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‘Échale ganas, mijo’/’Give it your all, son’: PART TWO

What does ‘Transcend. Evolve. Take Flight.” mean to you?

Read part one.

‘Ni de aqui, ni de alla’/’Not from here, nor from there’

I maintained my connection to my Mexican heritage and culture, but I also tried to understand and adapt to American culture. It always blew my mind when I noticed my friends and their families eating dinner in the living room rather than around a table (as I was used to). I always tried to allow my close friends into my culture, and they openly accepted me into theirs.

My assimilation into American culture came with its limits. I knew I was never going to be fully American, nor did I want to. I followed a “don’t ask, don’t tell” code, never telling my friends of my immigration status. They always assumed that I came here legally, and at times, they would jokingly tease me about whether I had my green card. I always did my best to deflect these conversations by offering up witty answers like, “Yeah, my name is not really David, but my fake papers are sure fooling you all!” I never truly felt comfortable with telling them the truth.

On the other hand, my fellow Latinos labeled me as an “Americanized Mexican” because my English accent became less heavy, and I even started to struggle with some Spanish words. In fact, with my lighter skin tone, many folks from the Latino community assumed that I was born in the U.S.

Nightmare within a dream

Eventually, I found myself attending community college on my own merits and with the assistance of a very small scholarship. I knew I wasn’t able to apply for Federal Aid, and I was working a few jobs to pay my tuition and to continue to support my parents. I finally felt that I was able to pursue my dreams and that I was building my life in this country. However, dreams can sometimes take a temporary turn for the worse. My parents purchased a home, but we eventually lost the house during the economic crisis in 2007.

We faced our biggest challenge yet when my father was detained by ICE early in the morning on a hot summer day. The day he was detained marked the last time I would see him in person. ICE’s reasoning dated back to the early days of my father’s immigration when he received fraudulent legal advice from a notario. As a family, we scrambled to find a way to cover the legal fees. We weren’t going to allow my father to be deported. Shortly after, ICE came once more — this time for my older brother, my mother, and myself. Because my youngest brother was a U.S. citizen and a minor at the time, my mother was immune from being detained. But my brother and I did not have this same immunity.

We were placed in custody, but we still remained separated from my father. My dreams and ambitions of living in the U.S. quickly died while in detainment. My father voluntarily elected to be deported after he heard the news of our detainment. He was devastated and felt responsible for our current situation. I also decided to finally bring my closest friends into the loop and admitted my situation to them. They were very surprised, as expected, but I was very fortunate for their understanding and support. A week after my father was deported, my brother and I were finally were able to post bail.

What followed were years of ongoing court hearings, fighting against what I believe is a broken immigration system, and being constantly monitored (even wearing an ankle bracelet). Before, I always understood my limitations and believed that immigration reform would be our saving grace. However, throughout the proceedings, I started to feel less inspired about my future, especially when my lawyer told me that our best strategy was for me to marry an American citizen or wait for immigration reform. But there was a silver lining to all of this. As we were fighting against removal proceedings, we were actually able to apply for temporary work authorization. We were able to do so because in some situations, immigration authorities will allow folks who are involved in deportation proceedings to apply for temporary work authorization.

Sacrifice before reawakening

After securing my work authorization, I was fortunate enough to land a great employment opportunity when I was hired at Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES), a nonprofit known to serve the Latino community. CLUES’ mission and values matched those values instilled in me by my father. Even from afar, my father continued to encourage me to keep working hard, reassuring me that hard work and sacrifice will always pay off. He encouraged me to utilize my platform as a service provider to serve those in need, including my fellow Latino community and the larger immigrant community.

After DACA was introduced in 2012, I was able to dream once more. I was no longer fighting by myself. I was now fighting alongside my fellow dreamers living a similar situation. My optimism for the future returned. I was convinced that If I was given a shot, my family and my community facing the same situation will soon follow suit. Compared to my younger, reserved self, I became a voice to those who couldn’t speak. I was never into politics, but I understood that in order to become an effective advocate for myself and for my community, I had to arm myself with knowledge in policy and politics. I took any opportunity that was given for me to educate those who have a vague understanding of who we really are and the contributions that we make to this country.

We always supported my father back home. He started to become ill, and he was later diagnosed with multiple myeloma. We continued to support him in any way possible while he was undergoing treatment. My father was a very proud man. It’s a trait that I also carry. He did not want us to worry about him, and he would always say that he was ‘feeling fine.’ But we could see right through this facade. He needed his family more than anything, and we needed him. We felt powerless. We couldn’t just simply jump on a plane and fly to Mexico to support him. Even if we could, he would’ve never allowed it.

My father’s cancer got progressively worse in 2016. His immunities were so low that chemo actually hurt him more than it helped him. He became terminally ill, leaving us to face our most difficult decision to date from thousands of miles away. Besides my younger brother, I was the only person who could’ve requested advance parole to fly down there. Unfortunately, my DACA application was delayed at that time, and leaving the country would have posed a high risk for me. Our lawyer confirmed that if I flew down, it would’ve been very difficult for me to return. If my DACA status were to be voided, my father’s sacrifice would’ve been made in vain. We had no choice but to have my brother fly down there to support him through his final days. My father passed just as soon as my brother landed.

Every day, I feel my father’s presence. I constantly play back the memories of the many lessons he taught me. “Échale ganas mijo!”, or “No te rindas por lo que estés luchando.” He was a martyr that sacrificed his life in order for us to have an opportunity to build the life that we chose to create in the land of opportunity. My father was an original dreamer. His memories live within me, as I am part of him. I will continue to dream. I will continue to evolve. I will continue to carry my father’s legacy.

A huge thank you to David Soto for writing this post and sharing his incredibly inspiring story with us. David Soto is the Financial Capability Program Supervisor at Communidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio (CLUES). David also oversees the Lending Circles programs at CLUES.