June 1, 2019
Mexico City, Mexico
Being in the JROTC
1 of 3
*To hear more about Miguel listen to the playlist above
Introduction in Miguel’s words: I came back to Mexico filled with excitement and started to work on myself. I started my changes, I am a man. I have always been a man. I am more healthy mentally, I feel amazing and blessed. Now with a beautiful family. A gorgeous wife, Josselin and a handsome son Emir. I am Miguel.
Sergio: One of the first questions we have is why did your family migrate to the US?
Miguel: Basically, my family was in danger due to my dad's job, so we had to leave and move to the US.
Sergio: Your dad never talked to you about what happened?
Miguel: He did. He told me that since he was a lawyer, he had to do his job and kick someone out of a property. When he did that, another person was like, "Hey, I need you to kick this person out of this property." And it was a big offer and he offered to pay in American money. He did more research on it, even it sounds crazy to me, and he noticed that this person worked for the mafia here in Mexico. And my dad refused and several months he was being harassed. Even came to the point where finally he came in danger too, even his life, our lives, was threatened. Our lives were threatened and that's when we moved to the US.
Sergio: What does your family leave behind?
Miguel: Well mostly family here.
Sergio: Do you remember your first day in the United States?
Miguel: To be honest, no I don't [Laughs]. I was too young.
Sergio: How about your first memory?
Miguel: Was in school actually, in elementary school. I remember going there and not knowing a lot of English at all. I remember not understanding English, but somehow I managed and learned English fluently.
Sergio: Were there any teachers that really stuck in your mind that you still remember that you still think about?
Miguel: Yes. Oh yes. Yes I do. I think in around 2000, I had, I think, a teacher named Ms. Walker in Corpus Christi. She was really, really sweet. I loved how she taught. I would learn so quickly with her. She was one of my favorite teachers. That's one of the teachers I do remember.
Sergio: What was your overall experience in school in the US?
Miguel: I think it was a little bit normal, like you see in movies and stuff. Of course, I wasn't you know, bullied or anything. We all have those gossips and everything around high school. But I really liked it, going to high school in the US. It is what I've known.
Sergio: Were you involved in any school activities?
Miguel: Yeah. I was in JROTC, which is kind of like a glimpse into the air force or whichever military branch the school had. So it was pretty neat. I turned out to be the physical trainer commander. I had a lot of ribbons. I had a lot of fun. I still remember my instructors, which were Major Han and Sergeant Hardy. It was great. We traveled, we went to Washington, D.C., came back. So had a lot of opportunities there.
Sergio: So, what kind of values did you get from that experience? What do you think really stuck with you?
Miguel: Discipline. Teamwork. It brought me out of my shell. Before I was super quiet, not talkative, it was really hard for me to talk. Going to JROTC helped me a lot to break out of my shell and experience new things, talk to new people, all that good stuff.
Sergio: I think earlier you mentioned that you didn't know you were undocumented until at some point. When was that point and what was that process?
Miguel: When I was 18.
Sergio: When you were 18? So this was after you were JROTC?
Miguel: No. Yeah, this is after all that stuff. I didn't really know. People would say I looked too young for my age. And I started to believe it. I'm like "Am I really this age?" And then I looked through documents and I was like, "Hey dad, where is my birth certificate, my documents?" So he's like, "Oh, it's right there above my desktop and everything.” I looked and I was like, "Oh snap, I am this age then. This is interesting." And I was like, "Oh, what is this place?" And they were like, "That's the... Where you were born in Mexico. You were born there, you were born in Mexico in that hometown." And it's like, "Hey." Yeah, before that I was kind of oblivious to where I was born because it didn't really come to mind. It didn't worry me or was not a priority in my world. My priority was friends, living a normal life over there, looking for a job or going to school or doing all that kind of stuff. My significant other. But that wasn't really on my mind.
Sergio: So was it a struggle to kind of be in JROTC? It's like a very like American thing to do.
Miguel: No, it wasn't a struggle. It came like second nature to me to be in JROTC. It was really sweet, awesome to be there and to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
Sergio: And when they found out did that?
Miguel: It sort of crushed me because I was like, well in my mindset I was... It was a bittersweet thing. I was like, "Oh, okay. I'm not only American, but I'm also now Mexican American.” So it was a little bit to adapt to it. It explains why I speak Spanish and maybe this, and why my mom cooked certain foods than other American friends do. So it was, I guess the best of both worlds you can say.
