Tell us about yourself and why do you work at Esperanza?
I was brought to the U.S. when I was almost 2 years old. My mother raised me to believe I was born in the U.S and that I was a citizen of this country. But when I was in college I found out I was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and that I had no legal status in the U.S. My mother shielded me from the truth because she didn’t want me to grow up with the worry and stigma that comes from being undocumented.
That worry and stigma hit me hard once I found out. After graduating from college, I found out how limited I was, institutionally speaking, by the fact that I was undocumented. I wasn’t able to get a job that matched my educational level because I couldn’t show that I had work authorization. I applied to many places, and was even offered positions to work, but couldn’t get past the I-9. I ended up settling for a job at a retail store and then at a fast food restaurant so that I could make some money. I worked at that fast food restaurant as a manager for many years, but I didn’t enjoy it. I didn’t work hard in school my whole life to work in a place that I was not passionate about.
Even simple things were difficult for me to do because the thought of deportation was paralyzing to me. I couldn’t drive without worrying about being pulled over for a broken tail light or for something arbitrary. I decided it would be best not to drive at night because there were a lot of police checkpoints near my town. I didn’t know what would happen to me if I was stopped by a police officer. I thought I might get deported and lose my whole life here. I was afraid to get separated permanently from my family and friends. Before finding out I was undocumented, I had a lot of ambition and confidence, to the point that people thought I was arrogant. But afterward, I was tormented by the thought that my future could be in jeopardy, and it made me recede into myself. I thought it best to reduce the probability of getting deported by just staying at home. I could have probably volunteered at organizations, but I was too afraid to drive myself to them. I had friends, but I was afraid to visit them. My social life was almost non-existent, and a lot of the time I felt really alone.
Once DACA came out, I contracted an attorney to help me apply for it. I’m an intelligent person; I’m educated and speak English, but the thought of working on my own case was terrifying. “What if I make a mistake and end up getting put in removal proceedings?” If navigating a complicated immigration system was too difficult for me to do on my own, I couldn’t imagine how other immigrants would do it, especially the ones that don’t speak English, or the ones that didn’t continue their education because they had to work at a young age.
After getting my work authorization I found a job posting for Esperanza as an admin assistant. I saw that the primary goals of Esperanza are to help people in removal proceedings, to defend them in court, and to help them navigate the immigration system. I applied because I wanted to use my talent and skills to help people that probably feel that worry and fear that I felt and knew all too well. I thought I could help spare somebody of all that turmoil. I continue to work at Esperanza because I see myself in the faces of all the people that we serve.
What does Esperanza mean to you?
The literal definition of esperanza is hope, but this organization has redefined the word for me now. Esperanza now means empowerment to me. We help out the undocumented community so much and restore power to the undocumented to help them determine the course of their own lives, free from the fear and worry of deportation, free to commit themselves to the pursuit of happiness. Yes, for the community, Esperanza means empowerment.
But, above all else, in my personal life, Esperanza means redemption.