Build Bridges not Borders
My Journey as an Immigrant- Part One of Three
November 29, 2018
From the time I was 3-years-old, when I arrived in the U.S., I knew that I was “illegal.”
I remember the night before we left for the “other side.” My brothers and I slept with our shoes on to get a head start in the morning. At the break of dawn my two brothers, the oldest five, the youngest, a tender one-year-old, and my mom embarked on a life-changing journey.
As we headed for the airport I remember the feeling of sadness that overcame me when I realized it would be a long time before I saw my homeland again.
Before we left home everyone wished us good luck, almost as if they expected the worst. My mother was brave.
And my father tried to remain strong, but his face showed sadness as he hugged his family goodbye, not knowing when we would be together again.
After a week-long journey from my home in Morelia, Michoacan, we finally arrived to Anaheim, California.
Now, I was proud. I understood that I went through an incredible journey which was also traveled by many but I somehow felt unique.
This place was beautiful. I remember seeing the number 55 plastered everywhere, all across Anaheim I saw the number 55. I now know it was because it was the 55th anniversary, at the time, of the famous Disneyland, the happiest place on earth. Every kid wanted to be there, not me. I felt like I was already in the happiest place on earth, the U.S.A.
The experience was fun but I began to miss home. I missed all that I knew.
Despite meeting my mother’s side of the family, who had already established themselves in this country, without my father, my family was incomplete. I missed him.
As a child, this separation was difficult to understand, and in turn, was difficult to deal with.
I asked my mother why we couldn’t just go back for a quick visit then come back to our new home, she replied, “no se puede, hija, no tenemos papeles. We can’t, we don’t have papers,” she said.
Now I understood. I completely understood why my family back home was so sad to see us leave. It was not going to be as easy as I thought. Now, I understood, I was not an American.
I knew that my being in this country was wrong. I had not yet begun to establish myself, or discover who I was, yet I knew that I was a criminal.
Imagine, a child, who had not yet experienced the things that made life beautiful, knowing that her presence was against the law.
As the years went by, my mother worked to establish my family in this new country.
My mother, being the hard worker that she is, managed three young kids, a job, and even went to school to learn the language and continue to receive higher education. Her hard work made it easier for my brothers and I to live a “normal” life.
As I advanced in school, I began to see how difficult building a better life for myself would be as an undocumented student.
From early in my school career, college was encouraged by our teachers and counselors, so much that it almost seemed like a guarantee, it was motivating, knowing that every one of us could make it there.
Still, I was scared. The next day in this country was never a guarantee. My family could be deported at any moment if anyone should find out our secret.
This is part one of a series of Ms. Castro’s immigration story.
The Interview of Our Lives for the American Dream
My Journey as an Immigrant- Part Two of Three
Being undocumented was a struggle but alas, my family and I began to see a light at the end of the tunnel when I was 12 and my mother married her boyfriend of eight years who was a Permanent Resident.
After a couple of years of marriage, my stepdad, who I now my call my dad, applied and received his citizenship. This sped up our process toward obtaining legal status.
Our process took about five years and in April of 2018, my family received a letter in the mail notifying us that our interview for our residency, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, had finally come.
This interview, although stressful and intimidating, is sought after by many, as it is the last step to obtaining Permanent Residency in the U.S.
The weeks leading up to the interview were worrisome.
Because we were required to leave the country, without the promise of return, I felt like that three-year-old kid again and had to leave everything, including my home and family, behind.
As we left the U.S., I risked never seeing anything I ever cared about again.
I will never forget the night we left.
Everyone was in a hurry packing and making sure everything was ready for our hopefully two-week trip to Juarez.
I made my bed but was not sure if I would sleep in it again. I gave my dogs a huge hug and prayed that if anything should happen to me, my babies would be safe in the hands of my uncle.
After saying all of our goodbyes, we locked all the windows and doors to make sure our house was safe during our trip and for our hopeful return.
After a day and a half of driving, we finally made it to El Paso, Texas, where we crossed the border into Ciudad Juarez.
This trip was no vacation. It was nerve wracking but my mom and dad worked hard to make it special, and in a way it was, because it was quality time spent with my family.
But all I could think about was my home. I thought about my dogs, my family, my friends and especially my grandmother, who played a major role in getting us into this country. I thought about my secret hiding spot in my room and what would happen to my stuff if I did not return. I thought about the possibility of never seeing anything I knew again.
One of the requirements for our interview was to go to a local doctor who would ensure that we were healthy. Because I was older than 15, a drug and blood test was required of me, along with several vaccines.
This was not like any ordinary doctor’s office, it was extremely strict.
Even the seat we sat in was strategic. When you were asked your name, it wasn’t just your first and last name, it was your first, middle, last and your mother’s last name. I was not used to my full name, which was four names long, I was only used to Alondra Castro and when I was asked for my name and did not give my full name, it raised suspicions.
Despite the stressful environment and the many hours my family spent at the doctor’s office, our medical exam was complete. All that was left was the interview.
Finally the day of the interview came. I stayed up until the late hours of the night, praying to God that everything would go well.
Walking over to the U.S. Consulate was exciting. My brother, my mom and I were dressed in our Sunday best and ready for our interview. We were nervous but our faith in God and our trust in our government’s judgement gave us hope for the best.
