- Where do you come from/ where were you born?
“I was born in 1987 within Mexico City, in a town called Nezahualcoyotl. I was born two years after the massive earthquake.”
“I came here when I was really young. I migrated to the U.S. when I was six and have very few memories of Mexico, but the one I always remember is in front of where we lived. There was a lady named Lupita and Lupita had a snack stand outside her house. There, she sold chicharrones (pork rinds); candies, soda-pops, and all kinds of things. My dad was always be very hard working, we never had money but he was a firm believer that his children had to have whatever they could. So, he would tell Lupita that my brother and I could order whatever we wanted and once a week, she would pass on the tab to him and he would have to pay whatever we consumed for the week. So my best memories are walking to Lupita’s house, getting snacks and sharing them with my brother.”
They had a basketball hoop that was attached to a car tire because they (Lupita) didn’t have a stand and all the kids would play there. These are probably the only memories I have of Mexico.”
- What was your family’s lifestyle? What was your parents’ professions? Did they go to school?
“No, I think the farthest they got was six grade. My mom was kicked out of school (Anahi laughs) for jumping the fence during a teacher’s conference and they all saw her underwear! My mom then met my dad, she was only seventeen at the time. My dad always hustled, he was a merenguero – people who sell meringues- when you talk about memories, I do remember my dad making muergano; they are made out of flour, cinnamon and it’s like a ball. I remember eating that all the time.”
“My family was poor and learned to hustle at a young age. My grandpa had a tortilleria and they sold tortillas, while my mom stayed home and took care of us.”
- What was the main reason your family migrated to the U.S.?
“There were multiple factors… but the reason that pushed everybody to migrate, and when I say everybody, I mean my mother’s side of the family, was one of my uncles. Hmm…my family was not well financially and one of my uncles unfortunately, along with a bunch of teeenagers dedicated themselves to robbing liquor stores. One day, they were robbing a liquor store and the owner had a gun and shot my uncle’s friend Erick and killed him. My uncle didn’t want to leave but the cops were called and his other friend urged him to leave as they would be blamed for Erick’s death. They leave and since it’s a small place, (Nezahualcoyotl city) everyone knows everything. So, the rumor went out that my uncle was involved in Erick’s death, then his family started persecuting my uncle for Erick’s death. They (Erick’s family) sent a whole bunch of federales paid to harm my uncle.
The federales came to my grandfather’s house and said they wouldn’t stop until seeing my uncle dead.”
“Prior to that, my grandpa and my dad had been coming to the U.S. back and forth through an Obrero Program. They would come, maybe, three to five times a year to work and take money back home. My grandpa had family here who had migrated a long time ago. Actually—my great grandparents were legal citizens and my grandpa asked them to petition his kids to come to the U.S. but it would take ten years. It was years that my uncle didn’t have. Therefore, my grandparents, along with my uncle, decided to cross the border and started working to save up money to bring all his kids and grandchildren. We were still getting threats from the federales.”
- When was the year they (family) started migrating?
“Gosh, this was probably in the late 80’s because I was still very young. My mom and I migrated in 1994 and I was six.”
- Was it one by one, or was it all together?
“So, with my grandpa being here (Sunnyvale, CA) undocumented, along with my grandma, he sold paletas (popcicles). The crazy thing about this, is that he’s actually not my grandpa but he adopted my mom and worked really hard to save a ton of money. Back then—gosh—I can’t remember, but I want to say it was between $5,000 to $10,000 per family to bring them to the U.S, undocumented obviously.”
- Would they pay a coyote to cross them over?
“Yes… they first started with the children with no family or married because those were the easiest and least expensive. The more people they brought over, the easier it became to gather the money to bring everybody else. My uncle, who was the reason why we had to flee Mexico, was 18 at the time, and he started working right away. I think he always felt guilty or responsible for having all of us migrated. However, the reality was that even though we moved because of him, no one really doubted moving because here, we would have many opportunities like going to school. They used the same coyote every time because there was a trust already established. It was the same coyote who brought my dad and grandpa for the first time. Back then, it was easy crossing the border without the issues we currently see.”
- I know you were six, but do you remember that day? Do you remember your mom telling you about this “trip” or seeing her packing? Did you ever wonder where your family was going since little by little everyone was leaving?
“Well, we knew they were in the states but never did it dawn on us (brother and I) what was happening. Although, I do remember my mom was very cautious of us being outside alone because Erick’s family lived down the road from where we did.”
- Going back to that day when you migrated, what do you remember?
“Well, from what I remember, my parents didn’t tell us we were coming to the U.S. All I remember is walking up a hill, like we were hiking. Okay—I was wearing this really pretty dress and shoes, I don’t think my mom realized what was going to happen by the way she dressed us. My dad kept telling us we had to keep up with the walking. I will never forget this because my shoe fell off and went down to a ravine and I freaked out about losing my shoe. So, my dad had to go back and retrieve it. Then, we hiked up this mountain, just the three of us, and saw a bunch of cars. The guy (coyote) tells my brother and I “we are going to play a game and the goal is to get across dodging the cars.” I remember this because I saw a yellow sign that had people crossing with children and my brother and I pointed at it and said “oh like that!” We had to do this twice… Basically, we were crossing freeways. My mom took my hand, my brother was carried by my dad and we just ran really fast.”
All I remember was the desert and the sun was about to rise. I am assuming the coyote organized everything so it was off peak hours. I think it was probably two or three in the morning when we started walking. I don’t know why, I don’t remember much of that day. My mom had nothing with her, just our birth certificates and my dad had his pictures but nothing else.”
