June 6, 2019
Mexico City, Mexico
Making his parents proud and having an impact in Mexico
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*To hear more about Juan listen to the playlist above
Anne: Let’s start by you telling me a little bit about the circumstances behind you coming to the United States, whenever you came, and how old you were, what your impressions were, what motivated you or your family to come.
Juan: Why I had to come back to my school?
Anne: Why you went to the US in the first place.
Juan: Initially when I was five years old, my dad went to the US to work. He was there for three years, and then he was able to save up money to have my brother and my mom cross the border and be with him. My dad, I don't know why he chose Utah, but in specific, Provo. That's where I grew up.
Juan: Yes, Provo [Chuckles]. What my dad always says is that he wanted to provide us with a better future because my dad comes from outside of the city, like the states in the south of Mexico. He lives in the small villages where the houses are still made out of mud or their houses are barely standing—where the actual Mexican culture comes from. I guess we could say the indigenous people. That's the kind of place that my dad was coming from. He just wanted to provide us with a better future than he could provide us here in Mexico. He wanted us to go with him to the US and to be able to create a better future and better opportunity for us.
Anne: Were you living in that rural area before you left?
Juan: No, before I left, I was living here in Mexico City, but not in the center. I was living in the outside of the center, where they were barely making houses. In a way it is, as well, rural parts because the conditions that we lived in weren't the best. We did have a roof over our heads and we did have food, but things could have been better when I was younger.
Anne: What did your dad do when he was working in Utah?
Juan: From what my dad told me is, initially, he worked in a farm… I think it was strawberries, something to do with fruit. He would pick them out, but I think he was there for a year, a year and a half, he saw that he wasn't making much money so he started to get into the construction industry. That's where he was able to save up money so we can go with him, and after that, he's always been in the construction industry.
Anne: Did you cross the border with your family?
Juan: No, so my mom, she did have to walk when she crossed the border, meaning she had to get smuggled in, so she crossed by walking in the mountains. My brother and I … my dad found a lady who had two young sons who looked like us. What she did is when it was night time—I was eight, my brother was nine, I still remember we were in the back seat—and then, like any other family, we crossed the border.
Juan: The guy from immigration, he just dimmed his light at us and they let us pass, so we didn't struggle. We just crossed with the car like normal, but my mom, she did struggle. I think she took three weeks. From what she tells me, it's the worst thing that could happen to her. Because whenever immigration were close by, they had to hide. I guess it's do or die because people do die when they cross the border and she's one of the lucky ones that was able to make it back to their families.
Anne: It's a rugged trek.
Juan: Yes, it is.
Anne: You immediately went to Provo, Utah. Did you know any English?
Juan: No, when I went to Utah, I went into 4th grade and then I didn't know any English. What did help was that the elementary that I went to, they had an ESL—I think it's English Second Language—available for people who didn't know any English, so that helped out a lot. My brother and I didn't know any English. My mom didn't know any English. My dad didn't know any English. It was just rough.
Anne: How long did it take to learn?
Juan: To learn, I guess you could say by the end of high school my English, it still wasn't fluent, but the accent wasn't there as much. After I graduated high school, when I was in call centers, that's when I was able to practice my English on the daily, and I was trying to copy the way that natives spoke it. But it took me 10 years to be able to—
Anne: But you were studying in an English school.
Anne: You just felt your English skills were not great.
Juan: Yes, they weren't great.
Anne: Did you make friends in school?
Juan: Yes. You could say I was lucky because I was able to make friends and I was able to adapt to their lifestyle and to their culture, but there's other kids who had the same situation as me and they weren't able to adapt. The Caucasian kids, they just didn't accept them—as in, for me, they did accept me. I don't know if it's because of the way that I was or my personality, but I didn't have much trouble with that.
Juan: I did see that other kids who had the same situation as me, they didn't get accepted because—I don't know in that scenario what people looked at or why it was that I was lucky to get accepted when others didn't.
Anne: How about your brother?
Juan: My brother the same. I guess we were into sports, we played soccer, we went to school activities. In a way that also helped us to be able to adapt and to get along with other kids. I guess we didn't close our circles or we weren't closed-minded, it was other worlds. We just wanted to learn from the different culture. We didn't really struggle that much to adapt, but then again, there's other people who do struggle.
