I was born in Mexico, about 3 hours from the border in a town called Meoqui, Chihuahua. Since before my parents were married, my dad had travelled to the US to work in cotton gins during the cotton season. Most of my dad’s immediate family received their US residency through my granddad’s employer, and as a result my dad could come and go as he pleased. When I was four years old, my dad was offered a year-long job managing a cotton gin in eastern North Carolina. Deciding he would never separate his family for that long, he decided to move us to North Carolina, for what he originally planned to be three years.
On July 12, 1999, my family left Mexico, changing the course of my life forever. There are too many details from that day to mention, but long story short, my dad illegally brought us over into the United States. My dad crossed legally since he was an American resident at the time, my mom and sister crossed with their tourist visa and overstayed their legally allowed time, and my brother and I were simply illegally here.
Honestly, my experience was so beyond different from many other illegal immigrants. My dad thankfully had a job, had already gotten our pink mobile home ready for us to live in, and he also knew English. The only things I remember “suffering” through include my family not watching the news and almost not evacuating from Hurricane Floyd (aka the worst hurricane I’ve ever experienced), being stuck at home with my siblings while my dad worked for the remainder of the summer, and then starting school without knowing any English.
My parents deserve an award for not letting our legal status affect my school work. I don’t know if it’s because they dreamed of going back to Mexico or because of how much they value education, but my legality, or lack of, never impacted my education. The worst that happened was the school having to provide some other way of identifying me in my state-wide exams since I didn’t have a social security number. In fact, unlike most undocumented immigrants, my lack-of-legality affected very little of my life. When we took a family vacation to Niagara Falls, my brother and I were scared of toll roads because we thought they were border stations, but that was about the extent of it.
I was illegally in the United States until April of 2008. The several year-long process finally allowed us to go home to Mexico, and return as American citizens. My family is one of the few who beat the system without major scratches. I was never separated from my parents, I never crossed the desert to get here, I never feared for my well-being.
Those of you who came to ALAS’ showing of “Which Way Home” have a little bit more insight about the nightmare that some people have to go through to make it to the United States. Please, please, please, do not think these are isolated events. I personally know people whose families have died attempting to cross the Rio Grande, people who haven’t seen their kids in years, friends of mine who had to stay in orphanages when they were taken away from ‘coyotes’ who were paid to bring them over, and even a relative of mine whose remains are yet to be found in the desert.
The journey here may be a nightmare, but living here as an undocumented immigrant is living hell. I know people who refuse to leave their house to even take their kids out to the park or report their employer for slave-like work conditions because of their fear of deportation. If you do nothing else but this, please imagine what kind of life people left behind if these conditions are still worth it.
Though all of what I just wrote was going through my head while I was watching this documentary, what made me cry this time was how guilty I feel for having the life I do. I have no idea what made my family deserve to be one of the few who are now able to visit grandparents and come back without worrying. I don’t know what made me deserve the chance to travel and to get the education I’m getting. I don’t know.
Most days my amazement at being a WashU student comes from the fact that I can’t believe I grew up in a working-class household and am now getting a quarter-of-a-million dollar education. Tonight, however, it comes from the fact that I came from an undocumented family and am working my way towards a position that hopefully will be able to help those who started out like me but were defeated by the American immigration system.
Finally, I’d like to share my guiding light while I’ve been at WashU. It is a quote from The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. It says “I must return for those who cannot out.” For me, this means I must give back to Meoqui, to eastern North Carolina, and to my parents who beautifully raised three kids and single handedly defeated the immigration system. I hope that this quote will mean something to the WashU community, too.
I’m sorry for my lack of eloquence, I can’t seem to form coherent sentences while trying to express so many emotions. I hope that if nothing else, this blog posts makes you take a step back and appreciate how easy of a life we’ve all had.