June 6, 2019
Mexico City, Mexico
Deportation as an existential crisis
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*To hear more about Miguel listen to the playlist above
Anita: How old are you Miguel?
Miguel: I'm 30. 30 years old. Just turned 30.
Anita: You were born in Mexico.
Miguel: Mexico, yes. We're Mexican [laughs].
Anita: Ciudad de Mexico?
Miguel: Ciudad de Mexico. I had a teacher in University that used to say, "Miguel.” It's like, "No it's Miguel." She was Chicana. And she was like, "No, Miguel." She was really into embracing Mexican culture. So, I really come from that tradition when I was living in California. Embracing, you know? That's pretty cool. But yes, Miguel, Miguel, doesn't matter. Tomato, tomato [laughing]. Right?
Anita: Did you go to school in Mexico before going to the US?
Miguel: Yes, I did.
Anita: How many grades?
Anita: So, you did, what is it? 5th grade?
Miguel: You know, 4th grade. 4th grade. And then I finished elementary in the US.
Anita: Why did you migrate to the United States? For economic reasons, for violence, for discrimination?
Miguel: Economic. Absolutely, economic.
Anita: To reunite with family?
Miguel: To reunite? No. Mostly economic. Economic, that was the main factor going to the States, according to my dad. I was just a little boy.
Anita: How old were you?
Miguel: I was 8 years old.
Anita: Did you go with a visa or did you cross the border?
Miguel: No, I crossed the border on a Greyhound [laughs].
Anita: Did you apply for global asylum?
Miguel: I did not.
Anita: Did you become a US resident?
Miguel: No, I did not.
Anita: Did you speak any English?
Miguel: Nope, no English. Like Chinese when I first heard it. They just threw me in North Carolina. Just, "All right, good luck." And nobody spoke Spanish. I was the only Latino. So, I was the first one to inaugurate ESL in my school.
Anita: Okay, stop about that. I'm going to ask you. I'm going to take notes.
Miguel: Yes, I was the first one to inaugurate there.
Anita: So, you learned English in the United States, at school?
Miguel: In school and watching TV and obviously interacting with my brother. My brother was a big factor. You know, talking to him in English. That helped a lot. Playing video games, watching shows, that kind of incremented that.
Anita: Your English is fluent now. In what cities did you live in the US?
Miguel: I live in North Carolina obviously, then from that.
Anita: That was ________, right?
Miguel: That was _______ and then you know _______, ________, and then after that we went to Florida. My dad went to ________. We lived there for a couple years, I think like five, six years and then we moved to California. We crossed country on a car from Florida to California, so we saw all the states and did a little bit tourism, which was pretty cool.
Anita: Got it. So, you went to school in the US. How far did you study in the US?
Miguel: I went to University. ELAC. East LA College.
Anita: What did you study there?
Miguel: I studied philosophy. [Pause] ELAC. Amazing school.
Anita: Did you get a degree?
Miguel: Did not get a degree.
Anita: So how many years did you go?
Miguel: I did like three years.
Anita: So you were a junior?
Miguel: Junior. Did not finish unfortunately.
Anita: So, you finished your junior year, or?
Miguel: Yes, I did. Absolutely. I just didn't finish that. I need to finish, I'm 30 years old. I need to finish what I started, right [chuckles]? Which is going to be easier here, right? It's not as expensive. ELAC was expensive. ELAC is a community college but you still have to pay money. Yes.
Anita: Did you work in the US?
Miguel: I did. I did since I was 17 years old. I worked for eight years.
Anita: What jobs?
Miguel: Mainly restaurants and some in construction, but mainly restaurants.
Anita: What work were you doing in restaurants?
Miguel: I started from the bottom and then went to manager. Busboy to manager all the time. And then a little bit of construction. A little bit of framing. Carpentry. I got more money for carpentry than in restaurants as a manager, but that's okay [chuckles]. Almost got my finger chopped off [chuckles].
Anita: In your last job in the US, how much did you earn a hour?
Miguel: How much did I earn a hour? I was making $20 an hour. $20 an hour. I think that's like a thousand, it was a thousand a week. 20,000 pesos a week. It's not bad. I wish I can make that again [chuckles].
Anita: Who did you live with when you lived in the US?
Miguel: I lived with my father, my mother, my brother and myself. Typical family, mom, dad, brother and myself. Yes. All the time.
Anita: Were you frightened of the US authorities?
Miguel: Yes, I mean I was. A little bit.
Anita: Did you guys send money to relatives in Mexico?
Miguel: Yes. We did.
Anita: About how many times a year?
Miguel: How many times a year? I'd say like 10 times a year. My dad was pretty consistent with that.
Anita: About how much each time?
Miguel: How much each time?
Miguel: You know, roughly, maybe like a hundred bucks. A hundred dollars. Which is like a thousand pesos here, which is not bad.
Anita: So, you lived in the US for how many years?
Miguel: 20 years.
Anita: Did you follow US political news?
Miguel: Oh yes, absolutely. I love politics.
Anita: How'd you follow it? Family, friends, social media, TV, radio?
Miguel: The New York Times or reading and talking to folks too. Talking to folks about politics. Watching the news, mostly the newspaper really. I love The New York Times. They don't sell them here. They're expensive here. I love The New York Times, because it's accurate and you know it's not as prejudice, it's more open. I like it. I think it's more open news. My dream – is maybe one day write an article in that newspaper.
Anita: Did you follow Mexican political news?