Juan: I still remember in high school, my high school friends—I was in the high school soccer team, so I would talk to all of the white kids, but there were people like me who came from Mexico or came from other countries from Latin America, who … My friends who were white, they were all nice to me, but when they were talking to the other kids that were not in their circle, I could see the racist part would come out.
Juan: They would tell them, "Go back to your country,” or “You can't even speak English right." Even if I didn't speak English right, they wouldn't tell me anything because I was their friend. Since the other people that weren't their friends, they would be mean to them. I guess I never really stood up for that. If it doesn't bother me, then I'll just let it be. On my behalf, I was lucky enough to be part of their culture, but I know people do struggle and people do get rejected in school, in elementary.
Anne: Did you do well in school?
Juan: Yes. Even though English was a struggle, I always tried my best, and when I was in middle school, I would get As and Bs. Then, when I was in high school, like I mentioned, I was on the soccer team, which required for you to have good grades in order to play. I really liked soccer, so that encouraged me to keep my grades up to be able to play for the soccer team. So yes, I did have good grades, you can say.
Anne: What position do you play?
Juan: It depends. I could play center mid or forward. But ever since I got back to Mexico, I haven't played soccer. I guess it's a personal thing. I don't find soccer fun anymore. I did play soccer—my cousin who lives here with me, he has a soccer team. All of his friends play with him, but I just don't feel like I fit in, so I played a couple of games with his team and it doesn't feel the same. I don't feel the same playing soccer as if I were to be playing with my friends in the US, so I don't know. It's been a year, year and a half, since I played soccer. I just don't feel the same about it.
Anne: That's too bad.
Juan: Yes [Chuckles].
Anne: Do you follow the soccer leagues or national teams at all?
Juan: I used to be really into the teams, but not anymore. Right now my focus is on other things and on the things that I used to think of. Right now, I'd rather focus on other things than keeping up with teams.
Anne: What was family life like with you and your brother and your mother and father? Did you guys speak English at home? Did you do American things, activities? Do they work a lot? Tell me a little bit about family life.
Juan: Right now, my dad, he's always been the boss of the family. He's always worked, he works in construction, and as you know, Utah, with the climate change, it snows, it rains, all of the climates. Since he works in construction, he does work outside all the time, so even if it snows or even if it rains, even if it's minus five degrees outside, he still goes out and works because nobody's going to give him the money to provide for his family.
Juan: In a way, my dad, you can say he's one of those hard working men who doesn't look out for himself, but rather looks out for his family. In my house we spoke Spanish all the time because of my mom. To this day, she doesn't want to learn English even though we tell her to learn English. My little sister, she doesn't speak Spanish, she speaks more English and with her it's different. We tell her, "You have to learn Spanish because it's going to help you," but she doesn't want to learn.
Anne: Is she a citizen?
Juan: Yes, she was born in the US. So my parents didn't really adapt to the American culture. They always wanted to follow Mexican traditions, even when it's Mother's Day over there … I think here it's May 10th but over there, when is Mother's Day?
Anne: I think it's the second Sunday of May, so it could be different days.
Juan: We could take that as an example. They'd rather follow Mother's Day here in Mexico than over there. Also Christmas, I guess the one thing they did adapt to was Thanksgiving. We don't celebrate that here in Mexico, but they do celebrate there, and they did adapt that. Another thing, Easter day. You go out with your family, you hide the eggs as a tradition, no? They adapted to that, but here in Mexico they don't do that. They don't even know about that. In a way they wanted to keep their Mexican culture alive even though they were in the US, but they also wanted to adapt to the things that they did there.
Anne: You were enjoying school to some extent, and soccer. Did you get in trouble at all?
Juan: When I was in high school, I did get in trouble because I did get in a couple of fights, but to the extent to say that I was a trouble maker or I wasn't disciplined, or to say that I didn't care about school, no. I consider myself not a good kid because I did get in trouble, but a kid who cared for his well being as in school-wise. I wanted to graduate, I wanted to continue to college.
Anne: How old are you now?
Juan: Twenty four.
Anne: You wanted to go off to college, but that didn't happen or did it happen?
Juan: Right now I am in college.
Anne: That's good.
Juan: Yes. Yes.
Anne: In the US, it didn't happen?
