Isabel Canning


June 12, 2019

Mexico City, Mexico

Being undocumented and needing healthcare

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*To hear more about Ana listen to the playlist above

Isabel: So it's Isabel, and I'm here with Ana and we're doing our interview now. So just to start, what caused you and your family to migrate to the United States?

Ana: From what I remember or from what I know, currently, my dad went to the States, I think he was there for about a year, and my mom decided that she wanted us to be with him so she took us to the States.

Isabel: How did you migrate?

Ana: I, we migrated illegally. I don't remember how, but we crossed the border.

Isabel: And you were six years old then?

Ana: Yes.

Isabel: And where did you live when you moved to the United States?

Ana: We went directly to where my dad was. He was living in Brooklyn, New York. So we went to live with him.

Isabel: And do you remember any early memories or what was some of your first experiences in the United States and even those surprised you.

Ana: I recall the school, the bilingual school, we were only there a year, I have an older sister, my older sister and I. And then we were moved to the elementary school where we finished our studies. I remember my childhood in terms of like school and friends and such, but the first memories of arriving there, I don't recall.

Isabel: Can you tell me about then your childhood, both your schools and your friends?

Ana: Yeah. I don't remember much about my bilingual school. I just remember that we were there a year, then in the other school where we finished. I remember the school itself, the physical-ness of it, the weather. I remember that I was a huge nerd. [Laughs]. I just focused on reading and doing my schoolwork and finishing school and, yeah.

Isabel: Do you have any teachers that stood out to you?

Ana: Yeah, my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Ogami, really, really great in teaching Math and such and books. And I remember my mom liked him also, because of the program of the school, getting work done and memorizing stuff. So yeah, he would definitely stand out.

Isabel: That's awesome. I’m wondering, did you have any classmates or others who were also migrants or also had an undocumented status?

Ana: I don't think I actually know any, or I didn't make friends with any. I think my parents probably knew more of those situations, my situation, but on a personal level, no. In elementary, I don't remember anyone. I remember that there were people from other countries like Afghanistan or Bangladesh or Middle Eastern and Asians and such, but if I recall correctly, all of them were American citizens.

Isabel: And did you know, throughout your life, that you were undocumented or did you find out about your status later?

Ana: I feel like I always knew, but I think as a kid, no one really acknowledges what that is or you can't tell what people are explaining to you until you get older. So I don't think I really knew until I was maybe in middle school or… middle school.

Isabel: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Did that change your experience? Were you frightened then of US authorities or the police in that sense or not.

Ana: Not really, but I think it's also because I didn't really…I wasn't one to get into trouble. I wasn't one who was looking to commit a crime or cause that kind of conflict or attention. I think it was a bigger deal for my parents. I do remember them saying that we had to behave properly, or we had to take care of how we were behaving to avoid the cops or to avoid the police. But it wasn't something that I would say, I think, I would be intimidated of their figure, but more on my parents’ account than my own.

Isabel: Yeah. That makes sense. And a lot of people mention fear of driving because if they they drive without a license, but probably weren't as much in New York or...

Ana: No, or at least from... I don't remember how old I was, but my dad did get a car. And so he would try to teach us to drive, my sisters and myself. I don't recall it being an issue, trying to get a driver's license. I think as I got older, I realized that it could have been a conflict, but I think that he always looked into what state would be giving the driving... Because I didn't know until I was older that only certain states provide that. And so he would find it and he would go for it. But living in a city like New York, it wasn't a necessity, having a car to move around and such, it was more of what my dad wanted in life. So that's what he got.

Isabel: And would you say you kept your, pretty much like academic rigor through high school as you finished it, or?

Ana: I did up to high school. In high school, I felt, or I feel like I started to rebel. Don't exactly remember what triggered it, but I do remember that I was no longer too happy being where I was. I remember that I would kind of bad talk New York or just be like, "Oh, New York is ugly." And then my parents decided to move on my senior year for in high school. And so it just made me careless. I was just like, "Okay well, I'm going to move so I don't need to like work my ass off or put any effort into school anymore, because we're going to go anyway, so."

Isabel: Oh I see. some people mention feeling disheartened once they got to high school, realizing without the proper documents, they wouldn't be able to apply to college.

