*Featured Image: “45 DOLLAR MAN” by Alex Nizovsky, Mixed Media: United States One-Dollar Bills x45, Black Acrylic, Canvas. Size: 30″ x 24″ (76 x 61 cm). About: Portrait of 45th President of the United States made from forty five one-dollar bills.
Originally tilted Home. Away From Home, this is the 5-page memoir of Magda, a DREAMer—one of over a million young undocumented immigrants, impacted by DACA and the DREAMAct—who often arrived, at a very young age in circumstances beyond their control. Magda’s story has been masterfully crafted by her friend and Memoir Magazine contributor, (we’ll just call her) Magda X. Their names and locations have been changed to protect the author’s friend, who has received online threats after having mentioned that she is a DACA recipient. Magda is a common enough name, and the X symbolizes the universality of her plight and the fact that she could be just about any DREAMer, anywhere. It is the author’s prayer that Home. Away from Home: Memoir of a DREAMer helps people gain a more in-depth perspective on the lives of immigrants and childhood arrivals in particular.
I remember Mexico. I remember drums, trains and what it took to be the cool kid at school. I remember the smells, colors and even the textures of our old house, terra cotta walls, smooth tile floors, bright woven rugs, back when it was the only home I had ever known.
ii. if it helps
If it helps, we can pretend that this is not the case. We can agree that the United States, I mean America, is the only home I can remember.
I was ten, but if it helps you can imagine that I was brought over as an infant, or even a fetus. If the border patrols saw her, would they have shot my mom as she held me in her arms or womb? It’s a lot to ask.
If I was born here, it would change everything. But I wasn’t. All the small hours that make up months and years passed between my birth and when I came here. To my new home.
Before I was born, my mother was mournful of the fact that she’d only had boys. A wise woman told her to conceive in the summer if she wanted to have a girl. It worked.
I was born in Juarez, the city named for my favorite Mexican president. We share a birthday, but that is not why I like him. The deeds, actions and stances of a politician are their only chance at enticement for me. The shared birthday is just a bonus born of coincidence, like anything else.
I started learning about presidents, and most of all Juarez, at the prompting of my dad. It is from him that I learned to measure deeds, actions and stances, including those I was expected to live up to.
My mom and I talk sometimes about the stresses I endure that wouldn’t have been an issue, my fate always in the hands of others. My mind a sea of silent arguments with hordes of voters that take their invisible privileges for granted. An accident of birth in their favor, another coincidence, and I try not to covet them.
All gone, had we stayed. We can only speculate on what I might have faced back in Juarez.
I tell her that I’m glad she moved us here. That if we had stayed, it’s possible I’d be one of those sheltered Mexican girls that didn’t know anything about any other cultures.
I mean it too. Whatever waits for me will not take my experiences away.
At 27, I’ve lived in the States for longer than not. It’s where I had my first kiss, my first period, my quinceanera. If it helps.
iii. mi papa
We would to take the train between our home in Juarez to where my dad worked in Chihuahua. Flowers bloomed out the window. Butterflies committed silent ballets.
My dad was a solitary man, he valued his time to think, but when we got off the train, he would take us in his arms and kiss me on the head. He would hold me and I was home.
iv. fleeing violence
When we came over, he stayed. It was me, my mom and one of my brothers. We were fleeing violence.
I’ve found that those who haven’t experienced it just picture what they’ve seen on the news. Walk outside. Suddenly, bodies in doorways surrounded by slums. Twisted flesh and bone drowning in red puddles. Infinite and heavy. Looking as if landing there was inevitable.
That’s an incorrect perception.
We lived in a nice neighborhood. Jacarandas, joshua trees, lazy ceiling fans and shaded patios through which breezes would meander. One of the things I missed when we came here was our servants.
At first, the violence was over in other areas. Even beyond the slowly changing blocks where the maid and cook traveled from.
To say the drug trade passed through our town lacks specificity. The drug trade was no more in every home in Juarez than human trafficking is in Chicago.
But the bodies crept closer. To the buffer neighborhoods where the servants lived. To the places where we shopped. The violence wasn’t always fatal. Often it was property damage. It could be explained as an anomaly.
Really, it was like the beginning of a cold. Or when one of four lightbulbs in a fixture goes out. Then two.
When collateral damage becomes acceptable, the room dims. The brokenness of the world is no longer the problem of others.
A body down the street makes it apparent whose town it is. Coyotes and runners. Side effects of trafficking, drugs and humans flow on rivers of blood.
I didn’t see the body, but I did see the red runoff of the sidewalk being hosed down. I recognized that the blood could have been my own. That it was us against the world.
Despite the distance mi madre put between us and the bodies, it hasn’t changed that it remains us against the world. It is a borderless truth.
v. fair trade
Mexico is the third largest trade partner of the United States. Volkswagens come from Mexico, as do electronics such as flat screen T.V.s and computer monitors. Medical equipment comes from Mexico.
All of this could be made anywhere. As long as there are workers willing to make it and employers willing to make it worth the worker’s time.
vi. in mexico
In Mexico, the smart kids were the cool kids. So, when we lived there, I studied hard every night. That’s what it took to keep up.
One of the things they taught us was national pride. Once a week we would all go outside and raise the flag while preforming the national anthem. Like The Star Spangled Banner, it’s a war anthem. Mexicanos, al grito de guerra. I was the drummer, but I sang too.
Un soldado en cada hijo te dio!
My brother is a teacher in Mexico. The one who stayed. Even though I’ve lived in the States for more than half my life, his English is less accented than mine.
I have terrible allergies. I didn’t in Mexico.
