Anita Isaacs


June 9, 2019

Mexico City, Mexico

Being undocumented

1 of 6


*To hear more about Luisa listen to the playlist above

Anita: Let’s begin by you telling me a little bit about migrating to the United States.

Luisa: Migrating to the United States: okay. My parents had an extremely bad divorce - very, very, very bad divorce. My dad's family is on the wealthier side and a little bit on the powerful side, and my mom has no money nor connections, and she's poor. When they were divorcing, by the end of their marriage—I think it was the most awful marriage that I've seen—he was threatening her with taking us away and completely … you know she would never see us ever, so like a thief in the night, she grabbed my two sisters and I and she moved us to the States.

Luisa: My grandmother is an American citizen, and she's lived in the US on and off for about 50 years. My grandmother's Texan at heart and never learned English, but very, very Texan [Laughs]. My mother, she had to cross the bad way. She went through the desert, she went through the river. My sisters and I, we went through the bridge, like the regular crossing, but we used other people's papers. My middle sister, they cut her hair off completely, and I had to call her Jose.

Luisa: She had short, short hair. My sister's hair was up to her waist, and my mom just shaved it off and her name was Jose now, and it was a game. I didn't know what was happening, of course. We arrived to ____ California. We arrived at an apartment that we were sharing with about eight other people—my grandparents, my sisters and I, my mother, my uncles, then eventually my uncle's wife. One of my uncles got the opportunity to move to Chicago—a job opportunity—so he moved. I think after my parents divorced, all of my uncles saw us as their kids, because two of the ones that really took care of us never really had kids, so they loved us and they brought us in.

Luisa: We moved to Chicago with my grandparents because my grandparents were my second parents by this point. My mother is the eldest—she took care of seven of my grandparents’ children, so my grandmother really, really loves my mother. We moved to Chicago to an apartment on Green Bay on the East Side, and that's how it went.

Anita: Let me ask you a few questions going backwards. Was there any domestic abuse in your family?

Luisa: With my parents? My mother, yes. She doesn't like to talk about it. The older I get, the more she opens up, but it's not something that she likes to talk about. It was never in front of us, it was behind closed doors. I thank my father. He's a piece of shit, but I thank him for at least having the thought of not wanting to traumatize us. So yes, it was behind closed doors, but the more I get out of my mom, it was a lot of emotional abuse as well, a lot. I think there was some physical abuse. My mom's never touched upon it, but that's what happened. And then we got to Chicago.

Anita: Last time we spoke, you talked about how difficult it was to—

Luisa: To leave my dad?

Anita: ... to leave things behind.

Luisa: Of course. I grew up fairly wealthy in Mexico. I had a big, big house. I had two German Shepherds that ran around everywhere. I had a playroom, my own room. I had a great childhood. I went to private school. It was amazing, so to go from that ... My dad and I were inseparable. I have extremely fond memories as a child, and I remember I didn't want to go to my own room. I would sleep on top of my father. That was my place. They had to buy a king-sized bed because I would not leave my father's side. I would lay and sleep on my dad's chest always. Always, always, always, always, always, so it was extremely difficult to leave my dad behind the most. My dad was my world back then. But my dad, my friends, school—school was great, I loved school [Chuckles]—I had to leave it all behind.

Anita: How old were you?

Luisa: When I left, I was six years old.

Anita: The apartment you moved into—

Luisa: The apartment that we moved into in California was a one-bedroom apartment. It was a big complex and I remember it. There was a pool in the middle and there were a lot of families like us that shared a one-bedroom apartment. And there were eight to twelve people in this one space, and we were trying to find something bigger, but it was impossible.

Anita: Do you remember what your mood was like at that time?

Luisa: Jarring. It was extremely jarring. From one day to another, the move was extremely … it was jarring. One day, you have a family and you're happy, and then the next, you can't even speak the language. You can't communicate, you don't know where you're at. I felt like my whole world was tilted to the side.

Anita: How soon after getting to California did you move to Chicago?

Luisa: Within three to six months. It didn't take that long … immediately kind of. I think one of my uncles took it upon himself to take care of us, and since my mom … my mom at the time, we did not know she had a tumor in the back of her brain. Right where her brain stem is, she had a huge tumor there and we had no idea. Nobody knew. She doesn't remember a lot of this. I don't know if it's because of the emotional trauma or because of the tumor, but once we got to Chicago, it was evident that something was wrong with my mother and she started going to the doctor.