Miguel: Nah, I did not. I did not.
Anita: Did you qualify for the Dreamers program, the DACA?
Miguel: I did. I did. I kind of screwed that up.
Anita: Did you apply for it?
Miguel: Didn't apply.
Miguel: Didn't even attempt to do it. I was working, didn't think I was going to get deported. You know, you think your life's secure and you're good. You don't need that paper, right, but... That's why I didn't, just neglect. Really, neglect. [Pause] that's really what it was, neglect. [Pause] that's my fault, really. I don't regret it though.
Anita: What caused you to leave the United States?
Miguel: What caused me to leave the… I got deported, I got deported, unfortunately. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wasn't supposed to be there. My dad kind of predicted it too—"Be careful son,” Cause he knew that I liked to talk about politics, that was my weakness. Talking about politics, to the wrong person that has power [chuckles]. That can—
Anita: Did you appear before a judge?
Miguel: I did. Not at the time, but later on.
Anita: Were you informed of your rights?
Miguel: Yes, I was, I was.
Anita: Did you have a lawyer helping you?
Miguel: I did not have a lawyer. Unfortunately.
Anita: How long were you detained for?
Miguel: How long? Like three months. Three months detained. The whole detention, the whole deporting process. Different prisons too. I was in North Carolina, South Carolina, I was in Georgia and then finally Arizona. That was the only place they gave good food, chilaquiles [chuckles]. With a little bit of meat, but it was all right. It wasn't that bad [chuckles]. Eating soy, everything soy, right. Mystery meats, so that was pretty good. Eating beans as well, because they were trying to get you used to the diet of Mexico. Yes, because you have a certain diet in prison, you're about to get released, your stomach's not used to, so you can get sick pretty easily, so they were trying to get your stomach used to eating beans and tortillas. You know menudo. They had menudo with a little bit of meat, like one meat, floating in there [chuckles]. But it was good, it got you used to the diet here in Mexico.
Miguel: When I first got here and I ate some tacos al pastor, that was like being in heaven [chuckles]. Really. That was heaven.
Anita: When you returned to Mexico did any representatives of an organization greet you?
Miguel: From Mexican organizations?
Anita: Yes, yes.
Miguel: Yes, they gave me a sandwich, a comb.
Anita: A comb?
Miguel: A comb [chuckles]. A sandwich and a comb and good luck, if you want to get a good job [chuckles].
Anita: How long have you been back in Mexico?
Miguel: Three years already. It's been three years, yes. It's been rapid.
Anita: You lived in Mexico City?
Miguel: Mexico City. In one place, _______.
Anita: Who do you live with now?
Miguel: I live with my mom, my brother and myself. Soon my dad wants to come back. That hasn't happened, but we're hoping cause he's already old. He's like 60 something years old. We don't want him to, you know, sucks to say this, but to die in the US. I want him to come here and I can take him to eat. He wants to eat tacos de canasta. He always tells me, "I wanna eat tacos de canasta. I miss the tacos de canasta.” You know, so it's pretty rough for me. But he's living good. I mean he wrote a book, you know that means he has tranquility and he deserves that after working hard for us so many years. He deserves to write that book and he already did it, so, makes me proud, really.
Anita: Since your return, have you become aware of any programs that helps poor returning migrants?
Miguel: I did. My dad even wrote a letter to the governor of Mexico City. Didn't really do anything, it
was a lot of politics coming back, not doing anything. They gave me a check. It didn't have any stub. The check was worthless. “Yes, come back. It's going to take three months, we're going to give you 13,000 pesos, so you can get your business started.” Didn't happen, it was just too many politics. It was too hard for me to get it. Too many coming back and forth and telling me incongruent stories. That's why I started working in call centers. My idea was to get a school of English, get this money, but that never happened. So that program is, it just really discourages you from getting that money. It's just too many, too many doors, too many hoops you have to jump through. So, it really discouraged me to take that and start—
Miguel: [The program was] called repatriados. Right? And you do the whole process, the people are really nice, with a smile. But at the end, there's no actions, there's no—I don't know if you know Spanish, but my grandpa, he said "De lengua me como tres tacos, hechos.” Too much tongue, not enough actions. So it didn't really help me. It didn't help me at all. It sucked. I needed to work. I was getting money in call centers. I started here in Teletech, actually.
Anita: Have you studied anything since you've been back?
Miguel: Studied? No. No, no, no, no, no. Unfortunately, no.
Anita: What jobs have you had?
Miguel: I worked in Teletech, just call centers, in general. Call centers, in general. I actually wrote a lot of poetry working in call centers about the mechanization of human life. Because in North Carolina it was so nice … It wasn't so urbanized. When I was working in call centers, I was developing ideas about mechanization of human life. I even have a poem. Maybe I can tell you later on.
Anita: Let's do it when we're doing the open recording. Is that—
Miguel: Yes, I'll tell you the poem that I wrote, but yes just working in call centers.
Anita: How much do you make? Are you working there now?
Miguel: Currently, I'm not working. I quit because the guy was being too nasty with me. I don't know if he was jealous, but he was just talking too much smack. It wasn't a good job environment, so I quit. So, right now I'm looking for a job.
Anita: How much were you paid at the last one?
Miguel: I was paying weekly. You know, it varied, it was sales, so it varied. It depended on commissions. It was between 2,000 and 5,000 a week. Wasn't that bad.
Anita: So, you were being paid on commission?
