My story began on May 7, 1995 in Tijuana, Mexico at 5:30am, after a “miracle birth.” Yes, a miracle because I had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck.
Most newborns get wrapped by blankets when they’re handed off to their parents. I was wrapped by a blanket and a soccer jersey. Soccer has been a huge part of my life. Which explains why October 10, 2015 was one of the best days of my life. I attended the Mexico – US soccer game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Mexico won in dramatic fashion and I left the stadium the happiest I had been in a long time.
Credit: Leticia Bustamante
But that wasn’t what was imprinted on my mind. I noticed something, something I felt provided an accurate, real-world example of what it’s like for many young Mexicans or Mexican-Americans in the United States that feel they have to choose between their cultures.
There were more than 95,000 people at the Rose Bowl. Hundreds of people wore jerseys that had stars and stripes on the right side and the Mexican crest right above the heart on the left side. These were people who couldn’t be forced to choose between their two cultures. Perhaps they don’t identify strongly with either one. Perhaps they didn’t want to be judged by family or friends for choosing one over the other.
For me, choosing who to root for was a no-brainer. I rooted for Mexico.
Credit: Leticia Bustamante
As someone who is undocumented, I understand how hard it can be to choose. I know how it is to feel like no matter which side you choose, you aren’t welcome on either one: Ni de aquí, Ni de allá, like the famous India Maria film would say. For many Mexican-Americans, it is hard to choose a culture because they are born in the US, but raised with Mexican values.
I am not a citizen of the country I live in and I have not stepped in the country where I am a citizen since 2000. If I were to go back today, I would be recognized as a foreigner. When I think about that, I feel American because that’s how I would be seen in Mexico. Here, I feel the complete opposite sometimes, especially at school.
I am blessed enough to say that I attend my dream school, UCLA. But it’s at UCLA where I feel the most Mexican and the most foreign.
Credit: Leticia Bustamante
Mexicans make up a minority at UCLA. The majority are white Caucasians. It is here where I am reminded that I am not American because I am not blonde and blue-eyed and do not celebrate Thanksgiving or take family vacations because we cannot afford to take a week off of work. I don’t have parents who speak English or have college degrees. I have to explain why I cannot take out loans to study abroad, why I cannot vote or why I cannot join them for spring break in Cancun.
But nothing reminds me I’m a foreigner more than the fine box at the end of scholarship applications that says “I am a US citizen or legal resident.”
Nevertheless, I know I’m blessed to live in this great country and I am blessed to be Mexican. I love that I had the opportunity to grow up listening to Smokey Robinson and Michael Jackson and The Beatles one day and the next day listen to Chelo Silva, Selena, and of course, Vicente Fernandez.
Today I live a mile away from Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, but I am humbled by the memory of living in a small one bedroom apartment with twelve family members for the first two years.
Credit: Leticia Bustamante
I love that I grew up in the individualistic American society where I can become successful for me and my family.
Whether or not people regard me as American doesn’t even matter at the end of the day. Sometimes being undocumented doesn’t even matter. I’ve gotten this far. But one thing is for sure: I always carry that Mexican crest above my heart.
We should not be criticized for not being Mexican or American enough. We should be celebrated for being bicultural. We should be proud.
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Undocumented communities are being left out of Covid relief plans. Chef Diana Dávila of Mi Tocaya in Chicago is working to help undocumented restaurant worker in the time of Covid. Abuse of undocumented workers is rampant in certain industries and Chef Dávila hopes to offer some kind of help.
Mi Tocaya is a Mexican restaurant in Chicago’s Logan Square that wants to help the community.
Covid-19 has devastated the hospitality industry with restaurants being hit exceptionally hard. Restaurants have been forced to close their doors for good as the virus dragged on with no decent relief plan from the federal government. As several countries financially support citizens to avoid economic disaster, the U.S. government has given citizens $1,800 total to cover 10 months of isolating and business closures.
Namely, Mi Tocaya is working to help the undocumented community.
Mi Tocaya, a family-run restaurant, is teaming up with Chicago’s Top Chefs and local non-profits Dishroulette Kitchen and Logan Square Neighborhood Association. The goal is to highlight the issues facing the undocumented community during the pandemic.