Luisa: Thank God for Cook County Hospital [Chuckles]. They don't charge you a thing, but she got the medical treatment that she needed. She had brain surgery. They removed the tumor and she had to be in therapy for a few years in order to gain … she couldn't talk. She didn't have movement in half of her face, so she couldn't speak because her tongue was numb on one side, so she had to have physical therapy. I went with her a couple times because I had to translate. Sometimes they didn't have people who would translate for my mother. At this point, I had already learned English, but she had to practice every single day. Still to this day, there are a few words that she cannot say.

Anita: She can't pronounce them or she doesn't remember them?

Luisa: She can't pronounce them. She'll talk like this [imitates] because she can't move half of her face.

Anita: Was the tumor benign?

Luisa: Yes, it was benign. Thank God for that. But she had an encounter with TB and then she was on medication for that. You know what I think it was? I think that all this negativity affected her [Chuckles], or I don't know if you believe this, but the law of attraction. I think that she really did not want to keep going and that affected her quite a bit.

Anita: When did you start going to school, in Chicago or in LA?

Luisa: I moved to Chicago and that's where I started going to school. I started going to school at the age of six. Unfortunately, the school that I went to did not have a bilingual program. I was stuck with Miss S. [Chuckles]. I'm never going to forget her … Miss S., lovely woman [Chuckles].

Anita: Is that sarcastic?

Luisa: Yes, [Chuckles] very sarcastic. Did not speak a lick of Spanish. Not one sentence. I don't think she knew how to pronounce anything, and she was as WASP [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] as you can get. This woman would get extremely frustrated with me—extremely—and I didn't know what was going on. To me, it was a completely … [Disgusted sound] it was mind-boggling how I could go from—I knew how to read and write in Spanish. I was a pretty smart kid. I knew how to read and write in Spanish at six years old. So I go into first grade and I can't even understand what my teachers are saying, so it was extremely frustrating and this teacher found it extremely frustrating as well, so she would lay me down face down half the day on the magic carpet where she would read stories to everyone because she didn't want to deal with it anymore. I told my mom—

Anita: Because she didn't want to deal with what?

Luisa: Deal with me anymore. I guess she didn't know where to put me. She didn't know what to do with me, she didn't know how to teach me, so her solution was to put me aside and not have to deal with me, so I had to pretty much be invisible for half the class. Just put my head down and not say a word. So I picked up English extremely fast because I had to [Chuckles]. I had to pick up English very, very, very fast or that was going to keep happening. I didn't want that to keep happening, so I picked it up.

Luisa: I told my mom about this and I remember vividly having a conversation with her and telling her, "Hey, you know what? This is happening at school," but I think my mom was going through so much stuff that she didn't know how to deal with it or she didn't … there wasn't enough of my mom to go around back then. I know now. I forgive her, but certain things … [Pause] I forgive her a lot for it now because I get it. It was extremely traumatizing. She had a lot of health issues and then this man who was her entire world just dumped her aside and she had to leave her whole life behind and everything she knew, all the comforts and work. She had never worked in her life [Chuckles]. I respect my mother a lot. She started going to design school for designing clothes and it’s pretty great.

Anita: Let's talk about that in one second. If you were lying face down on the magic carpet all day, how did you learn English?

Luisa: I was there for half the day, and this is something that I'm going to tell you that my teachers had told me in kindergarten. I could be sitting down underneath the table and playing around, and they would be teaching math and I could learn it. I'm an extremely fast learner—an extremely fast learner. I think I picked it up by just listening to it, and the few classes that I had, I picked it up. It was not that hard and I think at that age it's easier to absorb information, but I think it was mostly that I'm a quick learner.

Anita: Did the kids tease you? Were they friendly to you? What was it like in Miss S. class?

Luisa: In Miss S. class, I remember there were two boys who were nice to me, J___ and— what's his name? Sorry. I still know him. He's still a good friend of mine. O___. They both kind of spoke Spanish, so they kind of helped me out as well, but I wasn't allowed to speak to anyone. The teacher was not having it … She was extremely strict. I think she was the kind of teacher that should not have ever taken up teaching as a job because some people just don't have the vocation. Is that the word in English? They don't have that in them and I don't think she had it, but they helped out a lot. J___ and Osvaldo, thank you wherever you are now. I know O___ is getting married soon, so yes.

Anita: Were you bullied?