Miguel: I was being paid on commission. If you didn't make any commission, you didn't get paid. But I learned Jordan Belfort Straight Line System. And selling to people, persuading folks to buy time shares [chuckles]. That's what I was doing and that's when I quit because the guy was being too nasty.
Anita: Do you feel safe in Mexico?
Miguel: I do feel safe. Even though people tell me stories, they get kidnapped or... But I do feel safe.
Anita: Have you been the victim of a violent crime?
Miguel: I have not been the victim of a violent crime, yet [chuckles].
Anita: Do you feel more vulnerable as a returning migrant?
Miguel: More vulnerable? [Pause] not really.
Anita: Was your return to Mexico difficult?
Miguel: Extremely difficult.
Anita: So, I'm going to list a couple of things and you tell me. Finding a job?
Miguel: It was difficult at first, yes ma'am.
Anita: Are there economic challenges?
Miguel: You know, paying the rent, without a job, paying light bills, gas bills. Talking to people and then people saying, "Where you from?"
Anita: So, language.
Miguel: Language. A little bit of language.
Anita: And continuing the education?
Miguel: Continuing the education as well.
Anita: Family separation?
Miguel: Family separation. Very big factor.
Anita: Family unit or friends?
Anita: Adapting to Mexican culture?
Miguel: Yes, I'm not going to lie. I love Mexican culture, but it was a little bit hard. Not the nice part of culture, like the art, the dances, the food and all that, but just being on the metro [chuckles]. Or on the bus, you know, little things that type of culture [chuckles].
Miguel: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Anita: Bureaucratic difficulties? You talked about those, about through your program assistance, so I guess your basic bureaucracy—
Miguel: Yes, I did. Absolutely.
Anita: How about depression? Did you suffer any of that?
Miguel: Depression. Yes, yes, the first year was kind of depressing.
Miguel: Things happen for a reason. I'm here for a reason, you know. I'm here to do something. I'm not just here because I'm deported. I'm here because, you know, I don't know if you believe in God. I do believe in God. I think God put me here for a reason. Maybe to write a book, maybe to paint, cause I do see myself in that position. It's a little bit rough right now, but nobody had it easy. You know that’s in in a good position now, so, that's what I'm thinking, you know? I've been stimulated. I've been more mature here, actually [chuckles]. It's made me more rough. Made me more rough. More and more attentive. In the US I was kind of pampered. Because the US is the first world, so you're kind of pampered, you have everything. Here you become rough.
Miguel: They have a saying, "Te crece el callo.” Callo is callus. You develop calluses. You know, when you play guitar. And then your fingers get hard. It doesn't hurt as much, and you play with more facility. It's the same thing here. I think you develop sort of a social callus. Makes you stronger, makes you faster. I think if I go back to the States, I'll be ten times smarter, ten times faster, ten times stronger, in terms of survival, really. Survival of the fittest because that's what I see here, in the city. Survival of the fittest [chuckles]. In every direction. That's the real God of Mexico. Instead of the Virgencita de Guadalupe and all that, the real God is survival. That's what they worship here.
Miguel: And you need to be smart, you can't afford to be dumb here, at all. You have to be smart here, you have to get knowledge, get education. Because you're going to be left behind, everything's very fast moving. I even got that concept, that movement is essential for our society. Everything's movement. Without movement, you know, there is no growth, there is no development. So that's what I'm analyzing right now. Just the concept of movement. It's really stimulating here [chuckles]. It has pros and cons, right? But It's really stimulating. If you're a writer, if you're a philosopher, if you're an artist, it's really stimulating to live here.
Anita: You spent most of your childhood there [in the US].
Miguel: My childhood, my whole idiosyncrasy. My whole world view is shaped by the American perspective. That's why I see myself acting differently than most folks here. I have a different perspective of life.
Anita: How do you see yourself acting?
Miguel: [Chuckles] I guess I demand my rights. You know, I don't know, I don't have my head down [chuckles]. I'm confident. I walk with confidence in the world. I'm sure by myself and I demand my rights. My girlfriend, she doesn't want me to do that because she feels embarrassed sometimes. For example, just a common example, if we're walking behind somebody in their space or they're just blocking the whole thing, and there's space on the other side, I just say, "Excuse me, excuse me.” And my girlfriend gets mad because here according to this culture, you have to wait. People are afraid to say excuse me. Stuff like that. And I guess just the freedom of thinking. Freedom of developing my own world view, not following an ideology that's been traditional for many years. I shape my own world view, that's what I learned in the States. That rugged individualism [chuckle]. Which could be bad and good. I think it's mostly good to have rugged individualism.
Miguel: That's why I love to listen to jazz. Jazz is the greatest description of the US and of that attitude. Of keeping it cool and that rugged individualism, improvisation. I listen to jazz sometimes when I'm on the metro. And then another metro passes by and you're listening to jazz and then you see the night, the lights, the cars moving by. It's very inspirational [chuckles].
Anita: You think jazz is a form of rugged individualism?
Miguel: Absolutely, I think jazz is about rugged individualism. It's about a guy with his instrument, just making it up as he goes. Just making it up as he goes. And it's democratic, if you think about it, cause everybody gets to speak in jazz, even the bass player. If you listen to jazz, everybody speaks. The bass player—it's not only the brass. Some people just listen to the brass, but everybody has a story to tell. Everybody listens. Everybody has something to say. Everybody has a solo. I think that's the only art form that has a solo, and it's rugged individualism. It's the American initiative. That's what America is to me. That rugged individualism. That sometimes we don't have here in Mexico. It's very collective. Even though we say it's individualistic, it's not, it's very collective.
