There’s no place like home – Los Angeles.

A true Los Angeles native knows that life without a car is no life at all. This L.A. transplant of 20 years whose coming of age happened in the great City of Angels couldn’t agree more. She would also learn that life without Los Angeles is hard to imagine.

To love L.A. is to drive it. Even when you can’t get a license, an undocumented Angelino/a finds a way. We were certainly forced to find one after 1994 when licenses stopped being issued for folks without papers (although that has recently changed with legislation granting California Driver’s Licenses for Undocumented Residents).

Oh, yes! I remember the first car I drove. This car was what we call a carcacha, it definitely looked like a clunker; but on my last year of college it spared me the agony of the daily commute from my home in South Central L.A. to the San Fernando Valley, and back. On a good day I would spent four hours hopping on three buses and a metro. With that kind of commute I was certainly no friend of the Los Angeles public transportation system, but I was determined to get a college education and 30 miles were not going to get in my way. No way! Besides, the long rides gave me time to do my homework or take a nap, my antidote to a normalized sleep deprived life style.

When my dad had enough savings to buy me a car, it didn’t matter it was a vehicle that looked as it was ready to head to the car graveyard. In its past life, it had survived an accident that left a dent on the door on the driver’s side, but any repairs done to it didn’t remove the evidence that it was a survivor, like me. It had a missing window that was usurped by a type of plastic that was good enough to look like a glass window, but it distorted the driver’s view, giving it a blurred vision effect that made driving it either bit interesting or hazardous, depending on the type of driver you are. As long as I never had to take it any place where valet parking was required, I was good to go!

This minivan made me fall in love with Los Angeles, its multiculturalism, diversity, gentrification and segregation, all for the price of one. It took me everywhere I needed to go and become the car that made me a happy and fearless driver on the 101/405 FWYs. In my post-college years, so much of my life was dependent on my car. Going to work meetings, road trip to Las Vegas with my family to spend the holidays, rushing to meet my friends for happy hour, even grocery shopping.

LA-Street-MC

 

After graduation, I upgraded by purchasing my first car, a red Camry Toyota that allowed me to continue my driving relationship with LA. This one survived a Freeway accident and an immigration persecution. Yeah, the one where I was stopped on my way to work. I’m sure my car will never forgive the officers for forcing me to leave it stranded in the middle of the street to be towed away. The bloody bastards!

Continue reading “There’s no place like home – Los Angeles.”

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US-educated deportee doesn’t see herself as undocumented but “Citizen of the World”

Posted date: January 7, 2013 | LatinaLista

By Nancy Landa
MundoCitizen

(Editor’s note: Final post in a four-part series focusing on DREAMer Nancy Landa’s first-hand experience of removal proceedings by U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services (USCIS)

7.28.06 American Dream II ( Photo: M J M)

The holiday season arrived. I sang through Christmas carols as I finished dressing my apartment with the joyful holiday spirit that lingered in the air. It almost seemed like the old days when I lived in my home in Los Angeles, California. Although the holiday season succeeded in cheering me up this year, sadness and nostalgia seemed to creep up from time to time.

I couldn’t pretend to have forgotten what deportation has felt like in the recent years: Arriving alone in Tijuana the same day I was detained; having no more than 4 weeks of coping with resettlement before my parents and younger brother were also detained and deported.

Three holiday seasons have passed since a family of four was displaced without a place we could call home and with the challenges of re-starting our lives in a country so different from what we had gotten used to.

The first hurdle to overcome was the government bureaucracy.

It took close to six months before we could obtain all our required government-issued documents. This included the federal ID, called IFE, which is a requirement for almost every transaction, from signing an apartment lease to applying for work. Thankfully, our friends with family in Tijuana assisted us with the immediate necessities during this period of bureaucratic limbo as we worked towards self-sufficiency.

Finding work was the second challenge.

Despite having an established career in philanthropy and community development in the U.S., I quickly learned that my experience was irrelevant in a border region driven primarily by the manufacturing industry. Unless I knew someone that could help me get into similar position in the public sector, I was on my own. On the flip-side, being bilingual, although not completely fluent in my mother tongue, served as an advantage.

However, the best job I could get an offer for was answering phones for a call center – so much for my degree in Business and experience working abroad. The pay was minimal and could not be compared to what I earned in a U.S. job. Additionally, companies were unwilling to negotiate a comparable salary in Mexican pesos because I had no history of work experience here.

With little time to find a job adequate to my work experience, I decided to take it out of necessity. The funds we had available through friends, who had raised money to help our resettlement, were depleting. I was not in a position to be picky with work opportunities, especially as my parents being older had a harder time finding work.

Unlike the U.S., here in Mexico a company can deny you work because of your age. A worker can be considered too old for most labor-type positions at age 35.

Adaptability and flexibility became part of my survival mechanism. With some patience, I have been able to get back on track with a promising professional career, ironically, contributing to the growth of an American-based company with a global presence.

I have joined a selective group of professionals who are filling a local need for culturally sensitive skilled workers who can be effective in working with foreigners and where communication, in an English-speaking environment, becomes an asset rather than a barrier.

I am now able to travel for work abroad (including Canada and Europe), something that was not possible for me in the U.S. as I was in the process of adjusting my legal status.

This is not to say that I have not been confronted with challenges working in an environment that has substandard labor laws, in comparison what I had become used to. Tijuana is a region where lower pay for high-skill labor is what attracts foreign companies in a globalized market.