Luisa: [Pause] Not until later. I switched schools and then I was bullied at my other school. In this school, I think the school that I went into at first was extremely about academia. If you said the word “shoot,” it was a very, very bad word. I had never heard a bad word in my life [Chuckles]. When I moved schools, the new school that I got to was a lot higher. It was in a different area. We moved. My grandparents bought a house someplace else. It was a cheap house, but not in a good neighborhood, so the school that I had to go to was not a good school.

Anita: Miss S. school was a better quality school?

Luisa: Yes. That says a lot about the education system [Chuckles]. One of my best friends is a teacher right now. It's awful. Then I picked up reading pretty fast. I think in fourth grade was the first largest book that I read. It was the Bram Stoker's Dracula, the big one. That was the first biggest book that I read, and then I had an obsession with Roald Dahl. Roald Dahl was my thing. I loved Roald Dahl. The BFG, the Twitches, the Witches, all of it, I loved it. I loved it. I loved it. Matilda, Matilda. Oh, my God. I loved Matilda. Roald Dahl was a huge thing -- as well childrens’ books -- but I was also reading adult books at the same time. Around this time is when I started getting my obsession with the Holocaust, with all this tragedy.

Anita: Let's talk about that. We're talking about fourth grade?

Luisa: Yes, fourth grade.

Anita: Tell me about that. You loved to read, right?

Luisa: I loved to read. That was my escape from reality.

Anita: Tell me about Scholastic storybooks, and also tell me about where you would go and read.

Luisa: In eighth grade?

Anita: Yes.

Luisa: I'm not sure if you're familiar with this but in grade school, they give you this little magazine that's for Scholastic and they let you buy all these books. So my mom would give me a budget in order for me to buy all the books that I wanted, and when I was bad, her punishment was no more books, which murdered me [Chuckles]. That would kill me. That killed me. During the summer reading programs—I'm not sure if you know, but in the libraries, they give you prizes for reading a certain amount of books.

Luisa: I was always the top winner because … they knew me. I knew the librarians by name. They were my friends. I was there. I couldn't find a book, I would order it and within a week, they would have it. “Oh, your book is here.” I think you had a limit of twenty books and that would kill me because it's like [Groans]. But it was okay, too, because I'd go back to the library pretty often. It was a pretty great place. The library was amazing. So yes, Scholastic. I had a huge collection of books. My mom got a huge bookcase for me because I had so many books—so many.

Luisa: My favorite genre was fantasy, of course, because at that point, it was an alternate reality where magic and anything was possible. Harry Potter. I grew up with Harry Potter. Grew up with Tolkien, grew up with Eragon, grew up with the series for the Lady Knight, grew up with the Chronicler. Grew up with all these fantasy books. I grew up with them. I still read them over and over and over again because every time you read a book, you find something that you missed and I love that. So yes, reading was my thing [Chuckles]. I love reading.

Anita: Was there a space at home where you went to read?

Luisa: [Pause] No, I didn't have a specific place. Any place that was quiet at the moment. I didn't have a specific place.

Anita: You didn't only read fantasy?

Luisa: No, I read historical fiction as well. I had an obsession with the Yellow Fever and the Bubonic Plague. I had an obsession with the original Los Cantos [Los Cantos de Maldoror], The Iliad, The Odyssey, Dante's Inferno. I was fascinated with Dante's Inferno, and then I got into Boticelli, the man who actually portrayed Dante's Inferno. So yes, I was a huge reader [Chuckles].

Luisa: I was fascinated by human tragedy—extremely fascinated by human tragedy. There came a point where all I read was about the Holocaust, children's tales, Anne Frank's tales, and The Book Thief. I have a signed copy of The Book Thief because it is one of my favorite books ever. Have you read The Book Thief? [Exclamation] Great. I haven't seen the movie. Don't ever want to watch it [Chuckles], but the book … I don't know. [Pause] I don't know why I'm so fascinated by human tragedy [Pained Laughter]. And the Black Plague, huge thing. I got really into the Black Plague. That was about in the 1400s where Mr. Shakespeare was around and when Mr. Niccolò Machiavelli was around, as well. Yes, I was into history, historical fiction. I was into everything.

Anita: You read philosophy, as well?

Luisa: Yes. I've read Freud, Nietzsche. Crime and Punishment was a huge one. That one changed me a lot. There's this thought of, “are you above the law? Is anybody above the law?” Yes, I was big on reading. I loved reading [Chuckles]. Then absurdism. I'm big on reading [Chuckles].