Anita: Is collective good?
Miguel: Collective is good. I love collective. You go to a family gathering and you eat pozole [chuckles]. You're breaking a pinata. They're inviting you to a lot of things. I've been to Itzapalapa, I've been to Tepito. I've been to all kinds of places, celebrated, very, very collective. People helping each other out when the earthquake happens. People are very collective. Which is good. I try to balance both. I try to balance the individualism of America and now in this new stage of my life, the collectivism. To be more collective. Trying to balance it out, maybe something can happen. A good balance can always bring a good result, I think. So, I don't know. I'm learning from the collectivism. I think it's good. It's not always good to be individualistic, right? There's another pluralism of the US. I'm still pluralistic, I'm trying to change that a little bit.
Anita: Do you think Mexico is less pluralistic?
Miguel: I think so. I think so, but there is rare kind of Mexican though. Maybe not the general public, yes, but there is a rare kind of Mexican that are pluralistic. But I think, in general they're not. I think in general they do come with some baggage. They carry baggage. They've been domesticated. In the States we've been domesticated too, but I guess, if you're in the right place and you talk to the right people, you can have this pluralism of having your own world view. I think it's becoming more plural... pluralistic [struggling to enunciate the word]—I can't even talk right now. Pluralistic, that's a hard word for me, but overall, it's not that plural, pluralistic.
Anita: What does pluralism mean to you [chuckles]?
Miguel: Pluralism, it's everybody has their own... It comes from post modernism, right? Everybody has their own truth, there's not an absolute truth. Your truth is just as valid as the other man's perspective and it’s that perspective, ideas of world views. But here, I think since they're Roman Catholics. I think there's a little bit of that still in the subconscious of Mexicans. And some—I mean it's becoming more pluralistic nowadays. I do see that, but there's still that baggage of thinking collectively. That absolute worldview.
Anita: Do you think that with the return of so many migrants from the US, that you guys are changing Mexico in any way?
Miguel: I think so. I think, I think so. I see it every day. In terms of the lingo, in terms of the way people carry themselves. But there's some sort of hatred as well. I do see it. People who are prepared here, that have it, you know, college degrees. They went to very good universities. They see somebody like myself, bald headed—I'm not a cholo right? They see me bald headed, I speak English, they kind of, they see me... There's a lot of jealousy, right? So, they see you kind of less than them. They start talking bad about you, stuff like that. But I think, even though, they try to deny it, they are being influenced. Absolutely. By the arrival of Mexican Americans. There's no doubt about that.
Anita: How do you think they're being influenced?
Miguel: In terms of the lingo and the way they speak. The expressions they use, the way they carry themselves. That individualism is creeping in [chuckles]. It's really creeping in. It's unavoidable. It's like champagne [laughs]. Gives you an acceleration, it's bubbly and very pleasing. Some try to deny it, some don't. But I do see that, I do see that as changing though. Mostly the youngsters. Mostly the young people. Some are cool, like, "You come from the States, that's awesome” and they try to learn as much as they can from you. "What did you see, how do you say this, what is this song saying?", "Oh it's saying this..." So there's an interaction, there's a integration really because we date, you know, Mexicans here as well and, you know, they teach us stuff, we teach them stuff as well. And so, mostly ourselves [chuckles] we learn a lot from them. How to survive here.
Anita: What's the difference between dating a Mexican person and dating an American?
Miguel: Dating an American. There's a lot of differences [chuckles]. Well, first, Mexican girlfriends, they're very... Well it goes back to the individualism, right? It all goes back to that. The girlfriends that I had in the States, very individualistic. You couldn't, you can't dictate what they have to do. You don't own them. You know? If anything, they own you [chuckles]. Right? Women are very, very rough. I dated all kinds of races too. African Americans, white Americans, Chicanas, Asian Americans. They're all different, but what they do share is this individual, this feminism. “You know I have something to say. I'm just as important as you.” You know and learning how to compromise here. What I learned from the girlfriends that I had here is that you can pretty much do whatever you want. Right? They're not going to demand. Some that are pretty rough, they will demand stuff, you know they will be very loyal.
Miguel: But what I see here is that women are very loyal. They want to, kind of clean your clothes and cook your dinner. I never had a girl from the States that's going to cook me some dinner or clean me my clothes. But yes, the girlfriend's here, they do that [in awe]. Very, with my mom, they get along though and they're cleaning together, and I don't know. It's very marriage-oriented mentality, right? Even though you’re boyfriend and girlfriend. They see you as their husband really. The way they treat you, the way I've been treated by the girlfriends here is that, you know, like a little girl, almost. Taking care of you, it's pretty nice. I like it. I like the way they treat you here, the Mexican girls.
Anita: You like it better?
Miguel: Do I like it better? I mean, kind of. I kind of like it better. But I kind of miss somebody, you know, telling me you're kind of fucking up here, you know [chuckles]. Don't tell me that this is right because this is wrong. It's good to hear that sometimes. Somebody to critique you. That's what I like about the American girlfriends. That critique. Right [chuckles]?
Anita: So, how long's it take a Mexican girlfriend to move into this kind of, it's a marriage? I understand what you mean metaphorically. Is it immediate, is it once you're boyfriend, girlfriend and it becomes familial... or does it take a while?
