Last week we published the first part of an Indivisible East Bay member’s interview with Lara, a DACA recipient. Our last question was whether her parents felt they made the right decision in moving to the United States. Lara ended her response with: “When DACA passed and I was able to go back to school, that alleviated a lot of their guilt and they felt glad I finally had a real chance. But now with what Trump’s done, they regret it all over again and feel guilt all over again for putting me in this situation. I keep telling them, you cannot blame yourself for this.” We continue with Part 2:
How are your siblings handling it?
I think they’re used to me being the strong one. They don’t really ask how I’m doing. Out of my 4 siblings, only one asked me how I was doing after the news. They’re used to me not depending on them. I’ve been so independent for so many years, they assume that I’m okay. They know I don’t allow myself to sit in the pity pool too long. But I know deep down inside, this time around they really are concerned because this administration is not playing; they are really on a mission to make peoples’ lives extremely complicated. Even though they haven’t expressed it, I know that they really are concerned for me this time. I know them and this is their way of not discouraging me.
I think they’re more worried about how I might respond one day, with the wrong person. Not so much if I’m going to get deported, but, for example, if I’m at an event representing Dreamers and someone says something that pushes me over the edge.
Are your siblings politically active?
No, they leave it to me. And it’s so unfair. I tell them, how is it the undocumented one is at the forefront of things? Their answer is “Because we don’t have to. We were born into this privilege.” They haven’t had to fight for anything, so they’re not really concerned.
So…they don’t have to fight for you?
Exactly! And so I said, what about me? “Eh, you’re good at fighting for yourself.” So I envy the families that are there for each other because my siblings live in their own world, chasing their own dreams. I’ve always been so independent, vocal, and active, I guess they’ve never cared to involve themselves because of that. Maybe they see how worked up and exhausted I get, and there’s no off button sometimes, maybe that turns them off. They see how consuming it can be.
But, it’s also because they’re just selfish and immature. I haven’t been home in over 10 years, so they haven’t been there to see me break down. I did it so they wouldn’t have to see how much I suffered. I didn’t want them to see me cry, so I purposefully moved out so they wouldn’t have to see how much I suffered. Maybe that was the wrong thing to do.
You found out about your status when you were in high school. After that, did you see you and your siblings differently?
We were so poor growing up and my dad worked two to three jobs for years. We don’t get Medicaid, food stamps, financial help of any kind, so you depend on your community, neighbors, church. We lived in a two bedroom apartment. Four of us in one room, my parents in the other, until we finally moved to our first house. It was a bad ugly house and my dad and his uncles fixed it up. My siblings all grew up in a house, but I remember living like sardines and dealing with cockroaches.
I’m happy they were able to have their own bed. I’m glad they didn’t have to deal with the cheap Payless shoes and getting bullied for having the same cheap clothes or backpack, and all the things growing up poor entails. But from the very beginning, I always knew we were going to have a very different life.
When I got older after high school, when I saw how hard it was going to be to even find a job, I said I have to get out of here because I don’t want them to see me like this. I was bitter and angry and I resented the situation. I didn’t want to infect them with my bitterness. I had always been the strong, positive, happy, bossy big sister and wanted them to keep that image of me and not the angry, resentful, bitter one. So I moved out. But when I have tried to share what it was like living on my own without them, I feel they don’t want to accept it and instead, play it down.
When you see that people aren’t willing to hear your story for what it is or want to hear what you have to say, then you stop sharing. But, my parents know everything. I shared everything with them, especially the bad experiences with managers and customers who called me every terrible discriminatory name. That’s a bond that my siblings may resent a little bit because my parents understand my pain. I’m grateful that at least I have always had my parents patience, compassion and understanding.
What are your parents going to do?
For now, I think they are going to move to a smaller property. They came for the American dream and they want to leave us an inheritance. They worked very hard and want to leave us houses and properties just like White Americans. They came to break that stereotype and leave a legacy for their children. They won’t let this discourage them. They taught me to be strong. Like most people, they wanted to be more successful and prosperous than their parents. You always want to be more successful than the previous generation. They’re leaving the bar really high for us.
What do they think their lives would have been like if they stayed in Mexico?
I don’t know. My dad probably would have finished being an engineer. But there’s no way they would have been able to give us an education or the safety to do the things we’ve wanted, be involved in the things we’ve been involved in–music, dance, sports, etc. Most of our family is still there. I probably would have grown up knowing my grandparents — I’ve seen them a handful of times, but I don’t know either side. I have no relationship with them or my uncles, aunts, cousins.