The initiative called Todos Ponen, is all about uplifting members of our community in a time of severe need. The restaurant is creating healthy Mexican family meals for those in need.
”We asked ourselves; How can we keep our doors open, provide a true service to the community, maintain and create jobs, and keep the supply chain intact by supporting local farmers and vendors. This is the answer,” Chef Dávila said in a statement. “I confidently believe The TODOS PONEN Logan Square Project addresses all of the above and can very well be easily implemented in any community. Our goal is to bring awareness to the lack of resources available to the undocumented workforce- the backbone of our industry.”
Mi Tocaya is offering 1000 free meals for local farmers and undocumented restaurant workers. The meals are available for pickup Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2800 W Logan Blvd, Chicago, IL 60647. to make this happen, Mi Tocaya also needs your help.
The restaurant has teamed up with two nonprofits to make sure that they can scale their operation to fulfill their commitment. They are also asking for donations to make sure they can do what they can to help undocumented restaurant workers.
According to Eater LA, 8 million restaurant workers have been laid off since the pandemic started. Some restaurants have had to lay off up to 91 percent of their staff because of Covid, about 10 percent of those are undocumented. In the cities, that number is as high as 40 percent of the laid-off restaurant staff are undocumented.
“People don’t want to talk about the undocumented workforce, but they’re part of our daily routine in most restaurants,” Jackson Flores, who manages the operations of Mi Tocaya, said in a statement. “They are in the toughest position in the whole economy because they’re an invisible part of it. Restaurant worker advocacy groups have added the creation of relief funds to their agendas, but there have yet to be long-term changes in protections for undocumented workers. Without access to unemployment benefits and other government resources, this group is especially vulnerable.”
In recent years scripted TV and docu-series have worked hard to share the heartbreaking stories of the undocumented immigrant experience. From the depiction of deportation in the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black” the detention of Mateo on “Superstore” and on “Jane the Virgin.” Also, let’s not forget the crushing Netflix docuseries “Living Undocumented.”
Although these series work hard to share these stories, they aren’t enough. and so many people have stories to share that still go untold.
Recently we came across a story on Reddit that shared quite a few heartbreaking experiences about how hard it is to make ends meet in another country.
Check out the stories below.
“Depends on which country we’re talking about. East Europe has lots of illegals from Ukraine, Russia and the Far East, like Vietnam. They rent an apartment illegally and usually work in construction, where they get paid in cash. It’s generally not a big problem as those people just want to make some money to send home to their families.
I don’t think it’s very hard once they get a job, as all the necessities can be bought with cash. Troubles start if they get injured or something like that, because they’re not eligible for free healthcare services.
A few years ago one construction company refused to pay their Vietnamese employees for the work they’ve done. He said ‘What are you going to do, go to the police?’ They did, won the lawsuit, got paid, then left the country.” –Airazz
“It does really depend on the country. I’ve met a few people in my country that are there illegally. They have cash in hand jobs and usually live in with other people in a sublet kinda situation. Unless they try to leave the country or commit a crime and get arrested then really there’s not much danger of them getting caught and deported.
Though saying this our government is becoming less tolerant to immigration, legal or not so we are seeing increasing numbers of immigation and customs officers all around, so who knows how long these people will be safe here.” – StrangePhotograph
“I can only speak to the U.S. immigration system, as this is my area of focus, but the overarching aspects of the immigrant experience are probably universal. It is incredibly difficult to access the system while outside the U.S. if you do not have a U.S. sponsor, win the diversity visa, or qualify for humanitarian relief (asylum or refugee status). This means that an economically depressed farmer who wishes to provide for his family by moving to America can’t simply walk into an office and ask for the documentation to begin the immigration process, even if he could afford the exorbitant fees. Someone either has to petition for him from the U.S. (which can take decades to process) or apply for the diversity visa (not guaranteed). Being in poverty does not qualify you for humanitarian relief.
So this farmer sees his parents and sisters struggling and decides that leaving them and being undocumented in the U.S. is better than the current situation. He overstays his visa or he crosses the border without inspection. Either way, he becomes undocumented in the U.S.