Anita: You told me last time about your—

Luisa: Eighth grade teacher.

Anita: Tell me about it.

Luisa: Mr. R. is the best teacher I have had and he changed my life. Mr. R is a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful human being. [Pause] I had a lot of teachers that would not … They would question me and they would ... All the stuff that I would write, they would question if I was okay mentally because of all this darkness [Chuckles] that I would write about, because a lot of my stories or a lot of my poetry was extremely dark. I don't think that's a bad thing you know. I think that's just trying to get rid of the … it's a catalyst. You're trying to get rid of everything that's inside of you, and that's how I did it.

Luisa: Mr. R was the first one that recognized it as something good. We still keep in touch—beautiful human being. I knew this. He would speak to me like we were adults—like I was an adult. I was a thirteen-year-old girl and we had conversations like adults. I don't know how appropriate it was or what he saw in me, but we had conversations like adults. I would stay after class for hours just discussing books that he would give me, and he would give me books out of his collection for me to read.

Luisa: There was this one book by Clive Owen, I believe, something about the demons. I don't know. We had a huge discussion about that book. He would give me a bunch of books from his collection and we would discuss it. We would discuss the original. We would discuss Niccolò Machiavelli. I actually have “the end justifies the means” tattooed on me.

It’s tattooed back here. Realism to me was … it's real. Human beings are selfish by nature, but the beauty of it is that we have our own free will and we can go above our nature and we can do great things, so this just reminds me that I'm not just an animal that's looking for my own benefit, if that makes sense.

Luisa: But yes, Mr. R was beautiful. He was a lawyer. He was a criminal lawyer. I'm not sure what kind of lawyer he was, but he hated defending people who were guilty. That man—oh my God I love that man—he hated it. He hated defending people who were guilty. There's this program called the “Golden Apple Program” where you can switch from being whatever it is that your career is to being a teacher, and it's what he did. Beautiful, beautiful man.

Luisa: I'm not sure if you're familiar with Maus, the comic books. I painted this huge painting because I painted as well [Chuckles]. Yes, I paint, as well. It was another emotional or creative outlet that I had, and I painted this huge thing for him and he still has it. I've asked him about it recently and he'll take a picture of the painting. Yes, so Mr. R was someone beautiful and he taught me that [Pause] life is short and you need to seize the day. You need to take life by the balls [Chuckles].

Anita: Tell me about your mom's work.

Luisa: [Sniffles] Because of my mom, I got to meet extremely interesting people that opened up my worldview more so than it already was, because reading transports you to different places and different languages and cultures and you learn so much, and you feel like you have actually been there, but you've never been. It's funny, but that's how it works. My mom, she started working for this store [unclear] and she was doing her design school, and they specialized in Muslim attire and my mom was like, "You know what? I'm going to be independent," so she moves aside. She starts her own thing, and she starts making a bunch of clothes.

Luisa: I remember all of these black people coming to my home and they spoke Arabic with my mother and it was extremely [Chuckles] interesting to watch. We went to their homes, I think—[Pause] I don't remember his name, but my mom was extremely close to the main, main, main Muslim figure in the United States because there are not a lot of people who specialize in their attire. It's a very limited market. I think there's only about two or three stores that actually do it in the entire United States, and my mother was independent, so she was doing well for herself in that regard, and it was great. I got to meet a lot of people.

Anita: Was that strange that a Mexican woman was designing Muslim attire, either for your mother or for the people for whom she was designing the attire?

Luisa: It was strange at first, and I would see their faces when they would come like, “What…?” Then it just became normal. They became normal. It was completely normal. They were friends in the end. My mom was friends with some of these people in the very end. My mom's a beautiful human being. It was strange at first, but I think it was great. Ismael [Exclamation], that’s his name. His father died. He was the biggest figure and he took over.

Luisa: His wife or his ex-wife was Mexican. He spoke perfect Spanish, so he and my mother were very—they would joke around. It was extremely funny to watch because when other people were around, this big, big figure would joke around with my mom and everyone would be like, "Oh, my God. What's happening?" But my mom was just that kind of person. His sons, I actually grew up with. I know his sons, extremely handsome, very educated people, very, very, very nice. I visited their home quite a few times in Hyde Park. They were great people.

Anita: Something you said yesterday that you said you didn't tell me about was something about adoption.