Sergio: Do you ever think about joining the military?
Miguel: Here or over there?
Sergio: Over there from JROTC?
Miguel: I did think about it, but it was like, "No, I'll probably get deployed and miss my family too much."
Sergio: So did you work in the US?
Miguel: Yes, I did.
Sergio: What was your favorite job and what was it like?
Miguel: My favorite job, well that's an easy one. Abercrombie and Fitch, I worked there as a model impact. Basically, what you do is you wear their clothes, you model for them, and you are in retail. So you go ahead and sell clothes, sell the clothes, so help the customer out, customer service as well as put up the clothes when they shipped in. When you ship them in, you get them in boxes, open the boxes, separate the guys and the girls, so on and so forth. Pretty easy job.
Sergio: How about the least favorite thing about the United States?
Miguel: People discriminate too much against the Mexicans and other foreign country people. If you're from Arabia or if you from Spain or Mexico or anything like that, they'll look down on you a little bit. But they're not noticing that their origin is also from somewhere else. We just keep ours a little bit more alive.
Sergio: What are some of your favorite things in the US, like your best experiences?
Miguel: I mean they have big parties but comparing here to the US, it kind of doesn't compare. I mean Houston's beautiful. It has its beauties, but to be honest I felt pretty closed in, a little bit claustrophobic. I was limited to what I can do to with myself and what I can do with my life until I came here. Here I feel a little bit more like I can breathe. I have more opportunities here than I did over there.
Sergio: I guess coming back to the racism that you mentioned, did you ever have an experience that you faced that discrimination?
Miguel: Not particularly. I’ve seen other people a little bit. The only time I've seen it for myself is when I got deported, went to court, went through all that. I had to go ahead, and they had to believe someone else other than myself. So kind of kept looking at me like I didn't belong there, when I did.
Sergio: About how you returned to Mexico. Can you tell me more about what happened and what led to the process?
Miguel: Like my journey here or like how I traveled here or how?
Sergio: What was the whole incident that led to you being arrested and then being deported and what happened during that? What happened after that? Kind of walk me through it.
Miguel: Basically, to summarize it a little bit, I got into the wrong crowd when I was partying a lot—this happened after a breakup. I found someone at a frat party, a house party with a lot of people there. You know how frat parties are. Basically, I didn't know the girl at the time, and we became close, but later realized she's not a very good person to be around with. It was like, "You know what? This isn't very good. I have to stop hanging out with you. I'm sorry, can't be friends can't hang out. I have to delete you from my life basically." I blocked her on everything. She did not like that. She came back to the point where basically she told people that I did something to her that I didn't. For a year I fought the case, but they saw me as “Well, foreign person, we'll just kick them out, whatever.” And that's when Trump just came to power as a president. So I'm like, "Oh great, that's not good for me."
Sergio: So, at what point in the process did Trump come to power?
Miguel: It was by the end of the year of maybe 2017, 18 , when he came to power. I'm guessing. I don't remember.
Sergio: Where were you in the process?
Miguel: I was going to court and that's when they're like, "Oh, okay, well things have changed a little bit. This means that you're going to have to go to jail for this for 10 days." When I did, I fought it as best as I could. But after the year I couldn't anymore. No one was there. My dad was at work. My current girlfriend at that point was coming from school to where I was. So I was just sitting there. They were like, "Okay, just sit here." I was in the court room and they were like, "Okay, well we need your stuff, your cell phone, everything." So I gave him my stuff. They put them in a baggie.
Miguel: They took me in the back door. They put me in a holding cell to go to jail. Of course, going to jail wasn't so fun. I was there for 10 days. It was pretty difficult because I couldn't see my family, couldn't see my significant other or anything. I would talk to them on the phone, but surprisingly that was the hardest part. The easiest part was when I went to the immigration.
Sergio: This was the immigration detention center?
Miguel: Yeah, the holding cell is totally different. They wake you up like at three o'clock in the morning, I was like half asleep and then they were like, "Okay, well sign this." They make you sign.
Miguel: What I remember was they can only hold you for 24 hours after the time that you're supposed to leave. ICE usually has a hold on you so that you can't get out and that time expired and they made me sign something. At that point I was half asleep so I didn't know what was going on. So, me signing it told them that, “Yes, it's okay to take me to the immigration place.” So from there it was really cold. They took me, and in the holding cell was terrible. They would treat you like you're a criminal, you didn't belong there. They held you in this little cell, like bathrooms and everything. It was really small. I was like, if you go to the zoo and you see like an animal just sitting there, it's basically that size. Finally, when I got my clothes, I changed, went to the detention center, which is a different facility, different building.
