June 13, 2018
Mexico City, Mexico
Growing up undocumented
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*To hear more about Luis listen to the playlist above
Anita: If you could think back on your experience in the U.S. what would you say is the best part of it, and what was the worst?
Luis: If I had to choose the best part it would be living with my grandparents. I was five years old when they took me into the United States.
Anita: Your grandparents?
Luis: Yeah. So, sadly, my mom and my dad were having a lot of marital problems between them. So, the thing is that my grandpa, he didn't want me to live as he lived with his parents and stuff so, he kind of said, "I don’t know, screw it. I'm just going to go ahead and take this kid." I have a brother, but my brother was already eight years old, so he knew what was going on and he loved my mom more than anything. But I was a kid. I didn't know what the hell was going on.
Anita: How old were you?
Luis: I was five years old at the time. My brother, he's three years older than me. So as far as I know, I was just in love with my grandparents. Not so much with my mom, not so much with my dad because they were having a lot of problems between them. So, when I was five years old, they asked me if I wanted to go with my grandma, with my mama, or my papa. So I just had to choose between them. And my grandpa was not amused by that. He didn't like it, so he said, "Why don't you come with me?" He gave me that option, to a kid. "Do you want to come with me? I travel a lot and I like going to a lot of places." So, he said, "Yeah, do you want to come with me?" And I was like, "Yeah, of course!" I didn't know what the hell I was getting into to be honest. So, I arrived into ___, Utah when I was five years old, and from there, I just started to learn a little language, to hang out with different kinds of kids, to live without my mama or my dad or my brother of course. And I think that was the best part, to try to experience something new. Something new from the beginning.
Anita: So, you grew up in ____?
Luis: Yeah ____ It was a big apartment place. It was full of Jewish people. I loved it because it was so quiet. I think that was the best part of living with my pa because he was more like my friend. He was more than friend and he was my parent. So I liked that.
Luis: But the worst part was knowing that I could not go back as easily as I would like to because I was not a citizen. When I was twelve, my pa used to explain to me what was I doing there, or what role I had in that society. And it was difficult because knowing that no one liked me because I didn't have any papers, all that hate that people has to refugees or foreigners. Because whenever I went to school… Here is an example. There was—I never knew her name‚ but there was a girl that's committed suicide because she was, they bullied her every day. She was bullied every single day of her life and that just made her feel horrible, like crap.
Anita: Where was she from?
Luis: I think she was from the Midwest. I believe she was... she practiced—I don't know the name of her religion. She was from the Midwest. So, when I heard about her, and what I heard on my high school that she was dead because of all that horrible stuff they told her, it's just like, that could've happened to me. If I didn't know my kind of friends, if I didn't have the kind of friend circle that I have, that could've happened to me. I would be feeling like crap every single day.
Anita: Did you face discrimination as a Mexican?
Luis: Well, there was this gang over there that just, they were a bunch of Latinos and a bunch of Mexicans, tried to pull kids like me over there. But mostly it was drugs, mostly it was gang members, that kind of stuff. But my pa didn't like me hanging out with those kids. There was one day that I did hang out with those guys. There was this kid, ___, just like my brother. So, it was weird. ____ used to hang out with friends on a Shelby. He had this whole ass Shelby. He was fifteen and he was already driving. He already has his permit or something whatever. So they used to hang out with this car and they invited me over.
Luis: I was just hanging out with them in that car. They were smoking joints and stuff. They asked me if I wanted to smoke and I said no. My pa always told me not to smoke. But anyway, when my pa knew that I was hanging out with those kids, he went crazy. He went like just ballistic on me: "I don't want you hanging out with those kids. They're bad apples" and stuff like that. And I knew it. But, of course, he had said that in Spanish because whenever he wasn’t angry he would just transform back into this calm, relaxing white dude. [Interviewer laughs].
Luis: He just went ballistic Latino on me, he just started saying every single bad word in Spanish that he knew to me. And I was just like, "Okay." I knew when I screwed up and I had to apologize. It was just that kind of stuff. I never suffered discrimination because the kids on my block, they were always nice to me because I looked like a white kid. I talked like a white kid. So they always assumed that I was a citizen. They never asked me, "Hey, where do you come from or why do you speak like that?” or stuff like that.
Anita: Did you feel American?
