a computer and my email account, and I started typing emails to all my friends to tell them about what had just happened – an abrupt deportation that had left me stranded in my native country I had not seen for almost 20 years.
Thanks to technology, we have been able to keep in touch. Some with more frequency, others with an occasional email or a status update in the social media world. But regardless of whether communication is constant or not, all of you have a special place in my heart and thoughts.
What has happened since? So much that I am not able to cover in one email but there is one thing I wanted to take the time to share with you. My experience of deportation is beginning to shift from being a personal tragedy to a story of the collective immigrant experience; a community in the U.S. that that continues to push and advocate for immigration reform. Instead of being one more statistic in the “Out-of-sight, Out-of-mind” list, I have the opportunity and responsibility to be a voice for so many that may lack the resources or support to be able to share their stories of struggle.
Since I made my story public last year, I have been blessed to have many that are interested in listening and understanding the complexity and dysfunction of an immigration system that led to my forced removal. As a result, my experience will be shared to a wider audience as it is featured in the book Dreamers (Spanish Edition) by Mexican journalist Eileen Truax which will be available to the public this month, in the U.S. and Mexico.
Dreamers is a book that helps us understand the state of U.S. immigration through the experiences and voices of young undocumented immigrants. I am humbled to be included among eight courageous Dreamers who have redefined what it is to be undocumented and have led a successful movement that we hope will translate into policy changes.
Currently, the book is only in Spanish but with a successful launch, we hope that a translation will be made available so that our stories can be shared with the English speaking community.
A border might prevent me from being there physically, but I will be there in spirit. I would love to hear from you if you happen to have an opportunity to attend.
I conclude with a note of gratitude because it is very clear to me that without you, my story would have remained a tragic one. Whether it was in the form of a call/email of encouragement, shelter and food, a visit to Tijuana, a letter of recommendation, or sharing my story with others, it all made the difference in turning it into one that is now filled with renewed hopes and dreams.