Miguel: It doesn't take a while, maybe within two weeks. I mean, not everybody's the same. The girls that I was dating were like that. You know, maybe because I was nice. I like to be a gentleman. Very gentleman with women, you know, open the door and—I learned that, to be nice. And I always tell them, your opinion is very important to me, and you're just as independent as me. I mean, I'm not better than you, you're not better than me. We're the same, pretty much the same. But it takes around two weeks already and you've got them in the bag [laughs].
Anita: Do you get Mexican women to ever tell you're full of shit?
Miguel: Some women, they do. Some women do, they do tell you, you're full of shit. Mexican women. But it's not very common. I only had one girlfriend tell me that. She was Mexican, but she was this type of feminist Mexican. You see, it's very different because there is…I don't know, it is very different here. It's very crazy. You do have Mexican women with a different tradition. Maybe the father wasn't around, maybe the father hit their mother. In this case, her father hit her mother - a very abusive relationship and her father was an alcoholic. So, she demanded, and she would tell you if something was wrong, but she would tell you with the Mexican flavor. Which is different, which is pretty cool, right? Tells you with the Mexican flavor, but it's very rare to find that.
Anita: What's a Mexican flavor telling you, you're full of shit?
Miguel: With cuss words, like “no chingas la madre, no!” “este, Estas alli sentado hablando ingles todo el dia y te quejas no” y.. o “se despiertan y tienes que ponerte chingon” It’s like holy shit, like I never had somebody talk to me like that.
Anita: So is you need to get your act together?
Miguel: You need to get your act together, but you're saying it nicely [both laugh]. You're saying it in a very nice way. They say it very nastily. But it's just to wake you up. That's how their grandmothers talked. Or you tell them, "Hey, man I kind of messed up in this. It was an accident’ [mimics voice]. “No, it's por pendejo.” It's like, okay. Pendejo, that's worse than saying stupid. I think pendejo is like the ne plus ultra of saying stupid to somebody [chuckles]. But that's what I… but it's very rare. That's one girlfriend that I had.
Anita: Is Mexican society more patriarchal or is patriarchal more American?
Miguel: [Pause] I mean traditionally it's patriarchal, right? But I think that there is a shift. There's been a little bit of a shift. At least the last girlfriend that I had, her mother was the one that had the pants in the house. And worked. This is the same father that hit her. But I mean, in general, we're speaking in general, I think it's more patriarchal than in the States. Honestly. I mean, if the father's going to buy something, they have to consult with the wife. You're not going to sell them something, if they don't consult with the wife. The wife has the final decision, really. And here it's more patriarchal, but there has been a little bit of a shift, but it's very rare. It's very small, in general, I think it's more patriarchal. Right?
Anita: Have you been able to have these kinds of philosophical conversations here?
Miguel: Yes, yes, yes. I talk about philosophy in mercados with old people, eating food, right? People are very educated here, and you do find people that can sustain a pretty good conversation. Depends where you go. Depends where you go, if you have that spirit, you're going to talk about it. But, yes, you do find spaces where you're eating, you start talking about God, you start talking about politics, then you turn it to philosophy. And I love talking about that. I mean it's very nutritious for your brain. You know and it's usually older folks, that you talk about philosophy. Younger folks, not so much, maybe I never had the chance to do that. But I had spaces, I had time to talk about that. People are interested in that.
Anita: I've found a lot of people that we've spoken to, who we are speaking to in the United States that didn't go to college, some got in trouble, you know. [inaudible] And their reflective capacity, they're philosophers.
Miguel: Yes, yes, yes. … They had a philosophical experience, right? An extremely philosophical experience, right [chuckles]? An extremely philosophical experience. That whole being deported is a philosophical experience, itself, you know. I mean, [chuckles] it really forces you to think about existentialism, essentially [chuckles]. About your life, the meaning of life, what am I going to do. It's a new world, I'm a new person. You become a new person. You reinvent yourself. Coming here, it's an extremely philosophical experience. And you're experiencing two different cultures. And you're learning how to adapt to those cultures. So it is philosophical, it is. You know, you're thinking about very important existential issues. It's an existential crisis essentially [chuckles]. So, it's urgently philosophical. In an urgent manner. You know and it forces you to think, it forces you to write. Some people don't do that, some people might get into trouble. I find that people that get deported from the States tend to avoid that criminal lifestyle that they had in the States and they come here to become better. That's what I've seen. And that's pretty amazing.
Anita: Why do you think that is? That redeeming, why/ how would you explain it?
Miguel: Well, I think it's the necessity, right? It's a radical change, first of all. In terms of culture. And it's a matter of survival. So, this is the worst thing that could happen to you, right, as an American. To be taken away from your country, so it's a very traumatic experience. You come here and it's a necessity to survive and to become successful. And you also see the conditions here, which are different.
Miguel: The jail system is not the same. It's like a concentration camp, so you don't want to go to jail here. In the States, you could kind of afford to go to jail, it's a five-star service hotel, resort, and spa [chuckles]. Right, they cook you your food, they clean your clothes, you can study, you can become somebody there. Malcolm X, coming out of jail became Malcolm X. Right [chuckles]? It's a nice place. Compared to Mexican jails [chuckles].