Luis: Yeah. Most of the time. Most of the time I would just feel like a white kid. But I knew, of course, that my pa was Mexican. I knew that my grandma was Mexican. I knew where they came from and I knew they're… I like to be in touch with my traditions, some traditions. We used to celebrate Día de la Independencia, the sixteenth of September. We always tune in the internet, whatever the hell they were doing in el Zócalo or stuff like that. So yeah, it was pretty good. I was in touch with some traditions. Mostly I didn't do any kind of American traditions like Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Anita: You didn't?
Luis: No, I didn't. No, I still don't know what the hell is wrong with Thanksgiving and stuff like that. Never liked turkey anyway. So yeah, it was good and I never suffered any kind of stuff.
Anita: So, you didn't have friends who invited you over For Thanksgiving.
Luis: There was one time. ____ he invited me over for Thanksgiving, but my pa was like, "I don't want you getting used to that kind of stuff because we're not going to celebrate it." I was like, "Okay." So yeah, I just went over and said hi and ate a little bit of coleslaw and that’s it. I just went out. Never liked coleslaw anyway. So, it was good. It was cool. So that was my best experience, and the bad experiences were just mostly, just hearing what was wrong with my role in the world, or where was I standing as far as a citizenship would go. I don't know how to explain that. I would say that the worst part of living in the United States was knowing that I would never be a full American. Knowing that I was not a part of America. Well, America as a continent, it's a different thing. Knowing that I was never going to be a USA citizen. Knowing that most people hate foreigners. Most people just hate people from another country.
Anita: Is that what you felt?
Luis: I felt welcomed on my side because the people that I knew were always kind to me.
Anita: So, where did you get this hatred from?
Luis: Mostly from the news. Mostly from all the people. Mostly from, I don't know, people coming from Kazakhstan, or people coming like a refugee from one of those—like Syria for example. People coming like a refugee from Syria and going to another country that they don't know, but they can't stay in their own country. So I don't know. It's just that—
Anita: You identified with them?
Luis: Mostly. But I don't know, I think I was just lucky. I was definitely lucky because I didn't have to feel the hatred. I didn't have to feel the horror.
Anita: But it was something that you were aware of inside you. Is that what you're saying?
Luis: Yeah. It was mostly something that I knew. If I went with one of my friends and tell him, "Hey, I'm not a US citizen. So how do you feel about it?" I knew he probably would've accepted me because we knew each other for so long, but I don't know, there was always that doubt inside of me. That like, “What if he tells all the other kids? What if they start treating me like they treated that girl over there?”
Anita: So, you didn’t tell your friends?
Luis: Nope. They always assumed that I was a kid that they knew from the neighborhood. So yeah, I guess I was just lucky or maybe I just remained silent.
Anita: So, you kept that secret?
Luis: And I think that was good.
Anita: Is that what your pa told you to do?
Luis: Yeah. I think that.
Anita: He said, “Don't tell anyone that you're not a U.S. citizen?”
Luis: Mostly, my pa was telling me, "Hey, I know that you are proud of being American and Mexican at the same time, but don't go telling all the people that you know because most people don't get it. Most people just don't like hearing that you are not a citizen. Most people don't like hearing that you're from Mexico because whenever they hear that there's a Latino in their neighborhood, God, they go crazy. They might go batshit crazy. They're going to start rocks at you.” That's an exaggeration of course. But I've heard some horrible things that they did to people in my neighborhood. Like, I don't know, going inside their houses, trashing down their places, just that kind of stuff. There was always a fear in the back of my head which was like, “What if you tell the wrong person? What if you say something that you shouldn't have said? What if you mess up?” Living with fear is horrible. But most of the time I was okay. Most of the time it was cool.
Anita: When did you come back here?
Luis: I came back here when I was sixteen.
Anita: And how old are you now?
Luis: I'm twenty-one right now. So, my grandma was diagnosed with cancer. She had lung cancer and she died when I was thirteen.
Anita: Your grandmother?
Luis: My grandmother died when I was thirteen.
Anita: In the US?
Luis: My pa never got over it. He never got over it because they always told me when on dinner, on every familial dinner that we had, they always joked about how they were soulmates and stuff like that. They always joked about it. But I knew that it was true because they had been married for almost fifty years. They married when they were twenty-one or twenty-something when they married, so that was just like a love story for me.