How do you think your lives are different than your relatives in Mexico?
It’s black and white. I see pictures of the homes they live in — dirt floors or cement floors. The quality of the houses, the sizes of the room, the clothes they wear, the diet they have — it’s what’s affordable. My parents are seen as more prosperous in comparison.
If we know anyone who is traveling there for the holidays, we always send stuff. Mostly clothes, shoes, school materials — binder paper, pencils, crayons, everything. Money every month to my grandparents to help. My grandparents were blue collar workers and farmers, so there’s little to no pension or retirement. Now that they’re older, we help take care of them and pay their bills. We send what we can. Had we stayed there … I don’t know. I don’t think my siblings would have been able to explore and experiment in the arts, music, and sports the way they have here. I wouldn’t have found a purpose or reason to become socially active at the capacity I have done. It’s safer here — over there, it can mean death a lot of the time if you get too loud or political. Here, at least I know I can be socially active and it won’t cost me my life. I don’t think I would be the person I am. I’d probably be like my cousins — at least we’re here together, at we have food, clothes, a bed. But being part of this country and raised with the idea that you can do better if you sacrifice more and work harder, I can never imagine myself being satisfied with just making it. You always hear about the American dream and reaching for new heights — I wouldn’t have this personality, I think. I wouldn’t be such a fighter, such a life hustler.
You don’t hear about the equivalent in Mexico, “The Mexican Dream.”
There isn’t. I guess the Mexican dream is, you have a little house you can leave for your kid, that you probably built yourself with your parents, siblings and cousins. But here, it’s so different. I’m so proud of my parents for the American dream they’ve accomplished. They have left such an amazing legacy and high standards for us. They came with a baby and a bag of clothes and they’ve accomplished so much, even with their limited legal status. They instilled a work ethic, and stressed that discipline and sacrifice is essential for anything you want. To be willing to always pay that price — so essential for any goal. That’s the Mexican Dream.
When they left, did they know people here?
Yes. They stayed with my mom’s sister for a few months until they had enough money to rent a room. When my mom got pregnant with my brother, we moved to a one bedroom apartment.
Was it common for other aunts and uncles to come to the US?
Yes, but only In the 80s. Just a few of us lived here. My parents are the only homeowners in our entire family. It required extra hard work, extra discipline that many families weren’t willing to do. My parents had a dream, so they agreed on what we were going to have to live without and were willing to do whatever it took. It’s interesting to see that now they’re the only ones among those who came over in the 80’s who are considered “successful”. But so much of what Trump is doing against my community, it’s bringing back a lot of the same anxiety. We’re going to make it. We’ll figure it out as a family the way we always do.
How has your husband been handling it?
He is awesome. Fortunately my husband is a citizen. If both of us were undocumented, it would be double the stress and double the what-ifs. He’s very much like me — very optimistic, positive and he’s also a life hustler. Always finds a way to survive. We’ll find a way and we have faith that God will provide for us as a unit, to help my case and my situation. My husband lets me go through the motions and isn’t judgmental. He doesn’t pretend to understand what I’m feeling, because he’s never experienced my life. HIs patience with me is ridiculous and he’s the most empathetic person I know. He never claims to understand the struggle of being undocumented, though he’s learning what it’s like to be married to a strong undocumented woman!
When you socialize or when he talks to people, I guess he doesn’t talk about your status.
When he thinks of me, he thinks of me the person, so it doesn’t really come up. But folks invited us, for example, on a cruise and I had to explain to them why I couldn’t. We are very honest people and honesty gives opportunities for growth and knowledge. I see it as a way to share my story and help people be grateful for their privilege. There are privileges I have as an undocumented person that I take for granted all the time, like being able-bodied. I don’t mind sharing my story when appropriate. It doesn’t come up as much now, as a couple. In my 20s, I could never order a beer or a glass of wine when I was out with my friends or on a date, but now I have an ID. I never told anyone why until my late 20’s.
Being married has changed a lot about how (politically) active I am. It’s also made it easier to see the priorities. Maybe I should leave all of the rallying and protesting to the younger generation. I feel confident that I served my time. I did that already, in the early years. It’s their turn to take the torch and keep fighting the good fight.
A huge thank you to Lara for sharing her story–this is not the last we’ll hear from her, to be sure. We’d love to hear your comments – you can leave them at this post, or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.