Luisa: Yes. There came a point. We were in the [Pause] process of getting our permanent residency card in order to be able to go to school, and the lawyer let my mother know that me and my sister—my other sister—were not going to make it because once you hit eighteen, you're no longer under the case that you originally filed, so the best option for us would be adoption. We would be adopted by an American citizen in order to get our American status fixed, and that was something my mom and I contemplated for a long, long time, and she was going to go through with it, but my dad put a huge stop to that and was like, "That's not happening. You're stupid. That's not a thing. These are my kids. You're not letting that happen."

Luisa: It was going to be a family member, not a close family member, but these were the lengths that you go through to try to get through this. I didn't have a normal childhood. I never got to learn to drive. I didn't go to drivers ed. I didn't get to travel with my best friend to DisneyLand because my mom was so scared of—

Anita: Let's talk about that in a second. I want to ask you one more question and then I want to ask you about being undocumented. You said that you didn't see your dad for a long time, and then all of a sudden…

Luisa: Yes, my dad hired somebody to find us. My mom really did not leave any trace at all. She just pretty much left like a thief in the night, literally [Chuckles]. They eventually tracked us down and I got a phone call. We got a phone call. I think it was one of my grandparents who answered. Very reluctantly, they handed over the phone and it was my dad and I remember crying. I remember being hysterical. I remember being like, "Oh, my God. This is my dad. He's here. This is my dad. He's not gone.” It's weird, but I thought it was two different worlds and, in this world, I no longer can have my dad. That was the way I started to cope with it. The States were not my dad and this is where my dad was, so we were on different planets now. It was not something that was possible.

Luisa: Then my dad came to visit and I remember begging him to take me with him, and my mom was not having it. She was not having it at all. By this point, I think he had already remarried, but she was not having it.

Anita: Your dad came when you were how old?

Luisa: My dad came when I was about nine. That was the first time I saw my dad after three, four years?

Anita: You asked him to take you back?

Luisa: I begged him. I begged him to take me with him. [Pause] That didn't happen, my mom was not having that shit [Chuckles]. She was like, "No, that's not happening with us."

Anita: But she allowed him to see you?

Luisa: She allowed him. Honestly, I respect my mom a lot for never speaking badly upon my dad. To this day, she will not say bad things about my father. Whatever may have happened with them, she knows that that's on them and she knows that our relationship with my father is completely separate from their relationship, and I admire that greatly because I don't think I'd be able to separate the two that easily. No, she never spoke badly upon him, but I think ... My dad said this in the entire life that I'm his favorite child, and I think that was also the way of my mother getting back at him for everything that he did to her, which is not right, but we're human beings.

Luisa: When I would read, I would make certain facial expressions or gestures that reminded my mom so much of my dad that she would make me leave the room. She was like, "I can't see you right now. Leave the room. You're so much like your dad. Leave." It really affected her. I get it.

Anita: Tell me about being undocumented. When did you know? What was it like?

Luisa: Well, I think [Pause] our entire lives pretty much we were just … I was not allowed to tell anyone. I knew I was undocumented probably my entire life, but I think it never really hit home until certain things started happening. For example, my best friend, a Yugoslavian, her family is extremely very, very white [Chuckles]. Her grandparents are Yugoslavian. Fun fact, her grandfather was in the Second World War. I got a lot of good stories from him. [Laughs]

Luisa: He was a prisoner of war. [Pause] Her mother asked me—and I mean this girl would spend every single day at my home, or I would spend every single day at her home or her grandparents’ home. If my mom couldn't find me, she'd call L___’s mom and if L___'s mom couldn't find me, she'd call my mom, and that's how it was. Her sister would call me like, "Hey. Could you tell L___ that she needs to come on this day because we're going to have the family barbecue? You're invited, too, obviously." All family events I was invited to. I was at her cousin's wedding. That's how involved we were. We were best friends.

Luisa: Her mother, I remember one time she's driving me home, and she asks extremely aggressively if I am illegal or not. And I remember being scared like a deer in the headlights. “No, I'm not. I'm not.” I was so scared of this mostly because one of my uncles saw somebody—an ex-girlfriend, I think it was, pretty much accused him of being illegal. He was deported and we had this huge thing in our heads that if somebody knew we were illegal, we were going to be deported and ripped away from everything that we knew. So I was not allowed to tell anyone.

