Land of … plenty?

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When a sixth grade kid wins the school spelling bee, the last thing that should be on his mind is whether he gets to stay in the country or has to go back to one he hardly remembers.

But that’s exactly what happened to me.

We were living in the shadows here in los estados unidos at that point. Even though my family had come here legally, we did technically overstay our visa. I was little at the time and always thought we sneaked in. I’m sure my questions about how we got here weren’t my mom’s favorite to answer.

We had followed my grandfather, her father, who was a bracero in the Southwest and later a saranjero working in and around the fields in Glendale. We had a decent life in Mexico, but our family was all migrating to California and Arizona to be together.

It didn’t seem that anyone was really paying that much attention to people like us back then. Still, through the help of Friendly House, my parents applied for and, thankfully, received permanent residency for our entire family when I was in the sixth grade. I had just won the spelling bee and soon after, we were off to see the good people at INS in El Paso, Texas, to find out if we could stay in our adopted country.

Had our fate been different, I remember thinking, I wouldn’t have survived in the wilds of Mexico. I surely would have dried up in the dusty Sonoran Desert, forced to sell Chiclets to American kids who I could easily out-spell and who couldn’t possibly love America more than I did.

I couldn’t even bounce a soccer ball on my knee like all the other Mexican kids!

After all, my brothers and sisters and I, through school, sports and television, had become all-American kids. We played football and not futbol, we favored Al Green and Earth, Wind and Fire, eschewing Vicente Fernandez and Los Hurricanes del Norte. Our tías, who were in high school, made sure we assimilated quickly.

This story isn’t too different from that of a lot of kids who are brought to the U.S. at a young age. Except of course, the part about getting our “green cards.”

Like I said, that was a different time. We would be hard-pressed to come to the U.S. in this manner today, just as it is almost impossible for families to apply for legal residency.

Today, whenever I visit Mexico, I get emotional when I see poor kids in border towns who could possibly have a world of potential, but are stuck in a world that seems to limit that potential at every turn. Then I think of the kids who somehow got to the other side and are now facing limited opportunities and even a fate of deportation as they graduate from school.

Listening to the debate about how to handle America’s DREAM kids, I don’t believe the answer is “sending them back where they came from” or even “where they belong.” Who is to say where anyone belongs, when you think about it. There’s something to the saying, “Home is where the heart is.”

Besides, America’s DREAM kids would be just as lost as I would have been back then. Worse still, we would be adding fuel to the social fire that is Mexico these days, and robbing this great country of a natural and valuable resource.

See this story in print here:

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