Ana: I feel like it hadn't reeled in on me or it wasn't something that…I was aware of it, but I felt that I had so much support from friends or from my own brain that I was just like, "I'm going to accomplish it. Whether or not it's going to be hard, I know what I want." At the time, I knew what I wanted, and I was willing to just go for it. Basically, I didn't see myself crashing and falling at that point. It was kind of my own carelessness of, "oh, we're moving, whatever," my own way, I think, of rebelling with my parents that made me really careless with schoolwork for about a year. But other than that, no. Despite the fact that I was painfully aware of the illegal status and not being able to probably find a job, I think for me, in long-term, it was the job. It wasn't even the school. It was just, one way or another, you're going to be able to study. That's one of the benefits of the States, right? It doesn't matter whether you're undocumented or not, you're going to be able to study. Getting a job though, and a job you want, that's a different story. So I think long-term, for me, it was the job.

Isabel: So then going from that, said your family moved, where did you move to?

Ana: North Carolina.

Isabel: North Carolina. And then how did you end up back in Mexico from there?

Ana: Well, I got really sick. I got really depressed when we moved to North Carolina and to this day, I'm not a hundred percent sure if that's what triggered it, it's more than likely because it's the only thing I attribute to my sickness. I started hemorrhaging. I started to bleed out and it got to a point where it got really, really bad. I was hospitalized about four times. And yeah, it just got really, really bad to a point where I just didn't want to be hospitalized anymore. And so I told my parents that I refused to get hospitalized and my parents said, "Well, we bought you a ticket to Mexico, so."

Isabel: So your parents got you a ticket to Mexico so that you could receive help here?

Ana: Yes. In Mexico, I have an uncle who's a doctor. So while I was in and out of the hospital and I wasn't getting any better and I wasn't getting any treatment, except blood transfusions and such, my mom sent my medical records to my uncle. Don't really know what the discussion was there, I just knew that she sent him my papers. And from what I know, my uncle told my mom, "You're either going to let her die there or you're going to send her so that I can help her." So my parents were like, "Okay." And they just sat me down. They told me that I had to go get my passport because I was coming to Mexico.

Isabel: And was it difficult receiving healthcare in the States with your undocumented status?

Ana: Definitely. I wouldn't say that people are harsh. I think that there's a little bit of human in everyone, but it's definitely not the same when you have papers. In terms of care, it's kind of... I don't know how to explain it but just, when you're in the hospital, people will make sure that your vitals are normal, or your vitals are stable. I think that's the word. But other than that, it was hell trying to get attention. It was my mom trying to ask, “What's wrong with her? What can they do?” Doctors just going, "She just needs birth control. Put her on birth control and that's it." Me going on birth control and nothing, not helping. And my mom just kind of desperate I would say, trying to get answers, falling again in the hospital, getting more blood transfusion. It was basically just base work. It wasn't someone actually asking you or checking to see if everything was okay, it was mostly of, "What's going on with you right now?" "I'm bleeding out." And doctors going, "Are you having an abortion? Are you…"—A miscarriage, sorry, here it's abortion—and it was just hard at that time because there was a lot of negligence also. For example, at the time I was still a virgin. And despite saying that I was not pregnant at all, there was no possible way, the doctors still examined me. And you know not being able to do anything legal for it because you couldn't, you're illegal. You can't sue the doctor for malpractice because you're not even supposed to be there. So it's always a lose-lose situation. So yeah, I would not say that it's comfortable being undocumented and needing healthcare.

Isabel: Yeah. That's a really unique perspective. So you were able to receive better healthcare then on your return to Mexico with your uncle?

Ana: I'm not sure I would say better because even so it wasn't…even here. I think healthcare in general is a whole 'nother world, but it definitely stopped the hemorrhages. In terms of... It wasn't a long-term fix, but it did get me better health-wise.

Isabel: Obviously that's a whole different set of challenges to fac. In terms of just returning to Mexico and living in the US for so long, what was it like just reintegrating into Mexican society?

Ana: Integrating into Mexican society at first for me was inexistent in a way. To be honest, for me, my experience was just very negative. I didn't want to be here. So the whole first year of my stay, one was focusing on my health. That's all I basically did for a whole year. Two was basically just cry every single day. And three was question when I was going to go back. It wasn't a matter of “I'm going to stay in Mexico.” It wasn't until it was. So, it was hard, but... And the long term or in the long run, it's actually been pretty good.

Isabel: Really?

Ana: Yeah.

Isabel: In terms of, I guess... I know this is difficult. I'm really grateful that you're willing to discuss it. That's really important to hear. What do you think it was like being away from your family, being in a new place? Just all of those things?