Miguel: Mexican jails, it's like a concentration camp. So, you have that in your mind, you don't want to go to jail here. You see the conditions, you're not, as an American, you come here, you're not dumb. You see the conditions here are different. And then when you have a job like that, like a call center, in an office, makes you feel good. Right, because in the States you probably didn't have that opportunity to work in front of a computer with air conditioning and being able to wear a suit and feel important. So, you have that job and so you see all this, and you got to take care of it. And then you get a nice girlfriend, that takes care of you and it's nice. Very traditional. And you see the opportunities here and you tell yourself, "Well, if I continue in this path, on this good path, then I can become somebody here. I can redeem myself". And people do redeem themselves and become better and probably live better than in the States.
Anita: Many people talk about how discriminated they are against here.
Miguel: Yes, it does happen.
Anita: But you're saying that there’s a positive experience, which is many deportees -- is also kind of dignifying.
Miguel: It is dignifying. Absolutely. Absolutely dignifying. You have tattoos, maybe taxis won't stop here for you because you look like a criminal—you're going to get discriminated—and then you get a good job like that -- that people here with university titles have. So, you're working right next to a sociologist, with tattoos. So, Smokey, from East LA [chuckles], that was gang banging, he could barely finish high school is sitting next to somebody that burned their eyebrows to get a position like that, so you feel good. You feel dignifying, you feel like you have value. And you walk differently, and you talk differently. And you feel good about yourself.
Miguel: Well, that's what I got here. I mean, I'm speaking from my own experience, right. That's what I got here. It does feel dignifying. And I can kind of sense that on people too.
Anita: And does that Smokey from LA [Miguel laughs]… Sitting beside this sort of middle-class Mexican kid, who's learned English watching TV and is trying to practice his English at this call center, do they become friends?
Miguel: Some of them become friends. Some of them, some don't, but mostly they become friends. Mostly. Some don't, I say some, because some feel kind of, they feel bad. I paid a lot of money to get this English. I'm still not in the same level as Smokey [chuckles]. Right? Not in the same level as Smokey. Even though Smokey is not a math genius, he has this very good English. He can connect with an American audience. Then he becomes manager, you know. There might be some sort of, you know, jealousy, middle class. Maybe their parents paid their school, some become friends.
Miguel: I had a lot of friends, sociologists, but that's because of what I studied, right? So, we would talk about Nietzche, Sartres, Heidegger, but Smokey's not going to talk about that. Right, he's going to talk about something else. Usually, Smokey likes to talk about how many beers he's going to drink after he leaves the office. You know, about his girlfriend, about his experience here in Mexico, you know, or what happened in the metro. Hey, You know, "Somebody just stepped on my shoes, they didn't say sorry, man you believe that, Miguel?" "No, Smokey, that really happen to you, man?" Didn't say sorry, you know, stuff like that. They like to talk about stuff that happened here and how it's different. I love hanging out with them and talking about life and you get this solidarity, and it feels good. It makes me feel good.
Miguel: "Smokey, you knew the joker from Boyle Heights?" "Yes, man, I used to live on Evergreen and First", "No way, man, I used to live there too.” So, you start a conversation, it feels good. And they can't relate with people that studied here, right? But they relate in a way ‘cause they want to learn more English. And they want to perfect their English, get more slang and Smokey has that available to them. You know, makes them look cool too. In front of their friends too, right? It's like, I learned this slang. So, you, some become friends, and some don't. I think it's mixed.
Miguel: Between jealousy and some are like, "Okay, I want to learn".
Anita: Is the call center, I'm trying to understand, is it a place where, there's less—on the streets is it harder?
Anita: If you come back from the states, is there discrimination?
Miguel: Yes. Yes, absolutely.
Anita: What does pocho mean?
Miguel: Pocho, it's an insult. Since I studied existentialism, I make fun of myself. I learned to make fun of myself and to embrace my imperfections. Some people tell me, "That’s not how you pronounce it.” I say I'm pocho. Pocho means you don't know how to pronounce Spanish correctly, so you say, "Vamos a parquear el carro". It's words that are mixed with English. Parquear it’s not parking, it's estacionar. [chuckles].
Miguel: They discriminate what we do. You know, they kind of took that away from me though here, because I was, I'd been less pocho. Not so much, but less pocho. So instead of saying, "Bring me la tuna.” Tuna you know, the fish, right? But tuna, it's a fruit here. You have to say atun. Like, "Bring me the atun.” No. "Me, me voy a entunar.” It’s like “No no, como te entunas – te vas a entonar.” So I'm, you know, it helps you. Having a girlfriend helps. If you have a girlfriend that can correct that, they can correct it in a nice way. Some people don't, some people see you as ignorant. That you don't know how to speak Spanish. But pocho, yes, I'm pocho. I'm a little bit pocho. I'm not going to lie.
Anita: So, in this call center, it's a place where the discrimination goes away, what you see on the streets, or is there still discrimination between the pochos and the non-pochos?
Miguel: I think it's not as intense. I think people start adapting in a call center. Because the majority are Mexican Americans, deportees, the majority. So, they get accustomed and they get used to it. And the streets are more, they're a little more rough.
Anita: Do you think, this is another stupid sort of reflection question... So do you sit in the call centers talking to the kids who are educated here about Heidegger?