There I ate local, organic food, although we didn’t call it that and it wasn’t cool. It was just food. It was what was available.
vii. in america
We crossed into Texas, but lived first in Nuevo Mexico, I mean, New Mexico, then Colorado. Everywhere the schools were lacking.
It wasn’t just that ESL programs at the time focused on English too much and other learning too little, it was that even after I was fluent, when I got into regular classes, the kids that slacked off and mouthed off were the ones to emulate.
Being cool got easier just like that. Very relaxing.
viii. labor practices
Throughout most of the year it’s impossible to find a tomato in the grocery store that wasn’t grown in Mexico. That’s for the produce section as well as everywhere else. Cans, salsas and frozen.
Raspberries aren’t difficult to grow in the States. Even still, most of the ones sold in the grocery stores here were grown in Mexico.
Picking fruit is exhausting work and most Americans don’t want to do it. It’s the same for slaughtering animals, which is dangerous as well as being tiresome.
Even those who yell most loudly that we should get out, go home, back to Mexico, don’t back it up with their dollars. And even if they never think about it, they wouldn’t want their kids to take these jobs.
Those ballot-handed shadows, a river separates them, and me, from my unrealized twin. The girl I didn’t become. They are blind to this. So sure of who and what occupies their ever familiar surroundings. Us against the world.
For the record, I don’t work as a maid. I don’t make tacos or any other kind of food, nor do I pick or process it. My brother who lives here isn’t a gardener and he doesn’t work in construction.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these jobs, someone needs to do them. We just found something better. And our mothers don’t really want their kids to take these jobs either. Even if it will be frequently assumed that we have. He is a social worker.
I work for Centura Health, taking calls. Some of my coworkers have college degrees, even if they are in English or the arts.
And I make more than they do because si,habla espanol. But not much. I’m cheaper than the translation services.
ix. dream on
After the election I posted something on social media about being a dreamer. People responded that I should go home. Get the fuck out of their country. They wrote that they were going to send ICE to my house.
My mom and brother live here. To go to any city other than Denver would be to learn a new place. Even if I do remember Mexico, it’s more of a feeling. Since it is of childhood, it is not one returned to.
x. trade relations
Most of the avocados consumed in the United States were grown in California, although in the winter, that’s not true. The climate won’t let them grow all year long in California, unlike Mexico. Growing water costs threaten California avocado production.
Mexico lets the United States store some of the water allotted to them by the Colorado River Compact in Lake Mead. Our water contributes to the weight that makes the turbines beneath the surface spin, illuminating the cities in Arizona, on the west coast and Las Vegas. It’s like banking, but water is the currency.
xi. everywhere you want to be
My work visas are for two years. I can never take renewal for granted, especially this year. I am so nervous that when I am at the consulate reapplying, I forget the Spanish word for identification.
It’s identificacion. The woman processing my paperwork looks at me like I’m an idiot. Not like I’m floating on my back down the Rio Grande, languid between languages, struck by how similar the sky looks on both sides.
While I wait for the paperwork to be processed, my life is headed in two directions. It’s a lot like if your life is headed in no direction at all, but with much more day to day responsibility.
Some days it’s okay. I am going to get to stay in the States with my cat, my boyfriend and my hot Cheetos. Other days I spend rehearsing my deportation.
I brush up on my Spanish, learn more about Juarez, the city and the man, and practice making myself small, just in case I will be living with my father in a house that he had filled up with himself. In that case, it will be okay once I find a job. If I can find a job in Mexico.
Every day I am ready for it to be over. One way or the other.
After I have reapplied for my visa, but before the application is accepted, when there is only two weeks left on it, I talk to my manager about it. I ask her if I should give my notice.
Instead we wait it out. I email all the right people in the company about it.
They don’t want to have to replace me. For my job, the training takes a month, but it takes a year to get good at it. Not everyone who works here ever does.
xii. chief experience officer
My visa is renewed. I have to show it to the CXO. I ask her if I should scan it and email her a copy. She says no, to come on down to the administration building where she works, we’ll take care of it there. Her request leads me to believe that she is not a bus rider.
She takes the new visa from me. Looks at it, front and back. Her eyes move up and down from me to the document several times, comparing my face to the picture. I almost expect her to ask for mein ausweispapiere.
I have nothing to worry about. The visa is mine and it is good. She just wants to make me sweat.
She asks why I got it done in such a timely manner. There were still two good weeks on the old one, this document she’ll never have to produce for herself.
So many people want to make me sweat, I must have magical excretions.
She says it looks good. And tells me that I don’t have to send so many emails next time. If my visa had expired, they would have found out. Magical.
She shakes my hand and walks away.
They hadn’t found out with the last dreamer. When her visa expired it took them weeks to find out. Anyway, what she doesn’t understand is that I hadn’t done it for her or my gracious employers.
I did it for me. To have a record of those emails. In case I needed to use them, if things had gone differently.
My mom calls me in the middle of the night. My dad has died in Mexico.
I get on the phone with the consulate. I need to go to the funeral. They tell me that if I leave the States at all, I won’t be able to return for ten years, to my mom, my job, my life.
My brother, the teacher, gives me as many details as he can about the funeral over the phone. We don’t act like it’s the same as my being there.
If I have to go back in two more years, at least I will be eligible for voluntary departure. Even then, I’ll have to wait ten years to return to my home, I mean, America.
My mom will help with the travel arrangements. My brother will greet me when I get off the train. He may even kiss my head.
We will visit mi papa’s grave. I will think about him and look at places I used to know. I will try to see us there, to find something within myself. I will try to find home.