Ana: I don't know. Here, I've met people who, immigrants. It's weird because in New York, I don't remember anyone, but here I've met a whole bunch of people and I think everyone has their own experience and I would compare it to, well, maybe not compare it. It's just, I feel that the fact that I didn't want to be here at first really affected the adapting into the culture because, essentially, Mexico, long-term again, has been wonderful. It's just, there is a lot of beauty, there's a lot of kindness, if you know where to look, or even if not, but just, there is a lot of good, but it took me a really long time to see it. It took me years to acknowledge that I was in a place that I could enjoy being in. So the first year adapting was just harsh. The second year onward after knowing, "You know what, if you're going to be here, you might as well do something with your life," I said. That's when I started to look for a job, I started to make friends, but I honestly refused to speak Spanish for the first four years of being in Mexico.

Isabel: Wow.

Ana: So a lot of people sometimes, for example, my Spanish has gotten much better, but when I meet new people now, one of the first question tends to be, "How long have you been in Mexico?" "I've been here 10 years." And they're surprised to why my Spanish is still... It's like, "We can still tell you have an accent." Or when I get really nervous, my Spanish tends to fuck up. And they're just like, "But you've been here 10 years." And it's kind of like, "Yeah. Speaking Spanish, I've only done it for about six years."

Isabel: Like been here?

Ana: Right. So for me, just integrating into the culture, it's been baby steps, I think. I think that's how I describe it. Just from the steps of mourning, right? Acceptance, denial. Or I don't even know them in order, but for a whole long time, it was just denial and then acceptance and now really just flourishing into it.

Isabel: And mourning, mourning your life in the US or?

Ana: Mourning, I think more than anything, the loss of familiarity. I don't really remember my childhood to be honest. When I grew up here, I remember my grandparents and that's about it. So also adapting here in that sense, was really weird. People going up to you and going, "Oh, I remember when you were so small." You would think that someone would appreciate that. You would think that, "Hey, that's cute." And for me, because of the attitude that I had, for me it was just like, it was annoying. And it was like, "You're a stranger to me. Why are you telling me about you knowing me, you don't know me." So, again, it was just really negative despite having people going to me and talking to me about my parents or talking to me about what they remember about my childhood. For me, it was not a welcome thing. So, it was, yeah. So, it was a mourning of the loss of familiarity.

Ana: So yeah.

Isabel: Do you think that your time in the US has shaped or it made you different, giving you different skills or anything that you can use here?

Ana: Well, English would definitely be a skill that I would say the US gave me or the States gave me. The reality is that English is a very valued asset here. I'm not sure, I think around the world, eventually, because it has become the global language. So 10 years ago, when I first arrived and nine years ago, when I first started looking for a job and such, that's pretty much what sold me or what... I had zero prior experience minus the bakery, and I didn't even mention it because it wasn't even... Really, if I remember correctly, I don't know if it was just one or two weekends, but I didn't like it. So I was like, "I'm not doing this." And without any experience at all, it's hard to get a job. It's funny because they always tell you, "we are hiring people," but it's only people with experience. So all of that is hard, but English sold me in the first and only job I went to for that. Aside from the fact that when I first got here, my Spanish was horrible. So many of the jobs that I initially started applying to were over-the-counter jobs. So it was like Blockbuster, when it existed, or the supermarkets and such and people obviously wouldn't hire me. I couldn't even have a conversation in my interview because of my Spanish. So it was a big no. And it wasn't until funnily enough, my mom, who was the one who found out about call centers here. And she asked one of my cousins to take me to one, and that's how I got my first job.

Ana: Right. Yeah. Other assets or-

Isabel: It can even be mentality.

Ana: Skills, right?

Isabel: Yeah, anything.

Ana: That the States has given me, I actually do feel that it has shaped me in many ways to be where I am now more than the States itself though. It's weird because you don't really... I feel like you don't really know how much is your parent, how much is your culture, how much is your siblings? So for me, English is number one. I think I really enjoy the culture that they have work-wise. Work-wise, or at least, despite the fact never having worked there in school and such, it's a lot of no bullshit, you're here to do what you're here to do. And one of the things that for me has been really hard to adapt to here is that the culture in that sense is very different. Despite the fact that Mexicans are such hard workers and they are, sometimes they're also very lazy. And so I appreciate having grown up in a culture where you don't really beat around the bush. It's direct, it's to the point and it's not about just...

Ana: For example, one of the things where I was discussing, previously or last week with a friend, is I'm the type of person that in a restaurant, if I don't get a proper service or something, I speak up. And not necessarily, not talking about rudely, just I speak up when it's normally not done here. People tend to accept or just sit back and let things slide by. And I don't think that that's something that happens a lot in the States, or didn't, not speaking about the current government, but when I grew up there, it was just flu—I remember that things were fluid. And I don't know if that's also because as a kid, you don't notice or know of all the issues that are going on around, but yeah, I would say to summarize: English, definitely; the working mentality of no beating around the bush and directness; and kind of going for what you want and not being rude about it, but just trying to get your point across without hurting others.

