Week 48 to week 44 (Sept 30 – Nov 3): The rise of fascism a decade after Obama’s election

It has been a challenge to write these past couple of weeks. Sometimes I encounter the usual chaos, trying to do more things that I can handle (yeah, I am working to fix that). But there are also times I just feel too overwhelmed by the state of affairs to sit down and write. Where do I start? Especially when I am so invested in two countries that have problematic stances towards migrants. This is worse living in a border town; I often feel swallowed by the political and social turmoil going on “en ambos lados de la frontera” (on both sides of the border).

In the past couple of weeks we have seen a misguided public discourse on the Central American caravan which has been disheartening and painful to watch. It’s not only our political leaders, but people at large who have access to social media platforms to propel their ignorant opinions as “valid” arguments for closing borders and legalizing cruelty. I expect that from xenophobes but to see “people from the left”, “Catholics” and “progressives” reject the idea that we can create inclusive societies, especially for people who are in need of humanitarian assistance is an indication that we continue to lose our way in this post-truth era. Now, we have to worry about navigating conversations and digging through piles of rubbish to understand what is happening around us, especially when we live insulated by our privilege.

Today, as the news are covering the mid-term elections results, I am having a flashback. Exactly 10 years ago, I was just a few miles away from where I am sitting right now to writing this post. I was in downtown San Diego after a long day of GOTV efforts, hopeful for an Obama victory. As the night went on, we started to experience the excitement of what showed to be a historic win for Democrats, for those of us who pledged to progressive policies on many issues, including immigration. Little did I expect I would be deported under his presidency a year later. Yes! Let that sink in… particularly for those of you in Blue Wave or the so-called “Resistance.” Having a Democrat in office didn’t mean much for immigrant communities, and I am willing to bet this won’t change much even as you try to pin racism and xenophobia to the Trump administration. Right, he may be re-engineering aspects of immigration policy, but he is not completely wrong to say that he is just implementing policy as his predecessors have set forth. Racial profiling (remember the Patriot Act). Not New. Deterring immigration. Not new. Detaining children and family separation. Not new. Deporting hard working immigrants. Not New.

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But it seems that some of you needed an openly racist presidency and the rise of the Alt Right to see what millions of us have already experienced. You cared little for the pain caused by racist immigration policies and practices that were operating behind the politically correct discourse. America is now turning fascist, but I hope that you take a moment to reflect on how the Dems have contributed to that. Perhaps because you have sold out on progressive values when you had the chance to change things while the right keeps embracing theirs and actually delivering on that when it was their turn. On immigration, you thought that if you deported people like myself and looked tough of immigration you would deliver a “comprehensive” immigration reform. The Republicans fooled you. They never cared for it. Unfortunately, Democratic party continues to fail immigrant communities and it will continue to do so until it actually reforms itself so that it takes real stances aligned with progressive values. There is no middle ground anymore. Doing the right thing was never something that should have been delayed until it was politically viable. If we have not learned that in the first two years of the Trump administration, then it is hard to stay hopeful. A win for Democrats has done little to advance immigrant social justice. Let’s not kid ourselves.

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.

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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.

Week 50 (Sept. 16- Sept. 22): Does “returned migrant” status have an expiration date?

I have often heard, mainly from policy makers, that you cannot be a returned migrant forever. There is some debate in Mexico as to where the line is drawn between deportee/returnee vs. citizen. Is it after a year, three years or maybe five? At what point are you integrated?

Although you can have theoretical discussions about integration/reintegration, which term you use and what type of factors facilitate or hinder either, I actually don’t care much about those discussions because often times they are so removed from our own migrant perceptions and experiences. What I care is when someone, particularly when it comes from public servants who design policies to assist deportees, say things like “after some time, you cannot be considered a returned migrant.” I hear that line quite often and I know where it comes from. It is designed to set an arbitrary line on eligibility criteria for receiving public assistance. And to some extent I get that; governments have limited resources and they must set priorities on who they consider to be in most need.

At the same time, I would prefer to hear honest discussions on why people like me don’t deserve assistance rather than placing the burden on me for my integration in this country. Because I know that as I hit the 10-year mark, I still don’t consider myself fully reintegrated. In my time in Mexico, I have never been assisted by any returned migrant program (thus my criticism of them) and I continue to see bureaucratic red tape across government agencies that make it difficult for returnees to access their rights in this country. Additionally, I am still affected by deportation and other issues that are more long-term such as eligibility to social welfare, including retirement benefits, which we’ll face as we reach old age. The length of time we were absent from our country of origin will catch up to us at some point.

So there is more to integration that meets the eye. My two cents… it’s not for anyone else to determine the conditions by which a deportee/returnee should be considered integrated or should be integrated. That process is different for everyone. Many of us don’t cease to be returned migrants because it’s convenient to some. I certainly continue to be a deportee, and I have forever been marked by that experience. I am not going to allow anyone to dismiss or diminish it in any way.