Luisa: To this day, none of my friends know that I had no papers. None of them. That's saying a lot because [Chuckles]—

Anita: What did your mother tell you? Did she tell you you're not allowed to tell this? This is a secret and—

Luisa: Yes, this is a secret. My mother did not allow us to talk about it. Even when it came up, I could feel my heart shake and my palms get sweaty because I was so scared of getting deported. That was such a big thing. I remember we went to this science center. The Argonne Science Facility—research facility. It's in Illinois, and when you go in—I'm not sure what kind of testing they're doing there—[Chuckles] but they ask you if you're an American citizen or not.

Luisa: J___, who was a friend of mine, was undocumented and she said, "I am undocumented. I am a Mexican citizen. I am not an American." She was put into a little room and she was not allowed to go in. She was just caged in there and that was very … that marked me like, no, I can't tell anyone. I'm seeing what's happening to these people. I can't tell anyone, so nobody ever knew.

Anita: Last time, you told me a lot about how being undocumented affected your life. Can you talk about that too?

Luisa: Being undocumented is being in the shadows. You feel this entire barrier between you and your friends and your teachers and the people that you're around and surrounding yourself with. You can never get too close to someone because you have this big thing lying in front of you. You can't let them know, so they don't really know you. It's a big part of it. You can't share the fear with anyone. You can't share this anxiety that you live with every single day. My mom was driving around and every time she'd drive, it was anxiety. I'd feel anxiety because what if she got pulled over? My mom—she’s an amazing driver—but what if she got pulled over? What if we got caught? That's it for everyone. We're done. That kind of thing affects you and you're not allowed to tell anyone. You have to live in the shadows. Nobody really knows.

Anita: You used a metaphor --

Luisa: Being undocumented in the States, I think it's like being a bird in a golden cage. That's what it is. You're not allowed to go anywhere. You're not allowed to move. You're not allowed to do many things, but you're in this pretty golden cage that looks nice and you have certain things, but you don’t know what it’s like out there. It's awful. It is. It's like being in a golden cage.

Anita: How did being undocumented affect your education?

Luisa: Being undocumented affected my education. The first time was when I wanted to apply to Whitney Young—when I wanted to go to a different high school. I had the grades for it [Chuckles]. I've always had the grades for it, but they were asking … I don't remember what kind of document they were asking for that scared me into not applying, and I was like, "You know what? Let’s not. I don't want to. It's not worth it if I get deported. I don't need to be—it's not necessary." So I went to my local high school, which … not the best high school, Washington High School, but they had the IB program.

Anita: Why'd you want to go to—

Luisa: Whitney Young? Because I've never felt challenged by any of my teachers. All their curriculums I've laughed at. I run circles around my teachers and most of them hated me because I'd finish my work and I'm pretty sure they hated me. I remember this lady. What was her name? I don't remember her name, but she was redheaded with glasses. She fucking hated me, man, because I'd laugh at pretty much all her work. I'd finish it in seconds and she'd get so frustrated with me because she's like, "Ugh. What am I supposed to do with you?"

Luisa: I wanted to be challenged and I did my research. Whitney Young is supposed to be for people who are gifted and I wanted to be challenged. I wanted something more. Everything has always been extremely easy for me. When I put my mind to it, I get what I want. It sounds bad, but it's true. I think the problem with human beings is that you’re your only true enemy. You block yourself from doing everything in life, and the moment that you accept you can do everything, you can actually do everything [Laughs, sniffles].

Luisa: That's what I wanted. I wanted a challenge. I wanted something more. I wanted teachers who actually listened. I wanted teachers who paid attention. I didn't want teachers who were bored and sick of it because these students are like Puerto Rican and gang members and they don't matter. I didn't want that. I wanted somebody who cared, but I didn't get that. I kind of got it. I got the IB program, which was great [Chuckles]. Still not a challenge. It was still not a challenge.

Luisa: I remember I had a personal project that I was supposed to work on my entire year. I did that in three days. The day I was supposed to learn to sculpt, I learned to sculpt [Pause] in thirty minutes and then [Chuckles] I sculpted something—a huge tiger—and I turned it in and it was one of the top. There were about 140 people that turned it in. It was one of the top twenty projects and I did that in three days, so it was still not a challenge. So I started doing extracurriculars.

Luisa: I wanted to get into a good university. I was like, "Okay, high school's fine. Okay, whatever. We're going to make do. I'm going to be the best student wherever I am." So I started swimming, track, volleyball, softball, everything, extracurriculars like crazy, book club. Whatever it was, I needed it. The environmental club, everything. I started doing a bunch of community work—I always liked community work anyway. Shelters, dog shelters, everything. I did everything. My entire day schedule was full, full, full, full, full, full, full. Every single day was like let's go, go, go, go, go because I'm going to get to the best university I can.