Isabel: Absolutely. Yeah. I think, I didn't consider that. Just some closing questions in reflection, you can answer this how you want. Do you consider yourself more Mexican or American?

Ana: Oh, that's a hard, hard question. So I consider myself more Mexican or American. It's funny because just yesterday, there's a fair here. I'm not sure if you're aware of it. It's called feria de las culturas amigas. it's in Chapultepec, which is basically, it's a fair that happens every year. A lot of whole different countries come, and they expose their culture. It's beautiful. Yesterday, I was there and we stopped by US, a friend of mine and me. It was really funny because he mentioned to me, he was like, “you're more gringa, so this is where you should be.” And I was just like, "Ugh, no." Basically, I don't know. I think 10 years ago, if you would've asked me, I would have said American, definitely. I think six years of finally accepting where I am, really adapting to, trying to adapt to where I currently am, I still wouldn't say…I'm leaning more towards Mexican, but I think, I'm not sure.

Isabel: And then if you had stayed in the US, what would you have done or like to have done?

Ana: Had I followed my life plan when I was in the States, I was accepted into Peace College. I wanted to study to be a physician. So I would've gone for it. I would've finished school, probably gone into med school, finished my physician career and become a physician. How? Even if I didn't stay there, just get the degree and work on getting myself to a position.

Isabel: And then now that you're in Mexico, you've been here for 10 years, starting to come in that acceptance phase, I'm sure it fluctuates. What do you think some of your current dreams are for your time in Mexico? What you would like to do here?

Ana: My current dreams in Mexico is, or are to actually travel. One of the huge benefits of being in your own country and working, or simply just actually being legal is traveling. And I hadn't realized that I really enjoyed it until I had it. So one of my biggest dreams is to continue traveling. I want to continue knowing Mexico and there are really, really beautiful places. I want to get to know other cultures and other countries, and that's one of the freedoms than being a legal alien or a citizen allows you to do. And I want to continue to grow professionally. I'm fortunate enough to work in a global company. So my big, big goal is actually to continue growing within the company and to be sent to a different part of the globe to work.

Isabel: I forget what a privilege it is just to be able to take my passport and go somewhere. In terms of like, we were talking about earlier, a binational identity. People say that you can, migrants sometimes, [feel neither] here nor there, you're either too American to be Mexican or too Mexican to be American. Do you see that as a phenomenon or how would you respond to that?

Ana: Definitely. I think it's a phenomenon to be too much of something, but I also think it has to do with people not really maybe exploring other cultures as much. One of the things that I have definitely learned in this experience, and I don't think I would have known, or it wouldn't have shaped me as it has, is migrating here and having to adapt to the culture and to the country itself, has shown me or opened my eyes a lot in terms of, you know, everyone, as an individual is just who they decide to be. When you don't have that perspective, honestly, when you grow up... Putting it simply, when I first got here, and I considered myself a lot more American than anything, quirks about people annoyed me or not their quirks, just their ways of certain expressions or it's a way of doing something. For me it was just like, "Ugh, that's so not what I'm used to or that's so not accepted." But now it's more, I feel that I've become more flexible in that sense, with people, with culture, with everything. And yeah, I don't really think that you open your eyes to that until you have to live it. And so I definitely think it's a phenomenon to say you're too much of something, but I don't agree with it.

Isabel: That's perfect. I'm all set. Is there anything else you'd like to add before we wrap up?

Ana: I think it'd be really great for people to just probably do this kind of thing, and I’m grateful that someone started it, grateful that someone's doing it, and I really hope that it reaches a scope where everyone kind of becomes interested in this and not necessarily for my story or anyone's story, just because I think that sometimes humans forget we're all humans and it doesn't matter whether you're Afghani, whether you're Haitian, whether you're Dominican, Puerto Rican, et cetera, whether you're... So, it's important to know that no matter what background you come from, you're human, you just have to get to know the person. Yeah, there are assholes out there, of course. Everyone has that. Yes, there are really nice people and awesome people, but it's just the person and not their background. So that's it.

Isabel: I wouldn't even want to add my voice. That was so perfect. Thank you so much for sharing and contributing to this. I also hope that it can reach that scope and bring some humanity to people who maybe don't see it right now. Perfect.

Ana: Thank you.

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