An undocumented journey
My name is Alma and I.M. Beyond Borders. Since I arrived to California when I was two years old, I never allowed my status to define my success. Even during college winning the largest private transfer scholarship (Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship), I collected brochures to study abroad in Thailand, England, and South America just to peek at what I thought was impossible. I absorbed my classmate’s study abroad stories as if they were my own, but it all changed when Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) gave me a SSN, DL, education, a job, hope, and the list goes on. Advance parole allowed me to see the world. I didn’t see my ill grandfather in Mexico, but I at least got an amazing experience in El Salvador. However, I still feel chains limiting my movement. Check out my story to be informed at what DACA has given me and how I’m going to fight just like my mother fought when she brought me to this country. #ISupportAlma #ISupportDACA #IMBeyondBorders.
I always remember the stories my mother would tell me and my sibling of how she managed to cross to 'El Otro Lado'. She would tell us how from 1992-1993 she made about five attempts to cross the California border with three toddlers. How during those unsuccessful attempts, she was detained by a border patrol, held for a day, and advised to not continue risking the lives of her children. How that one time a border patrol agent gave her and her children their very first snickers. How she would be left behind by the group because she had crying children who were hungry, cold, and tired. Or when she would sleep on the floor, she would pile us like 'taquaches' on her stomach so only she would be exposed to the bites of the 'alacranes' and insects. I was only two years old when she decided to take the long journey from Michoacán, Mexico to Farmersville, California. It was her mission to reunite with our father and flee poverty in Mexico. It was a journey many have attempted, but not everyone is fortunate to reach their destination. In 1993 she made it to this very foreign land, which I now call my permanent home.
As I got older, I came to learn about what it meant to be undocumented in this country and its limitations. At a young age, I did not fully understand it, but my first trial started when I began to work as a farm worker to support my family. First, it meant that I could not apply for “normal” job positions, not even at places like McDonald's. Second, I was unable to obtain a driver’s license or California ID. Third, access to higher education for undocumented students was very limited. Fourth, if I ever left the U.S I was never able to come back...
Being undocumented did bring forward tons of challenges and difficult obstacles; however, it did not stop me from achieving my goals. I graduated at the top of my class in High School, graduated community college with the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Political Science from the University of Southern, California. It was not an easy journey, physically or mentally. Nonetheless, I did not let my status define my success. The fourth point mentioned, however, was something I could not study, negotiate, or argue my way through. It seemed ludicrous even, to ever consider leaving the U.S knowing it will be a one-way ticket. Even during college, I would collect brochures to study abroad in Thailand, England, and South America to peek at what I knew was impossible and could only be a dream. I absorbed my classmates study abroad stories as if they were my own. However, it all changed when the executive order Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced on June 15, 2012.
When President Obama announced the executive order DACA, I knew that a new door was left wide open and it was up to me to walk through it. Initially, it was difficult for me to apply for DACA due to the financial hardship it imposed, but I finally obtained my work permit in June 2013. I was finally able to apply for employment within my career field and able to leave jobs that paid me below minimum wage and my skills. In addition, as the program expanded, it finally opened the opportunity to travel outside the United States on Advance Parole. There exists three ways you can travel based on Advance Parole: educational, humanitarian, and employment. Unfortunately, for me, studying abroad on advance parole was no longer an option since I had graduated from USC before I could take advantage of this opportunity. The opportunity to travel was still there, but if you did not meet any of the three guidelines you were trapped. Trapped In a place that is your home, but also your cage.
I made various attempts to apply for different programs to travel for educational purposes on advance parole, but I was sadly unsuccessful. I didn’t consider the humanitarian option, until I learned that my grandfather was extremely ill in Mexico. Around August of 2016, I finally decided to explore the option of humanitarian parole and coordinate with my aunts to obtain the necessary documentation. In addition to possibly visiting my sick grandfather, I would also meet my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins for the very first time, beyond Facebook pictures. For the first time, I would get to know the family that my parents left behind many years ago.
Unfortunately, I was unable to gather the necessary documentation on time before November 7th, 2016. My heart shattered, crushed, and cried as I saw our nation elect a president that in my eyes was going to pulverize his way through my hopes and dreams. It was difficult to accept, what I already knew, that the very thin blanket of protection provided by DACA and the many doors it had opened was going to easily dissolve like a sugar cube in hot water. Since election day, my DACA status has felt like a ticking time bomb.
Before election day, I had already submitted my application for CARECEN’s Educational Exchange Trip to El Salvador. The trip was planned for June 2017, but after election day, I was uncertain if this trip was even going to become reality. However, a few days later I received an email stating I had been accepted to participate on this trip and that it had been pushed forward for the first week of January. It came as a huge surprise, especially as I wondered how in the world I was going to travel on advance parole in a month? And how was I going to pay for it? I took a leap of faith, submitted my advance parole application and moved onto step two, financing the trip. In this undocumented life, nothing came easy and I had to work twice as hard no matter what. I would stay up until 3am making tamales for my fundraiser, so I could lessen the financial burden this trip was going to impose. It was an opportunity, that once seemed impossible, but suddenly cracked a window of chance. Even though, it was still uncertain if USCIS would approve the participants through expedited processing, I didn’t give up. The month of December felt like a roller coaster with hidden twists, and curves. In summary, the coordinators worked hard to ensure that 16 DACA-mented individuals got approved for advance parole through expedited processing a day before Christmas Eve. I was ready for take-off January 3rd to El Salvador.
It was a surreal experience to be a in a completely different country, feeling the illusion of being free, yet still feeling the chains from being undocumented. Yes, I was outside the U.S, but I still felt saddened that I could not go to Mexico to visit my ill grandfather and meet my extended family for the first time. Advance parole gave me the opportunity to travel, but I still felt those chains limiting my movement and hauling me back before January 20th-- Trumps inauguration, before it became unsafe to travel outside the U.S. I still gained a beautiful experience from a country rich in culture, history, and beauty. For the next 9 days, I was to gain a learning experience from the Salvadoran community, its indigenous people, professors, and geography. We met with professors from the José Simeón Cañas Central American University (UCA El Salvador), had breakfast with a congresswoman, spent a day with members of the Nahuatl community, and explored Mesoamerica ruins of El Salvador. Overall, its an experience that almost felt like a dream that I did not want to wake up from. The food, the smells, its colorful people, and the cocoa trees are etched in my brain, finally a study abroad story that I can call my own. It was a feeling, that even when you think all odds are against you, life will give you a chance, but it is up to you to keep going. All that came to my mind, was the five times my mother tried crossing the border with her three toddlers and everyone one thinking she was crazy for taking such a risk, yet she didn’t give up. This picture below is still my daily reminder of how hard my mother has worked for us, and how hard I will keep working for my family.
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