Luisa: I wanted Northwestern. I had my eye set on Northwestern. I don't know what it was about Northwestern that called to me, but I wanted Northwestern. That's what I wanted, and it wasn't unachievable. One of my friends got into Brown University and she had worse grades than I did, so I was like, "Northwestern's going to be easy. I got this." I wanted to be an oncologist—yes, an oncologist, cancer. I don't know why [Chuckles]. I don't know. Human tragedy, I wanted to save people. That's been my thing. I want to save people. I want to make people better. So [Pause] I killed myself in school. 4.6 GPA. I had all these extracurriculars.

Luisa: I was set to go into a good future. That's what it was, but when it came down to it, my mom was like, "No. You know what? You can't. You don't have papers. You can't continue your education here. We cannot afford to pay your entire tuition. We cannot afford to pay for your housing or your books. Each book, that's like $5000 for books. We can't do that. I'm sorry."

Anita: Did you qualify for DACA?

Luisa: Yes, and that's when it had come out. Right when I had graduated high school was when DACA came out, and my mom said no. She made me feel extremely selfish for wanting it. She let me know that, "You know what? Yes, you're going to get what you want, but you're going to affect all of us." But in my mom's mind and I think in every single Mexican or undocumented person's mind is that distrust of the government. That they're going to have you in this database and they're going to know exactly where you live and who lives with you and where you are. I don't want that, and she did not allow that. I know. I know. I could've, but I didn't.

Anita: Did you fight?

Luisa: My mom? No.

Anita: You just accepted it?

Luisa: [Pause] Yes and no. It took me a while. I was even going to marry my best friend, E___. I was like, "Let's get married. Let's get married." He was my best friend, but he didn't know why I wanted to get married [Laughs]. In my mind, I was like, "Fuck it. Let's do this. I'll get papers and I'll continue my education. That's fine. Once we're married, he's stuck with me. I'll tell him then.” [Pause] I even thought about that. I was getting extremely desperate, but—

Anita: How did E___ think? What did he think?

Luisa: When I told him I was moving to Mexico, he offered to marry me too so I would stay behind. I think he kind of knew at that point. I think E___ knew. He wasn't a stupid guy. He called my mom mommy. He wasn't stupid.

Anita: You returned to Mexico?

Luisa: I made the decision of returning, and I uprooted my sisters. My little sister was a year old when we left. She knew nothing about Mexico. She barely spoke Spanish, so I selfishly made everyone move back to Mexico.

Anita: Because?

Luisa: Because I wanted to continue my education.

Anita: Why didn't they stay behind?

Luisa: I think my mom felt guilty. I think she didn't want me to be by myself. She felt guilty that she didn't allow me to apply for DACA, so she's like, "Okay. That's okay." Eventually my sisters are going to have to go through this and let's do it now so the change doesn't hurt them as much when it comes down to it. They had it a little easier, I think [Chuckles]. They didn't have to go through it twice, or maybe that's just my bitterness, but I had to go through that uprooting and going into a strange country twice [Chuckles]. They don't remember Mexico at all, so I don't think they remember any of the life that we had here.

Luisa: I do. I remember my dogs. I remember my mom. I remember my dad. I remember my grandparents. I remember everything, and they didn't remember anything. Their entire life was over there, so that's just my bitterness. We moved back and I was so depressed. I don't think I've ever been that depressed in my life. I had to go back to high school because … even with the IB program. I killed myself. What was that worth, all that effort, and all that [Chokes up]? What was it worth? Nothing. I had to go back to this broken education system in Mexico which I could run laps around the fucking curriculum and I had to redo it in order to go to university, and fuck, that sucked.

Luisa: I was extremely depressed. I didn't even want to leave the house because I didn't want to be reminded of the fact that I was not in the States anymore, because it was ugly. It was ugly where we lived.

Anita: What was school like?

Luisa: Hard at first. I was bullied at first. I remember … because my Spanish wasn't the best. When I got here, I had not practiced my Spanish in so long. I knew how to read and write, but my grammar was not the best either. I had kindergarten education. That's how long I [Chuckles] … everything else, a lot of my teachers were understanding. My literature teacher was extremely understanding. I thank him for that. He was the one that asked me to write and I wrote a short story about a sparrow getting lost in the snow and then turning up in the jungle, and the sparrow makes friends with all the cockatoos and the snake and the anaconda and they're all bros and he learns to speak their language—not very well, but he learns.