Miguel: Heidegger, Sartre. "Say what is this Cholo can speak about this?", "I'm not Cholo, man." I know I like being bald headed, you know because I like Foucault. I like to look like Michel Foucalt, right [chuckles]? He's a bald-headed guy too, right? With glasses. I wear glasses, myself, too. But yes, I speak about Foucault and immediately they can detect that—
Anita: So, wait a minute, they hear you talking about Heidegger, and Nietzsche, and Sartre, and Foucault. That must blow their mind --
Miguel: [Chuckles] because they expect you not to talk about that. I say, "Well, you're actually educated. Nice then We can talk, right?” Yes, but I mean it is a surprise, though, to them. Especially when I refer them to books that I read before. Or even like tell them philosophers they never heard before. Right, like Ernest Cassirer, German philosopher, they haven't heard about him. So it is exciting to them and it kind of gives me a pass. It kind of does give me a little bit of a pass because I have something to talk about, right. And I have an idea. It's a little bit harder for me to express myself with their ideas in Spanish because of the terminology, because I read all of this in English. So my terminology, you know, I try to translate. It's a little bit hard. I'm kind of in a crutch when I'm speaking in Spanish in terms of philosophy, right. In English, you know, I can express myself pretty good, those ideas because I read it in English.
Miguel: I'm trying to read them in Spanish. Which is a little bit hard because of the words. There are complicated words in Spanish. But that's actually another goal of mine. To develop Spanish on the same level as English. Spanish is slightly on the bottom.
Anita: These concepts, it’s hard stuff [Miguel laughs] if it's not your first language.
Miguel: Yes, ma'am. Absolutely. But I'm pushing myself, forcing myself. It's hard, it's like a mountain, but it's like Karl Marx said, right? In The Capital, the beginning pages, introduction, he was saying that there is no golden road to science. You got to climb and when you climb it, you overcome the fatigue of climbing, you will get to the summit. And you will enjoy that beautiful view. But first you need to climb the mountain, right? I'm kind of paraphrasing what he said, but it's along those lines of climbing a mountain and overcoming the fatigue. That's what I'm doing. It is very fatiguing to read in Spanish, but I want to get to that summit and be able to express myself good in Spanish. It's important for me because I want to study here. Spanish, or not Spanish, but study here, finish what I started.
Miguel: Philosophy. It's not going to give me anything. Maybe I won't become rich, but I finished that. I finished something that I love. I'm not in it for the money. You don't need to be smart to have money or you don't need to have a career to have money. You know, I can open a juice stand and become a philosopher. It doesn't matter to me [chuckles]. As long as I get the career in. And mainly write, I want to become a writer.
Miguel: I have a family of writers. My dad's a writer, my uncle's a writer. My uncle writes books. Maybe I'll bring a book to you. It's not that hard, it's a small one. He likes to condense his books. He's into simplicity and it's called “Los Herederos de la Conquista.”And there's not a lot of sophisticated terminology. He made it for the public, so they can read it. Basically, what he's saying in that book is that if Hernan Cortes was the first conquistador, right now AMLO is the last conquistador and that the conquest was inherited. That it was inherited and the same demons that made the Mexican empire collapse, is making us still being conquered. We're still being conquered. He wrote that book and many others, so... That's my dream.
Anita: Are you a fan of AMLO?
Miguel: I'm not a fan of AMLO, but I think that he's more proud of Mexico and he defends Mexico and he's not shoe shining the American boots, as the other... Kind of shoe shining, but not too much. Right? He did speak back to Trump a little bit. Right, he spoke diplomatically….
Miguel: Trump is a populist. Populism is winning right now. That's my fear. Populism is winning. But that's because of the defects of capitalism. It hasn't worked for the average Joe. Right. Worked for the one-percenters. Even in the US. Right and I'm not a big fan of... I did vote for him [AMLO] because he was wearing Guayaberas. He was more proud of... So in terms of an image, in terms of the image, I like the image that he was presenting. That's why I voted for him. The other image was more, they were into this European image. You know, I like the fact that he's... and he's talking about Neoliberalism. I'm not a big fan of Neoliberalism, as well. Or privatization. So, I kind of like that, his rhetoric. [chuckles]
Miguel: He is educated, actually the way he speaks to him, he's educating Trump and speaking rough to him, like a father would speak to a son. That's how he's speaking and he's very intelligent. He's also letting him know of the importance of Mexicans in the States, in the United States, in the U.S., right. But it's still kind of premature, no, right? His candidacy. I'm hoping that he would do something great. Right, because Mexico deserves it. But you know, you never know. Maybe I'll be the next president. Right? Maybe I'll do something about it, right?
Anita: Okay, I have a few more questions. Do you currently follow US news?
Miguel: I do, yes ma'am. New York Times online. Not free though. [chuckles]
Anita: There's one more thing that I want to ask you about today.
Miguel: Yes, ma'am.
Anita: What happened to get you deported?
Miguel: I have a bottle of gin right here. [chuckles] No. Okay, so I was in a mall. I was a little bit drunk, I started talking about politics to the wrong people. The police came. They were military. They told the...
Anita: They were military?
Miguel: They were military guys. I was speaking to them. We were just speaking about politics and I was just telling...
Anita: Where were you?
Miguel: In the mall. And I was just telling them how I respect what they do, but they're an oppressive apparatus.
Anita: They're an ... a what?
Miguel: Oppressive apparatus. That's the word that I used. The exact word that I used before I got deported. I told, "You know, I respect what you do. You know, you don't know, but you are an oppressive apparatus. You do realize that, right?" And they're like, "No, you know", very patriotic. "No" and this and that and you kind of smell like alcohol. I'm just going to leave. I left. Right before coming outside, the police were there and were like, "Hey, we had some complaints that you were bothering folks here. You were bothering fellow military", you know, "Let me search you". I had a bottle of gin. Stupid. That's me.
