By Jesus Mendez
Every time I am asked where I am from, I mentally run through a list of answers and decide on what to respond. Am I from San Diego, from Mexico, or another place? What I know is that I was born in Acapulco, Guerrero and until I was five years old I grew up in Coyuca de Benitez, Guerrero. My family and I have lived in San Diego since 1998.
Since we arrived, I knew I was undocumented or “without papers,” but I did not know the extent of what that meant until much later. Growing up, I noticed differences in my experiences compared to my peers, including being unable to get a job or driver’s license at 16 and being unable to travel to Mexico over school breaks. These experiences simultaneously made me feel like an outsider. Before graduating high school in 2010, my guidance counselor, aware of my immigration status, encouraged me to strive to receive a Ph.D. Degree, after which she said she hoped there would be a legal pathway to citizenship.
Prior to the announcement of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, I started to become more and more involved in my community. Since I didn’t have documents, my plan was to work low-wage jobs to stay afloat and supplement my income with community work. Once I transferred to a 4-year university and was granted DACA, I felt a sense of stability, although limited, given the impermanence of the program and need for necessary renewal of the work permits. With DACA, I have been able to pursue paid internships and positions with local nonprofit organizations, allowing me the space to learn more about pursuing a career in education and non-profit leadership.
Through my experience, both as a direct DACA recipient and as an active member of my community, I feel that DACA needs to continue, because it has worked in several ways for many of us who have been granted it. At the same time, I do feel that DACA is not enough for undocumented communities as a whole, which we should not forget. Nonetheless, DACA sets precedence and provides space for us as a people to demand a more inclusive and concrete comprehensive immigration reform.
For me, in practice this mean that as a community (and immigrant rights movement) we must follow through on demanding a pathway to legal permanent residence and citizenship that is truly inclusive of as many undocumented peoples as possible, one that does not create additional hurdles to the already staggered legalization process and one that centers the humanity of immigrant and refugee communities.
Given the 2016 Presidential Election campaign and subsequent results, I am personally feeling uncertainty around what “campaign promises” President Trump will follow through on. Up to this point, my life has been a constant evolution, transformation and re-evaluation of my “home”. I can say that different parts of myself and my identity are linked to different places, my identity as an undocumented borderlander is connected to San Diego, while my inner child and cultural self are deeply rooted in Mexico. I inhabit the in-betweens of spaces, I am from here, from there, and from nowhere.
Jesus Mendez is a DACA recipient and immigrant organizer. He lives in San Diego.