Juan: My plan was, when I was 16 I had received DACA. I was one of the first ones who had received it—because that's when it had barely come out. I applied for it, I got it. I think I was a junior in high school. My first job was as a dishwasher, and then from there—
Anne: You got a green card so you could go to work?
Juan: I don't consider DACA as a green card. It's more like a permit to work.
Anne: A permit to work.
Juan: Yeah, I had DACA, so my plan was to graduate high school, work for one or two years, save up money, then go to college. That was my plan, but a situation happened—I think I was twenty. No, I was nineteen about to be twenty. I got accused of something, which was a really big deal, and it all went downhill from there. I got accused and then I was working one day and the cops came looking for me and they were like, "Are you Juan?"
Juan: I'm like, "Yes," so they're like, "You're being accused of this and that," and then I got sent to jail. I was being accused of a first-degree felony, so they were like, "If you're found guilty of a first-degree felony, you can take up to six to twenty years in prison." Right there, my whole life was—I hit the bottom. I was nineteen with a first-degree charge and it all went along, my parents, they got me a lawyer.
Juan: I was in jail for five months fighting my case and then they found out that I wasn't guilty, so this is something really strange because—
Anne: They found out you weren't guilty.
Juan: Yes, I wasn't guilty. I was proven innocent, but the thing is that since it was a first degree felony, they usually don't drop it down. This is what I found out when I was in jail—because you learn things when you're in jail—that when you have a first-degree felony, they drop it down to a second or third degree and then they give you a plea. How do you say it? Yes, a plea.
Anne: A plea.
Juan: That wasn't my case, because I couldn't live with the felony on my record. From a first-degree felony, they dropped it down to a Class A misdemeanor, so obviously I wasn't guilty at all. I was proven innocent after five months [Chuckles].
Anne: Couldn't they just wipe it out altogether? Why did it have to be a misdemeanor?
Juan: Because the state couldn't lose, that's the thing. When you're in jail, you learn a lot of things and my lawyer at the moment, he explained everything. If we were to take it to trial and the state loses, it's going to look bad on them. Obviously, they're not going to let me live clean. They're going to want me to take one charge at least. So, what they did was, from a first-degree felony, they dropped it down to a Class A misdemeanor.
Juan: They couldn't take off all of the charges because that would mean taking it to trial—it's going to cost a lot of money—so they were like, "Accept the plea deal and then you're free to go, but you will have the Class A misdemeanor. With time and with the lawyer, you can remove it from your record, but not a felony. A felony will always be on your record.” So, I took the deal, and then as soon as I took the deal, I was free to go, but immigration got me right there.
Juan: Immigration got me, they removed my DACA, and after that I started my process with immigration. I was in jail for, in total, eight months. Five with the state then three with immigration. I think I would have been able to stay if I was married to a US citizen or if I'd had a kid, or if I had something that tied me to the US. But since I was nineteen, I wasn't married, I didn't have any kids, I didn't have anything that tied me to the US.
Anne: The Class A misdemeanor, that's one of the misdemeanors that is disqualifying for DACA?
Anne: Did they know? I guess your lawyer knew that this was going to happen.
Juan: Yes. He knew that they were going to remove DACA.
Anne: Though he told you that it's the kind of misdemeanor that you could expunge from your record?
Juan: He did say we can stay, take it to trial, and here's the big dilemma. You could either win with the jury or you can lose with the jury. If you lose, then you can look up to twenty years in prison. But if you win, you live clean you know? But do you really want to take the chance? Taking it to trial does take a long time. It can take up to a year or a year and a half in jail, and I was already five months in jail. I'm like, "I don't want to be here anymore."
Anne: You said that you were accused of a felony. Was it a fabricated accusation?
Juan: Yes, fabricated accusation—do you mean was it made up?
Juan: Yes, it was made up. It was a made-up accusation.
Juan: The funny part is that once I was out of jail because … When I was with immigration, the judge found me … I wasn't a danger to society or anything like that. He let me off with a…How do you call it?
Anne: A bond?
Juan: With a bond, yes. Actually, it was a $10,000 bond. Then my dad came up with the money fast so that he could get me out of jail.