The jobs he gets pay him under the table and doesn’t provide any sort of protection or health insurance, but it’s more money than he would ever make back home, so he doesn’t care. He pays his taxes because a TIN number is one of the only identifiable government issues IDs he can get, even though he’ll never be able to access social security or disability. He lives a cautious life, doing his best to keep his head down, stay out of trouble, and send money to his family when he can.
But he’s human. He makes friends, probably with people from his hometown who are also undocumented. They do the usual things people do, but are always looking over their shoulder. Maybe he meets a girl, also undocumented, and they have a child. Suddenly the reality of the situation begins to set in. His status could tear his family apart, but the other option is bringing his new family back to the poverty he fled. Could he do that to his child? Take away the life of opportunities available in the states? Aren’t those opportunities the whole reason he left?
This fear drives him to see if he can fix his immigration status. His community is mistrustful of outsiders, so he takes the advice of a friend who heard from another friend that there’s a woman who know someone at USCIS that can get him Legal Permanent Resident status. He meets with her regularly, pays her thousands of dollars–everything his family has been able to save over the past few years–and one day she stops answering the phone. She disappears. He’s so disillusioned, his resigns himself to a life in the shadows. Limited.
A decade or more passes, he sees his kid getting older and his parents getting sicker. He hasn’t seen them since he left because he can’t travel, so he decides to try to fix his status again. He goes to a local non-profit that provides affordable legal immigration services that he heard about through his church. They review his case and ask him to come back again, that he may qualify for a specific type of visa only available to victims of crime due to an assault he experienced a few years before.
He leaves the office hopeful, even though he has to drive an hour or so to get home. It depends on the state, but he probably can’t get a license where he lives, so driving anywhere probably triples his anxiety. Suddenly there’s a cop behind him and his mind is racing. The next thing he knows, he’s being taken to the police station for not having documentation. Within 24 hours he’s handed over to ICE and within three weeks he’s deported back to his home country. He sees his parents, hugs them, and heads right back around to the U.S. once more to reunite with his family.
My family was lucky enough to obtain citizenship when the laws were more kind to hopefuls migrants, but many of our friends were not. This is an amalgamation of their experiences.”- attheincline
“I’m from the US and overstated my Visa in Colombia and was able to get a good job at a software development company that paid me cash under the table. Ironically enough they had a contract with the government. I was up front about my situation as well.
Colombia is a very cash-oriented country. I had no trouble paying my rent in cash, traveling by plane, working, going to the hospital, etc. When it was time to leave I paid a fine of like $150USD which was cheaper than the visa I needed. I was stopped by the cops once and didn’t have my passport and they just gave me a warning. Obviously my experience isn’t the same as everyone else’s.”- DSPGerm
“Remember that an undocumented immigrant’s experience is going to vary on age (speaking from the US). If a parent brings a young child over, the child is entitled to American schooling, and will start to associate with a social group way different from their parents. But eventually they’ll start to realize that there’s something off about their status: as their friends start to drive, they won’t be able to get a license, their friends will start working, and they won’t be able to, their friends will go off and begin careers, and the “1.5 generation” immigrants will be stuck living perpetually as if they were still at 15 years old.
There’s also the issue of living in fear of deportation, which leads to a distrust in the system. Under the Secure Communities program, an undocumented immigrant could be deported for increasingly minor infractions, so they’re less likely to call 911, go to the doctor/hospital, hell, anywhere where there’s any kind of “authority.”
Add to this the fact that, in the US, the vast consensus among researchers is that as the undocumented population rises in a metropolitan area, crime rates across the board (black, white, Latino) decrease in every measure (homicide, assault, burglary…).
I guess that last paragraph is an aside, but I think it’s relevant to point out the basis for the Secure Communities program as being flawed. Increasingly deporting undocumented immigrants, which is the aim of the program, is going to have a similar affect on crime rates as deporting 80 year old grandmas would.” – NotFuzz
“Depends on the country and your social-economical status I assume. A few years back I was studying abroad and my student visa expired like 6 months before my leave. I realised it a few days before I would leave, went to the police and they said it’s not a huge deal. But this would probably be a huge deal if I was a low paid worker or something.
Or for example this was in Europe at a time Europe was okay taking lots of immigrants, let’s say if it was in US of today, I’d probably be fined or whatever.” –Pmmeauniqueusername