My name is Giovanni and I.M. Beyond Borders.
Get behind the scenes at how, with numerous legal, economic, and emotional barriers, I was able to see my mother and country after 12 years. Among the few, I met with the US Ambassador to Mexico, USCIS Director, former Mexico Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and the Mexican President to be a voice for my community. If if you find this inspiring, share my DACAmented story to show "si, se puede."
A week or so ago, in the company of great friends, a few miles from the US-Mexico border, I said farewell to the best year of my life—2016. Together we welcomed 2017 cheerfully singing and dancing to classic English and Spanish tunes. We enjoyed foods from both sides of the border as we laugh at our English, Spanish, and even Spanglish jokes. Right at midnight, we yelled to the top of our lungs a hopeful “Happy New Year” and “Feliz Año Nuevo!” wishing each other the best for the upcoming year. In the midst of the entire celebration, you could hear the fireworks on both sides of the border blending together to create a single celebration. As for me, I stood with my DACA documents in my hand and so close to a border that could potentially separate me from my dreams.
January for me has always been a month of reflection. I firmly believe that you realize your advancements when you reflect back. I arrived in this country on January 6, 2004. For the first time in twelve years, I look at the year ahead of me just like I did on the day of my arrival— with uncertainty, a bit of fear, and a lot of determination. Something I learned in 2016 was to be proud of my immigrant story. The truth is that it isn’t too different from the millions of people who left their home in search of a better future. I have faced similar challenges like immigrants that arrive in a new country and fight the uphill battle towards integration and success. However, despite all these challenges, I have never forgotten my childhood dreams of one day obtaining a college degree.
Navigating the education system as an undocumented immigrant has always been a challenge. Sometimes, it seemed like an unreachable dream... (Read More below)
I’ve found myself working and fighting 10X harder than some of my peers, even for the same opportunities. My journey from community college to a four-year institution often consisted of two or three jobs while being a full-time student. I’ll never forget the conversations with other students during the midnight train rides home after a long shift at the restaurant—the ride of dreamers as we used to call it. Or, the early morning train rides full of people in suits on their way to work. It was without a doubt day and night, two different worlds traveling on the same train on the journey towards their dreams at different times of the day. In fact, it was during these commutes that I applied to three opportunities that would change my life, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Congressional Internship, the Latino CLD DACA Exchange Program, and Scholarship America Dream Award Scholarship.
My midnight train rides turned into trips to our nation's Capitol during my time as a Congressional Intern. I had a chance to work in a congressional office, walk the halls of congress, meet with legislators, visit the White House, and even camp for more than twenty hours outside of the Supreme Court for the DAPA hearing. Having a front row seat to our government empowered me to share my story and advocate for all DACAmented students like me. With the help of other DACAmented interns, documented interns, organizations, and friends, I learned to appreciate and share my immigrant story. I finally understood that hard work, late night train rides, and sleepless nights had a purpose. Every day as I walked in front of the Capitol, I remembered the morning of August 18th, 2013 when my DACA Authorization letter and work permit came into my mail.
Thanks to DACA, a document that read ‘Advance Parole,’ and the Latino CLD DACA Cultural Exchange Program, I had the opportunity to return to Mexico for the first time after 12 years. I never imagined that one day I would be able to jump on a plane to Mexico with a round-trip ticket on hand. With my dreams packed tightly in a suitcase and nine other outstanding DACAmented students, I decided to make the best of my trip.
Our arrival to Mexico City was very emotional. Family members and government officials welcomed us at the airport with a huge banner that read “Mexico Tambien Es Su Casa” (Mexico is also your home). Our first weekend explored we Mexico City’s most famous landmarks like the Teotihuacan pyramids, plazas, and restaurants. We enjoyed street tacos as we reacquainted with our culture and practiced our Spanish with the locals. We soon began our five-week summer classes at El Colegio de Mexico, a liberal arts and research institution. We enrolled in Mexican Anthropology, US-MX Relations, US-MX Immigration, and US-MX-Cuba Relations. Getting used to Spanish lectures in was a challenge, even it being our native language. Nothing open our eyes more than learning the long-standing history between our two countries. In my case, I regained a long lost pride for the struggle of those who came before us and started to build a better vision towards the future. Our immigration professor took us through the journey of immigrants since the inception of both countries, oftentimes relying on us to share our own immigrant stories with our fellow Mexican classmates. Needless to say, our classes often ended in emotional roller coasters.
We met with local, state, and federal politicians every week. They shared their work with us and asked for our suggestions to improve their programs. At first, we just listened and commended them for their work and efforts to better the lives of Mexicans on both sides of the border. But as the weeks went by and we talked to people on the streets, our student peers learned about the struggle of immigrants who have been deported from the US, and struggles many people have to face every day to survive. We knew we had to change our approach towards the government. For many years now, we have been unafraid of sharing our ideas and complaints with the government, we haven’t allowed the American government to oppress us, and we decided to voice our concerns at the intents of the Mexican government intentions of doing it to our fellow Mexicans.