Juan: It was something that, like I said, I'm just glad it's over with but it's an experience that I went through that sometimes I do hate myself for putting myself in that situation because I could say, "Well, maybe that night I should've just stayed home. I shouldn't have gone out and I should've just…" Because at that time, I had a good job. My brother was doing good, my family was doing good, my parents, they would go camping every weekend or they would go fishing. They would go out.
Juan: I would provide help financially to my parents, so we were all doing good. My brother and I graduated high school. We were looking to our future—everything was doing good. We were looking into getting a house. Sometimes I do feel guilty. I’m like, because of the situation that happened for me, my parents' plans, they all went downhill and I'm just glad that they … Because one thing that I remember is that when they first took me in jail, they're like, "You have one call."
Juan: I called my dad and I was crying. I was like, "Dad, I'm in jail." He was like, "Why?" I'm like, "They're accusing me of this." And he just said, "Don't say anything. We're going to get a lawyer and just hang in there." My dad, he did everything in his power to help me out. He didn't know what happened [Emotional], but he believed in me because he knew that the kind of person that I was, and so then my mom ... All my friends, they didn't help me at all. It was my parents who went to the trials and stuff like that. [Chuckles]
Anne: How long have you been back?
Juan: I've been here for three years.
Anne: Is it hard?
Juan: At the beginning it was hard because … Getting adapted to Mexico and not being with my family, but I was determined. I'm still determined—like I told you, right now I'm in college. I'm halfway through my career and, just recently, two weeks ago, I quit my job so I can start to look into … Because I'm done working for another company. I want to start my own company, and I don't know if you met Mauricio, he's one of the teachers here.
Juan: You could say he's been my mentor now because right now he has his school of English and he's showing me the path of how I can be an entrepreneur. Right now, my goals are to, first of all, finish my career and then start off Airbnb. We're looking into that. We're looking for a potential house in Tepoztlán, which is an hour and a half from here, which is a really tourist part.
Juan: Hopefully, once we get that going, we can get some houses here in the city, in the center. Then that way I can manage that then pay off school and work with that. My main goal is to be able to pay back … So my parents can say that they're proud of me, that the help that they provided me, it wasn't for nothing. Because how I see it is this thing could have gone both ways. I could've come back to Mexico and then I could've been in depression and started hanging out with the wrong people.
Juan: Not go to school, not get a job, just not care of what had happened. But I decided to not go that route, to actually put an effort in my life, to have the ambition to grow as a person individually, also as a career, to grow. So, one day my parents can be like, "We're proud of you and we've always believed in you and the help that we provided you wasn't for nothing." I have a lot of goals in life. Actually, dealing with architecture.
Juan: My plan is I want to have enough money so I can build houses out of plastic—not in the center because it's already big enough. I want to build houses out of plastic in the outside of the city, in Ixtapaluca, Chignahuapan, the outside parts of the city where it's really rural, really rough sizes, and help back to the community, be able to provide with houses that they are able to afford, but there are also houses that are … How do I say it? Houses that are … I had the word.
Anne: Environmentally sound, maybe? Good for the environment?
Juan: Yes. Good for the environment. Yes, to have a decent home. Because not a lot of people here have that. Supposedly the law here says that every Mexican citizen has the right to have a decent house and obviously they don't follow that. I want to be able to provide that to the community. Right now, I'm not looking into the making the profit for me. I want to give back to my community, make it grow.
Juan: Because there's a lot of potential in Mexico that I didn't see because I was in the US, but now that I'm here, I see how my actual home country is. I know if I work hard, I can make an impact to my society. I can make a change, and that's pretty much my goal. I want to make an impact. I want to use my architectural skills and my construction skills that I'm developing right now.
Anne: That you're studying in school?
Juan: Yes, I'm studying architecture. I want to be able to … Right now, I'm starting to comprehend how I can make it possible, how I can make houses out of plastic. They're already making it happen in Colombia and they have another method of, here in Mexico City, making houses out of plastic. I want to come up with my own research but I know it takes time, it takes dedication. I'm willing to work for it because it's something positive that I want to give back to my community.
Juan: When I had first come back, my plan was to graduate from college and go back to the US, because that's where I feel happy, but that's no longer my vision. I want to stay here, I want to help out my country because I love Mexico. I love the culture, I love the people. But unfortunately, because of the politics, the corruption, Mexico isn't so well. I know me, as an individual, I can make an impact on society, on the communities. I know that with my career as an architect I can make it happen.