Anita: Did they have papers?
Luis: I believe that my pa did, but not my grandma and not me. So he was the only citizen that I'm aware of. So, when she died, it was just horrible for both of us. I cannot describe how I felt that day. [Pause]. But mostly that didn't hurt as much as when my grandpa died. That didn't hurt as much. It was like a blow to the face when they… [Pause]. It's still hard for me to talk about this kind of stuff. So, I'm sorry if I just tell a little bit, it's just, I don't want to start crying.
Anita: It's okay to cry you know.
Luis: Not for me. It's okay. So, I received the news that he had cancer too. He was developing cancer.
Anita: Your pa?
Luis: He was developing cancer and it already had started developing. What's the name of this thing when the cells just start going crazy and they start—
Luis: Metastasizing. So, he had three months to live. That's what the doctor said.
Anita: And how old were you then?
Luis: I was about to turn sixteen.
Luis: So, it was May when they told him that he was going to die. They said, "You got three months tops man, you already have cancer in your brain so you're going to die. I'm sorry but you're going to die." And when I heard that, just… Sorry, I just start shaking whenever I remember. And I don't know, he just started making preparations for when he was not here for me.
Luis: He said, "You have to find a job. Do you want to go back to your mom?" And I was like, "I don't want you to die. Why the fuck are you doing this to me?" I'm sorry, but just I was so angry at him because he always smoked. He was a smoker, he was a fucking chimney. The guy was a chimney. My grandma used to be a chimney too but [pause] him leaving me alone in there was the worst thing that could happen to me. Because I didn't know how to live by myself. I was sixteen. I didn't know what the hell was going to happen to me. So, the last time that I saw him, I saw him in his hospital bed, he said, "It's better for me to stay here. You're not going to take care of me. I don't want you taking care of me. I want to go through this alone. Okay? So I want you to keep going to school, keep doing your stuff."
Luis: At that time, I had a part time job at a cafeteria running around the block. On the back of the block, there was a cafeteria and we knew the guy that was running the cafeteria, so he said, "Yeah, of course I can give your kid a job, part-time job, of course." So, I went out of school at 3:00 PM, whenever I went out of West, I went to work. I got like twenty bucks, fifteen bucks every day. So it's good. I mean, I was sixteen, I didn't ask for much, so it was good I guess but—
Anita: This is when your pa was in the hospital?
Luis: He said, "You have to be prepared for when I'm gone, you have to be ready. You have to know what to do."
Anita: How old was he?
Luis: He was seventy-two when he got the cancer diagnosis. It was just, I don't know, I just feel so much regret for the last time that I saw him. I told him that I fucking hated him: "I hate your fucking guts because you kept on smoking and you knew that it was bad for you, but you kept on doing it. You didn't give a shit about me because you knew that I was… Now you know that I'm going to be alone and you didn't give a fuck. So, you kept doing it, so fuck you man." And that's the last thing that I told him. I told him to fuck himself.
Luis: That's my biggest regret because he was my friend more than my dad. He was my friend. He was my best friend so I don't know, it's just, that's the last thing that I told him. And I was out with a few friends on my house. He was alone, of course, and we were drinking. I knew that I shouldn't be drinking but, you know, stupid things that kids do and stuff like that. So one of my pals came back and he said, "Hey man, so my mom told me that your pa is going to die tonight. That’s what the doctor told me.” So I just, I didn't go to the hospital. I didn't want to go. I didn't want to see him like that.
Luis: So, when they gave me the news, I called the hospital to see how he was doing. They told me that he died. I went over there and, well, of course, they told me what they were going to do with the body: "He has insurance, so that's good. We're going to take care of the body. In his will, he asked for cremation so we’re going to take care of that.”
Luis: I came back to my house. I closed the door and I trash the fucking place down. I didn't know what to do. I just started breaking stuff. I didn't know what I was going to do. I start breaking things. I threw chairs over there. Every single smashable thing that I saw, I just threw it. Whatever I saw. I don't know. I just kept going to school.
Anita: You were all by yourself?
Luis: They gave me his ashes, so that was good. I didn't know what to do. I just left them there. Like if it was decoration, I just left it—
Anita: Did you have contact with your mom?