Mexico hurts. It hurts to see and learn about the limited education opportunities for students; it hurts that minimum wage is less than 3 USD per day; it hurts to see a country so divided by social classes that the rich almost never turn to help the poor. It didn’t take long for us to recognize our privileged position during our visit. We had the honor to study in one of the best institutions in Mexico. We visited beautiful touristic attractions, had a seat at the government’s table, and were able to spend more than 10 USD in tacos for dinner. We often ended identifying with servers at restaurants as that job is often the fate of many undocumented immigrants.
Our program allowed us to travel to our home states for a weekend. I remember boarding the plane to San Luis Potosi with uncertainty and excitement to see my family for the first time in 12 years. As soon as we landed, I picked up my luggage and headed towards the exit and saw my mother waiting for me impatiently. She couldn’t believe that I had come home. The word she used to describe it was ‘miracle.’ For the first time in my life she face-to-face told me how proud she was of my hard work and happy to see me again after so many years. It was then when she understood that all my odd jobs, many years in school, and community involvement had a purpose. I spent the weekend visiting family, friends, and all my favorite childhood places. I had dinner with my entire family where I shared all my dreams and plans for the future. It was without a doubt one of the highlights of my trip, and saying goodbye was extremely difficult.
In Mexico City, we visited with the Secretariat of Foreign Affairs where we met with the then Secretary of Foreign Affairs Claudia Ruiz Massieu to discuss a set of plans and ideas for programs Mexican Citizens living in the US. We talked about education programs, health, and cultural programs for second generation Mexican Americans. We not only shared our ideas for programs, but also committed to work with the Mexican Government in the implementation of these programs in the US. We weren’t there just to complain, but also offer our services as part of the millions of Mexicans living abroad wanting better living conditions for Mexicans on both sides of the border.
Following the visit with Secretary Ruiz Massieu, we had the honor to be invited to celebrate the 4th of July at the US Ambassador’s House Roberta Jacobson. The ten of us along with Secretary Ruiz Massieu, Ambassador Roberta Jacobson, and hundreds of other attendees from both countries celebrated America’s Independence. We couldn’t help but feel emotional as we sang the National Anthem and pay tribute to the American Flag. I would never forget that for the first time in my life, I truly felt like an American.
Our trip was full of interviews where we shared our story over and over again. By sharing our most difficult moments as immigrants, we gave a voice to millions of immigrants going through the same challenges. We found strength, resilience, and hope. Our visits to Pyramids, Tepito, Puebla, and home gave us a strong sense of belonging. The museums, food, and music open the door gave us the gift of cultural awareness. Together, the ten of us became a new family—a DACAmented family.
After five weeks we packed our dreams and brand-new memories in the same suitcase, but now to return to our other home- the United States of America. We carried our luggage and, with a heavy heart and a bit of fear, we boarded. At the Dallas airport, the immigration officer was courteous and helpful. He welcomed us back home stamping our passports and Advance Parole documents. Upon our return, we saw our families, friends, and Mexican consulate officials welcoming us at the airport. As I exited the airport, I couldn’t help but reflect on my trip and life. My life would never be the same after that trip.
A few weeks after my return, as I struggled to readapt to the life, language, and social norms of the US, the Mexican Embassy in DC called me to meet the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto. I met with 24 other DACAmented young leaders to discuss our plans to work with Mexico to implement programs focused on improving the lives of immigrants. With President Peña Nieto, we shared our concerns and desired to work with our countr to put together a plan of action. We also met with USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez to discuss the future of DACA and other options for DAPA. Secretary Ruiz Massieu committed to helping us organize and plan a conference to bring a group of DREAMers and DACAmented leaders to work together.
After my internship with Congress and the study abroad in Mexico City, I boarded a bus traveling south to Edinburg, TX, just a few miles from the US-Mexico border to finish my education at the University of Dallas Rio Grande Valley. Thanks to many friends and America’s Dream Award Scholarship, I am back on track towards achieving my dreams of obtaining a higher education degree. Due to my immigrant story, life-changing opportunities, and work with the community, I have decided to pursue a double major in political science and public health. I found a new passion in policy, hope to become a legislator, and work to better our communities across the country.
I know that many DREAMers and DACAmented students out there are afraid. I know this because I share the same sentiment. Our journeys in this country are far from over. We haven’t arrived where we need to be-- please don’t lose hope. Find strength in someone else when you feel like giving up. I considered giving up until someone else followed my footsteps behind me. Whether our path for the next four years is traveled by foot, car, bus, train, or airplane, we need to keep strong until together we arrive and achieve inclusion, and even citizenship.