I also find myself, in my native country, only viewed as a foreigner simply because I grew up outside of Mexico and because my Spanish is noticeably different from the locals. Everyday, I am reminded that I am a woman working in a male-dominated environment that lags behind gender equality and protection that shielded me when I was in the U.S.

Maybe if I had grown up in Mexico, I would have learned to cope with and accept these circumstances as they are; however, I am bound to live with an internal conflict of wanting the conditions of first-world democracies that are simply not available in a developing country which is still Mexico.

Quite often, I am asked if I would return to the U.S. if that became an option. I do not have a clear answer. What I do know is that I would not choose to return to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. I have lived in the shadows for too long to return to a life of indefinite legal uncertainty.

However, there is one thing I do wish for: that I could have the 10-year ban to re-enter the U.S. lifted so that I am able to obtain a visitor’s visa.

Lacking a criminal history, I feel this ban is a harsh punishment as it continues to limit my career opportunities, even here in Mexico. My company requires me to travel for business to our corporate office in the U.S. and I have been unable to do so. I plan to take this battle with the Department of Homeland Security next year when I apply for a visa and appeal my case.

Perhaps I’ll decide to stay in Mexico to contribute to an emerging market that is becoming increasingly important. If the opportunity arises, I could also relocate to a country that has flexible immigration policies and that values productive migrants.

Sometimes I wished that the U.S. could be one of them. However, I doubt any immigration reform, if passed, would incorporate reducing the penalty for non-criminal deportees like myself so that we are able to legally re-establish in a country we once called home.

Being a displaced migrant has forever changed my perspective of the world. I no longer view it in the confinement of borders. I now see my deportation as an opportunity to advocate for this marginalized group. My purpose now is to educate others, here and abroad, about the plight of immigrants.

What if everyone could view immigrants not through the laws that criminalize and marginalize them, but rather through our own humanity? Would this allow each of us to understand the factors and circumstances that drive migration and arrive at humane and meaningful solutions?

I believe right now is the opportunity to begin this inquiry, as we are beginning to see a shift in the conversation of immigration. The truth is, whether we label people as ‘illegal,’ ‘undocumented,’ ‘deported,’ etc., the one label that I would rather use and find more empowering is ‘Citizen of the World’.

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook and Twitter @mundocitizen.

The Road Much Travelled — From Deportation to Shattered DREAMs

Posted Sept 4, 2012

By Nancy Landa

Published in LatinaLista

It is a typical weekday morning.  As usual, I wake up 30 minutes after my alarm clock goes off and I am forced to hastily get out of bed, get quickly dressed and rush out of my apartment. I hit the road and as I drive my daily route to work, I get caught up in late morning traffic. I stop at a traffic signal which just turned red and I have a moment to think about my day ahead. It only takes a few seconds of self-reflection to start remembering a morning just like this one, when my life took a completely unexpected turn.

It was a Tuesday morning in September 2009, when I was stopped by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while driving through my neighborhood in downtown Long Beach. At the moment I was being pulled over, I immediately assumed it was Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) officers.

Perhaps I had unknowingly incurred a minor traffic violation. One of the officers approached me and as she walked over to the passenger side of my car, strangely she looked familiar. “Are you Nancy Landa?” she asked, to which I responded affirmatively. The officer continued, “Do you know why we are stopping you?” But before I could answer, she began to say those dreaded words “We have an order for your removal.”

As I step out of the car and begin to regain my composure from the initial state of shock I found myself in, I recognize the female ICE agent and couple of officers standing just behind. I had seen the three agents the day before inside my apartment complex. We had coincidentally crossed paths in the center courtyard as I was heading toward my car garage. Apparently, they were not aware it was me they were looking for and it didn’t dawn on me that they were sent on a mission to capture me.

Before I knew it, I was locked inside the back seat of the ICE van. As it started to take off, I turned around to get a last glimpse of my car now stranded in the middle of the street left to be towed as we were headed to the detention facility in Los Angeles.

En route, the agent driving asked me, “What did you do to get a deportation order?” I did not have an answer.  All I knew was that my parents had worked hard to adjust our legal status since I was nine years of age without any luck.  Growing up, I tried to live my life in what is considered to be of “good moral character.” Unfortunately, we had become victims of an inflexible immigration system and fell prey to notary fraud which led to the issuance of my Order of Removal without my knowledge.

No explanation was necessary. Any answer would not change the fact that I was being labeled a criminal and treated as such. Instead of replying, I sat quietly and tried to remain calm but in thinking of all the unknowns that lay ahead, I was overcome by a sense of panic.

I worried about my family, my parents and my younger brother.  How was I to communicate with them?  Had ICE gone after them as well? Was I going to be able to halt my deportation or will I find myself in a country I had not set foot in almost 20 years?

Upon arriving at the detention facility, I was subjected to the routine questioning. The officers took my photo, got my fingerprints, and then locked me in a cell to be held under custody with other detainees as I waited for them to decide on my fate.

Now, three years later, the stoplight turns green and as I drive past the traffic jam in the streets of my hometown in Tijuana, I continue to ponder: How different my life would be if President Obama’s Deferred Action plan had been in place before ICE had come for me?

Nancy Landa is a deported honors graduate and former student President of California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Nancy resides in Tijuana since her deportation in 2009 and has shared her story to highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S. You can follow Nancy on Facebook and Twitter @mundocitizen.