We took a flight from L.A to San Francisco and we didn’t have anything. I think this is the reason why my mom dressed us so nicely because we were taking a flight.” I recall seeing a car that took us to a house, there, we ate and got ready for the flight. I remember being on that flight and getting so nauseous. My mom became super worried because I was drawing too much attention. Then, we arrived in S.F and shortly after that, it was halloween. We didn’t have money, so my uncle painted our faces and said to us that we had to learn how to say “thank you”. So, my word was always “tank ya, tank ya!” because I didn’t know how to pronounce it. This was our first week in the U.S. We lived in Sunnyvale in a one bedroom apartment with my grandparents. There were about eight of us living there.”
“My grandparents were very tough and they only gave us thirty days to figure things out. Once we got here, my dad needed to pay the money back that was used to bring us over. They had a goal, which was to cross everyone over because the longer you prolonged things, the longer you prolonged bringing someone else over.”
When my grandpa passed away, till today, my biggest goal is to make his sacrifice worth it.”
- So for you and your family, your success is to hold the memory of what your grandpa did and sacrificed, sort of like a payoff, right?
“Yes, for me, anytime that I am able to be successful at something, whether it was when I finished my degree; having a better job or buying my own place, all those milestones are sort of…yeah…a way to repay what they did for us. The truth of the matter is that even though we were poor or didn’t have a lot of resources, my grandpa didn’t have a need in a way to come to the U.S. because he was already coming every year to work. He could have lost his kids and grandkids along the way, crossing the border. So, the risk was huge, but he knew that staying in Mexico would mean one of us getting kidnapped or killed. For him, waiting ten years to get petitioned was not an option. He couldn’t have done it “correctly” as others do or suggest to do. The crazy thing is that the legal system is so corrupt and so bad that you couldn’t have asked for help.”
- Couldn’t he have asked for political asylum?
“Maybe, we could have. But, how do you explain that your kid was involved in a robbery and now, they (the government) are thinking he murder somebody? You’re never going to get an “okay”, it’s not going to happen. Plus, the cases of political asylum that are approved from Mexico are minimal to none.”
- As an immigrant what is your opinion on our current immigration laws or procedures?
“It’s very hard for me because I have been impacted directly. I don’t know how to explain it, but my biggest problem right now is that after being here for so many years without documents, DACA basically came and saved me. If it had not been for DACA, I would still be stuck. For the longest time, I didn’t know my situation (she laughs)… It’s funny we talked about if I remembered my mom having a backpack with her while crossing over the border, which she never did. But, I feel like I’ve been carrying this invisible backpack all my life. It is filled with fear, being scared, being worried…everything… (she begins to cry). All my life, I have had to carry this “invisible backpack” that I can’t share with people. I can only share it with some people because I have always felt very vulnerable.”
“I didn’t know about my status for a very long time until I was thirteen or twelve, where it started dawning on me what was happening. Years passed by without me realizing that I was missing out on all these opportunities. I missed out on the eight grade Washington D.C. class trip, on attending a private high school, on getting a driver’s license. Every time I was asked for a social security number, I would go to my mom and every time, she would say not to put anything down. Nonetheless, I participated in many programs. I made honor rolls every single year and completed community service. I was also part of a summer science program at Stanford and the MESA club. Time went by, and I started applying for college and although I was accepted to many well known universities, I realized I didn’t have the money to pay for college. My mom finally told me that college was not for me and I had to sit this out because I was an ‘illegal.
Instead, I decided to work and that was another problem itself. I was hired and here came the moment where I was asked for my documents again. I go to my mom and she tells me not to worry, that she’ll get them for me. She instructs me to never carry them and leave them at home, to forget about them and never use them again for nothing else. I said what if someone finds out and she tells me that “it’s okay (she cries), we always figure it out.” I told her that I was scared, to which she said “people like us always figure it out, we all do it and have done it.
I know there’s people who have gone through much worse, I had it good compared to others. But, I say I carry this invisible backpack because people carry a baggage of things that nobody can see. Being scared of driving because if I got pulled over, that would mean the worse for me. Every day, I was scared of someone finding out about my situation. Finally, after some many years of living in fear, DACA happened. I was able to get a real Social Security Number (SSN), a work permit, and a certificate from San Francisco State with my SSN. Everything I did was to repay my grandpa, regardless of not having documents or not. Now, I am able for the first time, to be transparent with my co-workers and nourish my real name. Although, the battle never finishes and there’s always this invisible backpack that weighs me down. Going back to your question, nobody wants to leave their country voluntarily, nobody wants to purposely go through all and this current administration doesn’t understand that.”
- If you were a book what would be the title and genre of the book?
“I would name it “The Invisible Backpack” and it would be the autobiography of everything that has happened to me. But, it would be anonymous because I can’t risk people knowing everything completely about me… I can’t come out of the shadows just yet.”
Performing this interview was a real eye opener for me as I learned that each person is a different world filled with fears, hopes and ideals. And although we might be different in many ways, we can coexist and find common ground. Conducting this interview changed my views in immigration. I am pro-immigration, I am an immigrant along with my family and friends, however I have always asked why not migrate the “right” way or do things legally. This way of thinking is caused by not being exposed to stories of immigrants like Claudia (name changed). Her reasoning for coming to the states which was to seek protection from danger back home, really made me understand that we shouldn’t be quick to judge or think that there’s only one way. I am now able to truly think that all of us have a story but not many get to tell it.
This interview was conducted by Sebastian Mafla.