Anita: Word for word.
Miguel: So, I had a bottle of gin -- he saw it, "Hey, you're coming downtown with me". And I told him, "Well, if you do this, there will be a lot of repercussions that you don't understand what's going to happen". I was already warning him, I'm going to get deported. I told him the whole picture, "I'm going to separate from my mom, you know. Just so you can keep that in mind". Because police officers can use their judgment and I had police officers that let me go. This guy was a rookie. This guy was into his job. "I'm just trying to do my job". And then I got pissed off and I told him, "I hope you can sleep well at night, because you don't understand what's going to happen. You really do not understand the gravity of this". So, yes, I went to ICE, born in Mexico, now I'm here because of that.
Miguel: Not listening to my dad. My dad told me not to go outside. Because he knew that I was very -- I like to speak about politics. I like to speak about politics, and you can get in trouble. You can get deported. He told me that, those exact same words.
Anita: He told you not to go outside? What do you mean? Told you not to go and get drunk or [inaudible 01:04:41]?
Miguel: Not go outside... Well, he kind of knew what I was going to do, right? It was my day off. He knew I was going to drink some alcohol and maybe be loose with my tongue, right? And that's exactly what happened. Didn't go to a bar, went to a store, drank a little bit. Made me feel good. I wasn't being aggressive with anybody. So, you know, I was kind of ... I drank, but I wasn't aggressive. I was just more talkative than anything. Very talkative. You know, it's kind of weird, you know. But, yes, that's what happened, and you know I drank alcohol. A little bit tipsy. I talked to these military people, got them pissed off, they called the police, police got me, they found an open container, “Let's go to downtown”.
Miguel: That's why I'm here, because of alcohol. Mostly not because of alcohol, I think mostly because of, you know, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I drank alcohol in bars and spoke to people, they were pretty rational, and we had some very nice conversations in the bar. You know, I learned a lot.
Anita: Maybe telling a vet that he was part of an oppressive state...
Miguel: Right, a veteran. Yes, that's true. That was my bad. [chuckles] Right? Now in retrospect, it's like, yes, you shouldn't do that, you know. There's no need for you to tell them that. Maybe that's a conversation you need to have with a professor of a university or maybe like yourself, you know. But not a veteran because that... Are you a veteran yourself?
Anita: No, but I'm a professor of a university.
Miguel: You're a professor of university, okay, so maybe that's a good conversation with somebody that maybe has that same idea. Right? [chuckles] But not to a veteran, right? I feel...
Anita: Maybe not, if you're undocumented.
Miguel: Exactly, what was I thinking, right? But I thought I was the king of the world.
Anita: With a bottle of gin.
Miguel: With a bottle of gin. But just so you can know the level of confidence that I had. My parents were thinking about, "No, you know you can get deported. Be careful". Very careful. I wasn't careful. I was too confident. I thought that being deported was the last thing that was going to happen to me. And it happened to me. Somebody that took advantage in the States, went to university, you know, was a good student, you know. Did really good, I was a Sunday school teacher, as well. And had very good conversations with people, but anybody can get deported. You have to follow the rules, right, you know. I would tell people not to do that, if you're living there undocumented. Try to do the right thing.
Anita: So, I have one more question for you.
Miguel: Yes, ma'am.
Anita: Kind of a reflection and then I'll let you go. [I’d like to write about] the US's loss, Mexico's gain. By deporting people is a loss for the US and a gain for Mexico.
Miguel: Yes ma'am. Absolutely.
Anita: How would you write that piece? What would you say?
Miguel: What would I say? I would say that the US is giving to Mexico human capital for free. Right? Giving human capital for free because of irrational politics. Because of politics, because of politics that might have some sort of racist undertones. I don't know. They're deporting human capital, they're I guess just giving away money to Mexico, right? Human capital. That's very strange. They're deporting human capital. They're giving, they're importing these great assets for free. Which is good, for Mexico. It's bad for the US. But because of this backward politics.
Miguel: So, I would paint something. I would paint a picture of that. You know, this kind of caveman. I would paint a caveman and then just throwing away dollars to Mexico, right or something. Something along those lines, you know of backward politics not realizing that they're deporting human capital.
Anita: So, in that human capital, are we talking, we're talking about people who are, like people who speak English. What about the values they come back with? Those experiences, is this something that Mexico gains from its migrants?
Anita: How, can you talk just a little bit about that?
Miguel: Yes ma'am. On the inside in terms of the American mentality. What made America so good? Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship, that hands on, that being proud of your country, putting Mexico first. These American ideas, putting Mexico first, innovation, innovating, insight, you can potentially make Mexico independent from the US and not shining their boots anymore. You know, if you have these young people getting into these... But the thing is, getting them into this, you know, political atmosphere. Getting them interested in this.
Miguel: And Mexico could be fundamentally changed. It could be another America, or even better. And I think it could be a little bit better. Because we have both worlds, right? But yes, we're bringing insight. What made America so great, you know, could make Mexico great again, because we bring the ideas. The ideas are what's important really. The abstract, the intangible. That's what solidifies eventually into something. And it can solidify into an independent, pluralistic Mexican society, that puts Mexico first. And it's going to be a competition to America, to the US, you know.
Anita: You just gave me my title. Making Mexico great again.
Miguel: Making Mexico great again. There you go, there's the title right there. [chuckles] Awesome.
Anita: Thank you so much.