We arrived at the Consulate and were met with overwhelmingly strict rules and guidelines, determining every tiny detail of our demeanor.
With grey walls and security guards at every corner, there was tension in the building.
The extremely strict environment did not help to relieve our nerves. Although I was sixteen at the time, I held my mother’s hand tightly for as long as a I could, like a timid child.
In order to enforce safety regulations and keep the overall process moving efficiently, the security team put us through numerous metal detectors and checked our bags a number of times. They even went as far as to make us take a sip of our water and take a bite of our snacks in front of them to ensure they were edible and not some something that can cause harm.
After we made it past the security room, my mother and I were escorted to the room where the interviews were being held.
The doors were only allowed to be opened by a security guard, who assigns you a seat. Every step was exceedingly tedious, which also built the tension.
Upon entering through those big grey doors, we were met with a huge room of people whose lives differed but all had hope for the same outcome.
The emotions in the room made it terrifying. Because it was a government proceeding, it was orderly and therefore quiet but in a way the room was loud.
There were people crying when their visas were declined and people who were lucky and had theirs accepted. There were people in the waiting area praying and although they were praying quietly, the mumbling of close to one hundred people made a significant amount of noise.
When we walked up to line to get interviewed, you could hear some of the interviews going on. I got a glimpse of what was coming up ahead. This also gave me an insight into the lives of strangers, people who had no particular significance to me, yet we all shared the same aspiration.
Then we made it to the front of the line.
In front of us stood a woman with two daughters standing beside her and a baby in her hand. I noticed the young girls trembling as they stood listening to her mother answering questions about their lives. These girls could not have been older than eight but it was apparent that they knew what was going on and what was at stake.
Finally their interview was over and I witnessed all four of these strangers receive what we all so badly wanted, legal status in the U.S.
The smiles across their faces gave me optimism. Their tears of joy gave me tears of hopefulness. I was so happy for them. The doors of opportunity had opened for them and their family.
I said a quick prayer for my family and for all those around me and and moved up the window to begin our interview.
This is part two of a series of Ms. Castro’s immigration story.
Courtesy of Alondra Castro
Changes for a Family
My Journey as an Immigrant- Part Three of Three
I continued to pray and listen as the interviewer asked my mom: questions about our journey to America, our lives before we started that journey, and about our current lives in the U.S.
These questions determine whether you are the perfect candidate for legal status and if you are a contributing member to society.
My family is stable, we make good money, we do well in school, we are even members of the church.
After hearing other interviews, we realized that our case was not as bad as those around us. We were sure we would get approved for Permanent Resident status.
And the interview seemed to be going well.
My mom is a good person, the only law she had broken was entering the U.S. After hearing our story and the adversity we had faced, I felt as if the interviewer had sympathy for us.
The questions asked revealed that before we left for the U.S., my family was in extreme poverty and if we did not leave we would have faced an extremely difficult existence with little opportunity for change or advancement.
Finally after careful consideration, the interviewer granted my brother and I our Permanent Residency, but declined my mom’s application.
This meant going back home and leaving my mom behind in a country none of us called home.
She was left alone in Tijuana, Mexico, without her family.
What I have been longing for my entire life had finally been granted. I was going home to the U.S., legally this time, but miserable.
And it was at the unfortunate expense of losing my mother. This entire process was expensive taking away our time and money, yet, the cost of losing my mother was the most painful.
The immigration office said the reason her visa was declined was because she allowed her children to break the law and cross the border illegally.
There were times when she worked 18 hour days. All for the well being of her children and her family. For almost 20 years she put everyone ahead of herself and she deserved better.
It was not fair.
It was not fair that by completing a mother’s duty of ensuring a good life full of infinite opportunities for her children, she was punished.
I just wished the system would sympathize and acknowledge my mother, as not some sort of criminal, but as my nobel hero. They do not realize that American society needs more risk takers like my mother; it is only from taking risks that true change happens.
My dad, my brother and I returned home, without my mother. We arrived at a house full of our belongings, yet it felt so empty.
I lie awake at night thinking about my mom. Whenever I shut my eyes I see her face, she is all I think about. It hurts waking up in the middle of the night and realizing that my mom is not in the next room.
My mother’s embrace is either many months or many miles away while all of my friends have moms who are waiting for them when they get home from school.
So now, almost 8 months after the interview, my mom is in Tijuana, Mexico, where she lives with my grandmother on my dad’s side. She enrolled in school and is continuing to receive a higher education.
I realize she is not under the worst of circumstances but regardless, it is unfortunate that she is separated from her family. Due to an unfair judgement by the immigration office, my mom was sent to live with the side of the family that she is not quite familiar with.
And due to the lack of funds, the amount of time I get to spend with my mom is limited to one weekend every couple of months of us piling into the car and making the three hour trek to get the love and hugs that we crave.
We are still unaware of when my mom will be allowed back home but we do know it is going to be a long time. My mom is going to miss important milestones this year like my prom and high school graduation. After all the work she did to make sure I received an education, she will not be here to see the outcome.
Throughout all of this, I cannot help but think, these hardships could have been avoided if only we would have crossed a welcoming bridge and not an inadmissible border.
Part three concludes the series of Ms. Castro’s immigration story.