Luisa: The sparrow gets old and keeps living there and he's like, "You know what? I love this place and I love my friends, and even though it kills me to leave all my friends behind here in the jungle, I need to go back to my home," [Chokes up] so the sparrow makes his journey and he dies. He makes it to the snow and he dies looking at the tree where he had his nest. [Crying] My literature teacher I think was pretty impacted by that. He was pretty understanding.

Anita: Was the snow Chicago?

Luisa: Yes. I miss the snow like crazy [Continues crying]. I remember the first Christmas we spent here was … It didn't feel like Christmas. It did not feel like Christmas. It felt weird. I wasn't used to it. [Pause] I gave that to the teacher. The teacher published it. My literature teacher was extremely well known in the community. He's world renowned, I think, because he is the host for the International Poets Meeting. He's the host, so I'm pretty sure he's well known in the literature world, and he published a lot of my poetry too because I had a lot of poetry—and in English.

Luisa: He understood English and he would tear up with a lot of the stuff that I would give him. Very, very understanding, but we bonded over literature because he was extremely, extremely into books.

Anita: Like Mr. R?

Luisa: Like Mr. R, yes. R___, that's his name.

Luisa: Yes. He was pretty great. He would talk about philosophy. He helped a lot.

Anita: [So you studied international relations] Why international relations?

Luisa: International relations because I am a fucking citizen of the world. Every time somebody asks me, "Where are you from?" I have no idea how to answer because I don't feel Mexican and I don't feel American. I don't know what I am, so fuck it. I'm going to be a citizen of the world [Chuckles]. I'm going to take all of this and I'm going to be international. That's it. That's it. We're going to be international. That's it, because genuinely, honest to God, I don't know how to answer when somebody asks me.

Luisa: I'm not sure if you've seen when they've asked me, "Where are you from?" and I'm like, "Where was I born? Where was I raised? Where's my family from? Where do I live? What do you want to know?” Because “where are you from?” is a very loaded question to me. It's a lot about identity, and I think a human being needs this [Pause] identity, this sense of belonging, and I don't feel like I belong anywhere. I don't feel like I have a home. Like a real one. At this point, I think my home is my partner and that scares the shit out of me [Chuckles]

Luisa: I've thought about it. I've thought about it a lot [Chuckles]. It scares me because he has become my home. He's helped me through a lot. He's helped me get through a lot of traumas. He's helped me stand up to my father because I was not able to have a conversation with him. I was not able to say no to my dad [Sniffles]. I always wanted to please my dad because I never had him in my life, so I wanted him to be happy with me now. He's helped me a lot, so scary shit [Chuckles]. I don't like thinking about it.

Anita: Only two more questions that are more reflective.

Luisa: Yes?

Anita: One is this idea about what did the US lose by losing someone like you?

Luisa: I'm pretty sure if I wasn't going to be an oncologist, maybe a neuroscientist or a neurosurgeon. People like me, I'm driven, man. I'm extremely driven. When you grow up with all of these people telling you that you can't, you want it more and you want it more and you have this hunger inside of you that you want it and you need it and you're going to make it, and I'm pretty sure I could run laps around all these fuckers that were born citizens. So they did—they lost somebody who can better society. I'm pretty sure I had a lot to offer … in a lot of senses.

Anita: What has Mexico gained by gaining you?

Luisa: I think they've gained a lot. I think Mexico has gained a lot, but they don't know how to appreciate it. They pretty much throw us aside. Unfortunately, the Mexican government does not think that people who are returning from the States have anything to offer, and they're dead wrong about that. Honestly, if you look at a lot of these people that are coming back, they have so much to offer. They have so much to give and they have so much drive and they're hungry, but they don't make it easy for us.

Luisa: I had to go through hell in order to get my paperwork done for school—through hell, and then I still had to do two years. If that was somebody else with a little bit less drive or a little bit less enthusiasm, they would've given up and they wouldn't have continued with their studies. They would've said, "Fuck it. Why? They're putting me against the wall. How am I supposed to do anything?” Anyone else for sure would've, and I know a lot of cases where they're like, "Dude, it's just too hard. It's too hard to keep going. They're asking me to do everything that I've already done, and what they're asking me to do is subpar compared to the education that I've had." So it's extremely discouraging.

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