Anne: That's amazing, that's great, that's wonderful. You have great dreams.
Juan: Yes [Chuckles].
Anne: Do you think being in the US changed your life, changed you in any significant ways?
Juan: Yes, because I lived in Provo, where all the Mormons are, and most of them are humble, most of them are nice people. I guess I got used to that. So at the moment, right now, I don't think I will ever adapt to the way people are here in Mexico. I don't know if you've met Mexicans who are from not the center, but the outside of the cities, their personality is just a lot different than a US citizen. They have different thoughts, different priorities, which makes them have different personalities.
Juan: In that way, I am thankful that I grew up in the US, because the way that I am, I consider myself somebody who's humble. I don't really like to get in discussions or stuff like that. I'd rather just do my own thing, be respectful to everybody. The way you treat me is how I will treat you, that's the way I will always treat people with respect and stuff like that. In that way, I am thankful that I grew up in the US because I do have a different lookout in life.
Anne: What do you miss most about the US?
Juan: The vegetation, the nature, because I remember in the US I can go out in the soccer fields and there's actual grass. The mountains.
Anne: It's beautiful.
Juan: Yes. That's what I miss most about it, the nature.
Anne: So a couple of things to reflect on. When we talked to young men similar to you who went as children and parents were working in the US while they're growing up, a lot of them turned to gangs and criminal behavior. You did not.
Anne: What do you think the difference was?
Juan: I don't know. I guess some people… I would say my dad, he provided me with the role model. Because I told you, my dad is a hardworking man. Since we were little, we were nine or ten, he would make us go to work with him, even on the weekends, even if we would just go and pick up trash or even just to be there, he would make us go. In the way he taught us, that if you want something you have to go out and do it. No one is going to get it for you.
Juan: In my situation, my dad was a role model and he made it so gang affiliation or violence never came to my head. I had cousins. One of my cousins was gang affiliated and he is older than me for two years or three years, so I saw that he was in a gang and he had a lot of friends and, in a way, it did push me to want to be like him because I saw him, he had power, but I always knew that gang affiliation wasn't my thing.
Juan: Because, again, through sports, school, my dad, going to work, that helped me not get into that. I guess people who do get in gangs, I don't know if they feel alone or they feel by being in a gang you have a new family who has your back. That could also have them go towards a gang affiliation. You don't know their background as a house, if their parents are not well, or if they had a dad who was abusive or a mom who was abusive.
Juan: A lot of things come from home when it comes to gang affiliation, or the people that you hang out with, the people that you surround yourself with. Fortunately, I was surrounding myself with good people who came from good families and showed me different things in life that didn't have to do with gang affiliation. When I was in high school, there was a lot of people who were in gangs. I was friends with them, but to the point where I wanted to be in their gang or affiliated with them that just didn't come to my mind.
Anne: How about immigration? When you think about the immigration policy in the US, do you have suggestions for how it might change?
Juan: Right now, the latest news that I heard was they say that for the DACA people who have it, they're having a way for them to be citizens in the future, that they're not going to remove that. That's a good thing for my brother, because he's still over there and he still has DACA. One thing that I would want to consider was are the parents who actually do go out and who have been living in the shadows, who just go to work, go home, go to work and go back home, who just want to provide for their families, maybe look into those parents and help them.
Juan: I don't know if they get citizenship or get something so they don't have to be in the shadows. Because a perfect example, my dad, he's been in the US for twenty years now, and he's never received a DUI, he's never been in jail. He's received tickets, traffic violations, but in the twenty years he's been there, he's maybe had six or five. People like that, or like my mom, who's a home … How do you say? A home-stay mother who takes care of her daughter, who takes her to school, makes sure that her daughter is not home alone, is on top of her school, goes to the parent-teacher conference. In a way, maybe look out for those kind of people or immigrants who actually don't do any harm to society. I do know there's other people who are bad or are out doing trouble, getting DUIs, stuff like that. But there's people who hide in the shadows who are good people, hardworking people that just want to provide a better future for their family.
Juan: Maybe help them, provide them with DACA or something like that. A program for them.
Anne: You go back to Mexico and you got to college. Was it hard making that transition?