Luis: Occasionally on Skype. I knew that my pa used to send some money over here just because my expenses and stuff like that. He used to send money to my mom. So, stuff like, "Hey, here's the money that I, you know, for the kid. For my brother and for me." He was a good man, he was a good guy mostly.
Anita: So, what happened then?
Luis: It's okay. So I spent almost three weeks by myself drinking, smoking, whatever the fuck I encountered over there. I started hanging out with those kids that he didn't want me to hang out with. I started smoking stuff that I didn't have to smoke. I started putting whatever shit I found into my body and it was horrible. Whenever I was drunk, I thought about him more and more, and I just got more and more depressed.
Luis: Whenever I went to school, some kids just hug me and they were like, "Hey man are you okay? Do you want to stay with us? You can stay with us man."
Anita: They knew you were alone?
Luis: They knew me well. I have friends, but I never had a best friend, so I never had anyone to just go to his house, hang out, stuff like that. I was more like a loner. I never had any real friends because I didn't like it. So they told me, "Hey, if you want to come to my house, if you want to stay with me it's okay. You just have to tell me." I said that I was fine. I went to school, I went to work, I went back to my house. I used to ask this… homeless guy that I used to give him some money so he could buy me beer or whatever kind of alcohol he could get his hands into. And he gave it to me and started drinking [Pause] and that's when I started talking with my mom again, like regularly. Every day, I just came back to the house and I never told her that my pa was dead.
Anita: You didn't tell her that your—was it her dad? She didn't know her father was dead?
Luis: No because we never spoke about that kind of stuff. We just mainly joked about what was going on in the country or what did she did that day or stuff like that. But yeah, I never told her until one day. I just couldn't bear it anymore. I just started crying and I told her, "He's dead, what am I going to do?" And she said, "Do you want to come back?" She started crying of course, but she said, "Do you want to come back? I can bring you some money. I can go for you, but you have to tell me." And I said, "Yeah, I want to go back. Can you do something for me?" She sent me some money. She sent me like 150 bucks, $150 something like that. She sent it in Mexican pesos. So I had to change it at a bank and I just took a bus near the border and I crossed by myself. I heard from a guy that chocolate and chiles secos are the thing to keep you warm at night because, holy shit, in the desert the fucking nights were horrible. It was horrible. It was hell. If I'm honest with you, it was hell.
Anita: On your way home?
Luis: Across the border. I just jumped the fucking fence. Didn't give a shit, but I said, "If one of these officers are going to catch me, then go ahead."
Anita: But you were crossing the border to go back home?
Luis: I was crossing the border to get into Sonora. When I crossed the border, I could just pretend that I was never an U.S. citizen. I can just pretend that I was never in the USA at all. I could just pretend that I'm just a Mexican kid in need or I can buy a bus ticket to wherever the fuck I'm going. My mom said, "You can just cross it. Just let an officer catch you trying to cross the border. Try to be as dumb as possible, so they can catch you."
Anita: So that they would put you on a bus home.
Luis: Exactly but—
Anita: I understand. So as if you were crossing illegally into the US.
Luis: So it could look like, yeah so.
Anita: Oh God. Okay I get it.
Luis: But no, I don't know if it was luck, I don't know what the hell it was, but no one catch me. No one saw that I was crossing. I don't know why there was a lot of fucking trucks, there was a lot of people running around border just making their patrols and stuff. But I don't know, I just didn't want to be caught because I knew for some guys that when they got caught, they just beat the shit out of them, and they just bring them back to Mexico. But no, I just didn't get caught. I crossed the fence. And I started running as fast as I could.
Anita: Into the U.S. or into Mexico?
Luis: No into Mexico. I just crossed the fence. I remember that I tore my pants going in the way back because I was never an athletic kid. So I tore my pants and just feeling the wind going through your body and just feeling that chill. That was horrible.
Anita: So, you made it back to your mom?
Luis: She greeted me in one of those horrible, no-one-knows-the-name-of- cities of Durango, so we just bought some tickets and we went into Mexico City. I remember at the time that I saw her, she just started crying because she said, “Look at how big you are. You look so handsome." And I was like this. I didn't know what to say. She started crying and she said, "I'm so sorry that he had to die for us to get back together. I'm sorry that my father had to die. I'm so sorry." But that was it. That was pretty much it. That's the story of how I got back in here and it's just that knowing that I'm never going to have the chance of saying sorry I—
Anita: He didn't take it that way.