Juan: Yes, it was. The thing is, since I knew I was going to come back I was determined to go back to college. Before I came back, I made sure that I went to the state’s—I got my high school diploma stamped by the state, by the Provo School District. I got a stamp, I got all my papers before I came back so that made it a lot easier for me. Because I know people who come back and want to go to college, but they can't because they didn't do what they had to do before they came back and then they just give up.
Juan: They're like, "It's going to be so hard to get that, so I just don't want to do it." I thought of my future and I was like, "No, I've got to get this done," so I got it done. I came back, I put in my process of getting my high school diploma and all my years over there of studies renewed. Or how do you say it? Validated.
Juan: Get it validated, and it did take six months but I got the answer back. Everything is good and I was able to go back to college. At the beginning it was hard, because obviously everything was in Spanish, and my Spanish wasn't that good in reading or speaking or even writing. It wasn't perfect, but I did manage to do my best, and at the moment, from the six semesters that I've been in college right now, I've only failed one class. That was in my first semester and it was history.
Juan: Because, again, going back to the Spanish, it wasn't so good, that I wasn't able to pass the class. But now my Spanish is a lot better and, right now, I don't think I'm going to fail any classes because I'm set. In the beginning it was hard adapting to the classmates, to the culture and stuff like that, but I'm managing right now. I'm halfway through my career, I'm looking into different projects, like I mentioned, the Airbnb. I'm looking to finishing my career strong and start my quest as an entrepreneur.
Anne: That's great. It sounds like you've got great goals and that you'll be able to achieve them. One last question before we end. Do you think there's anything the Mexican government should do to help people coming back from the United States to integrate into society? Are there things that you see that are important to that?
Juan: Yes. There's a lot of things that the Mexican government can do. Well, personally, I have family here, my aunt, and she was nice enough to allow me to stay in her house. In that part, I didn't struggle to have a house, but there's people who do come back and don't have any family here, or they do have family, but they've been rejected by them and they don't have anywhere to stay. I don't know if maybe having shelters for them.
Juan: I know New Comienzos helps people who … Sometimes they do go to the airport and they do welcome them to Mexico. I haven't seen any other community do that for their own people. New Comienzos does stand out because they do go out of their way to make you feel at home. When I had just recently got here, New Comienzos helped me out as well and I felt like I was part of a community, that I wasn't alone, that I have somebody else to help me out.
Juan: If maybe helping out New Comienzos grow bigger, or making new communities for people who do come back, get deported, help them with shelters, work, emotionally. There's a lot of things that the government can do, a lot of programs that they can provide. For example, my program that I want to give out, making houses out of plastic for people who can't afford them. I can make them affordable so they can live there and they can have this at home.
Juan: Then, build a community where we all help each other, change the way people see things here in Mexico, have them have a different point of view in life, grow as a community, help each other out. There's a lot of things that the government can do, but, unfortunately, won't be done because of the current government that we have. When we get into politics, there's a lot of things that just— we all see positive things, but with all the corruption here in Mexico, it's hard.
Juan: Unless we change the government and we put somebody who's a doctor or an architect or an engineer to become president and they have a different point of view, not just the political view, we won't be able to change anything. It's more of a Mexico thing. I guess we're not going so far; we have Trump right now. I'm not sure how you guys feel about Trump. The way I see, we provide power to the wrong people all the time.
Juan: As a community, we always do wrong. When I was in the US, we had Bernie. I love Bernie, I wish he would have been president, but they chose Hillary instead, and Hillary lost against Trump. Then I come to Mexico, and we had all hopes that this new government was going to do positive things. He is making a change, but it's going downhill right now. My long-term goal is to be able to change the way people view things, because Mexicans can be selfish, they can be ignorant.
Juan: That's because that's how they were taught since they were little. What I want to do is change Mexico and take out all the potential that we have, because we have so much potential, we just don't do it, so does the US. The US has so much potential, one of the top ones with the potential, but because of right now with the leaders that we have, we're not able to provide it. Then again, I guess that's overall as a society. We want to change this, let's change this or change that, but we can't, because the person who is ruling is not going to … They have other things in priority.
Anne: Maybe you'll be a president.
Juan: I want to be president, but I want to make a change [Chuckles].
Anne: That's great. Well, thank you very much.
Juan: Yeah, no problem.