Luis: I sure hope he didn't.
Anita: He didn't.
Luis: I just felt so much guilt. My mom—
Anita: He probably didn't even hear you.
Luis: No he was still awake.
Anita: But you do know that he didn't hear. That's not what registered.
Luis: I sure hope so because if I could, I’d go back and sit and tell him how much I love him, how much I was grateful for him raising me, of making me the man that I am today. I just feel so much regret of not doing the things that I was supposed to do. You know?
Anita: He'd be pretty proud of you if he could hear you now.
Luis: I hope. Whenever they talk about heaven or hell or stuff like that, I don't really believe in God or something like that, but if it exists, God, I sure hope he's not angry with me.
Anita: He’s not angry at you. He loved you deeply. You were a good kid.
Luis: Yeah, thanks. [Pause]. I'm sorry. I just, I don't know how to deal with this. I still don't know how to deal with this.
Anita: And do you talk to anyone about this?
Luis: I still go to therapy sometimes because most of my life I've been dealing with anxiety and depression and stuff like that. My pa knew it. He was just like that guy that it's, he was always there. He was always there. Whenever I came back from school, he was like, "Hey man, are you there? Do you want to talk? Are you feeling good?
Anita: And now?
Luis: Now I'm just trying to cope up with it because I know that my life is here now and—
Anita: Do you like life right now?
Luis: I like it so far. I mean it's not quite there, but it's not quite here either. I don't know if that makes much sense. I know things can never go back the way they used to be, and I know that things are always changing, but I think I just have to accept it and I just have to get over it.
Anita: Do you live with your mom?
Luis: Right now, I'm living with my mom and my brother. So they've been pretty supportive. Sometimes they're supportive. They just try for me to be the better version of me that I can but it's difficult sometimes.
Anita: Did you finish high school?
Luis: Nope. I was in senior year, I was about to finish when I received the news that my pa was going to die. Sometimes I skipped classes, hang out with friends.
Anita: And since you've been back? Have you gone back to school?
Luis: No, I left all my documents. I left all my diplomas and stuff, they are over there. I tried to go back to school, or preparatoria as they call it here, but, nope, I can't go back because I don't have anything that proves that I was studying. For the Mexican government, I'm just a nobody. You have your little paper that shows that you were born here, but that's it. You don't have any other thing that proves you are a citizen or stuff like that. Luckily, I was able to print out that little card that shows that you're a… You know, the card to vote, that kind of stuff? But that's it. That's pretty much it. But yeah. I'm trying to live every day trying to not to think about it too much.
Anita: So, you're in this Hola Code program?
Luis: Yeah, I was part of the cohort one. I was working in a call center at that time and mostly for returnees, it's mostly that. Work in a call center and that's it. You're good. But to be honest, it's pretty horrible. It sucks working in one of those places because you're basically one of those, they call them pochos, you're basically one of those kids that, it's not Mexican, it's not a U.S. citizen. So, you're kind of in the middle and no one kind of knows how to treat you. So it's weird. And I was just down there smoking, thinking, "Hey, is this going to be my whole life? Am I going to keep working in this kind of stuff?"
Luis: And I was just thinking that. And then ___ approached me, and she was like, "Hey, I love your tattoo" [Imitates voice]. And I was like, "Thanks." "Hey, take one." And I was like, "Okay.” “Bye." She just ran away. And I was like, "Cool, what the hell is this?" And I started reading it and it was a program. It said, "Do you want to know how to win 20,000 pesos a month?" And I just was like, "That must be a lot." So, I just went over to Hola Code to one of the speeches that they were giving. And I was fascinated. I was fascinated because I never… As a kid I knew, well, I had gadgets all my life and I've been growing with technology all my life. It's just, technology's just always at your side and you know how to use it.
Luis: But to know how to code has been one of my great escapes. Like whenever I had to vent or I had to, I don't know, I was just angry, I was just depressed, I just came to school with all these people that I never knew in my entire life, I had never seen them. It was just new. It was just something fresh, to start.
Anita: Do you write?
Luis: Do I write? When I was in high school, I was in theater, and I loved it, but no, I never. I like drawing more. I draw most of the time. No, I don't write. I would like to but yeah—
Anita: You're an amazing storyteller.
Luis: Thank you. I don't know.