Miguel: That's when everything started to fall in place. I felt lighter on my feet. I still miss my family, but they're a little bit more crushed than I was. Finally, my time there came to an end. They woke me up one morning and I got to leave. I went ahead and left. They put me in a van. In the van it was pretty hot. The women will be in one side and the men will be in the back side and there'll be like a gate in the middle so we won't do anything to each other or they won't hurt us. So they separated the men from the women. When it was about what, five, four hours to get to [foreign language, location].
Sergio: That's where?
Miguel: Yeah, that's when they were like, "Oh, we're here." They threw the food at the ground and threw our stuff at the ground so we can pick it up. And they were like, "Okay, well there's a border, walk." And we will have to pick up our food from the ground and walk over there and they will have their guns. So if anyone would try to turn around and go back to the border to the US border, they will shoot you. So, I was like, "Well, I don't want to go back over there." So, I went ahead and just took my stuff, left, and they greeted me with like open arms to Mexico.
Sergio: So before you got to Mexico, how long was it while you were in the detention facility?
Miguel: 10 to 12 days, I believe.
Sergio: And before that you were in the holding cell you said?
Miguel: [Affirmative noise].
Sergio: How long were you in the holding cell?
Miguel: For me, it felt for eternity, but it was like five, six, seven hours.
Sergio: Five, six, seven hours?
Miguel: Five to seven hours, between that. You lose time because you don't have a clock or anything in there. So you don't know.
Sergio: And the conditions where you were being held?
Miguel: So poor, it was poor. There was writings on the wall, there was toilet paper, piss everywhere. Excrement. I mean they didn't really clean that well in the holding cell. They cleaned more in the detention center than the holding cell. The thing that I've noticed was actually, when they would detain people, I would see that the guards there would be like, "Hey look, this is nice belt. You want to keep it?" They would keep the stuff that they would take from the immigrants. So I'll be like, "Okay, that's kind of messed up. That's not yours, that's theirs." But I couldn't really do anything.
Miguel: The other thing that I found out was they added actually felonies to my thing, to have an actual reason to deport me. When I went to court, I saw that they were like, "Oh, I see that you got deported before." I'm like, "No, I never got deported before. That's when I was in court before I got deported.’ And they were like, "Yeah, I see here. You were deported before when you were four years old." And I'm like, "No, I was not. I would have remembered that." And of course the person opposite that wanted me out would be like, "Well yeah, maybe you were too young to remember." I was kind of mad. So I was like, "I'm pretty sure I would remember that. It's kind of traumatizing for a kid to get deported, even for an adult it's traumatizing."
Miguel: The judge was like, "So, she got deported at four years old? And crossed the border back to the US, like crossing the desert and all?" They're like, "Yeah, you got deported." And I'm like, "No, I would have remembered a terrible desert and being hungry and sick and maybe, you know, I would remember that. That's traumatizing for a kid. No, I never been deported." So, they were like, "Okay, well whatever" [Weak chuckle]. I was like, "All right, well that makes no sense but okay." But then I got even more angry because they were trying to get rid of me. I was like, "Okay, well I just want my deportation order, just give me my deportation." They were like, "Okay, we'll get you your deportation." That was it.
Sergio: So at the end of the day. Was it a voluntary departure or was it, a deportation order?
Miguel: I think it was both in a way [Chuckle].
Sergio: A little bit of both?
Miguel: Yeah, because I didn't want to stay there any longer and I didn't want to stay there for a year to fight the case. I'm just going to be like, “You know what, whatever. Just deport me for 10 years. I'm not able to go back for 10 years, well nine more years.” So, I'm like, “Okay, whatever. I'll just live my life.”
Sergio: When you returned to Mexico, you mentioned you had a warm welcome. What was that like when you walked in [foreign language, location]
Miguel: It was like my world just turned upside down for the better. It was something different. It was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel to be honest. Seeing something... People, so warming, so welcoming, people that will actually want... Feeling wanted in a place. It was different for me than living in the US. I didn't feel, basically, wanted there. I would have to look for it in people themselves. But feeling wanted in a place that is all around you, it's something amazing.
Sergio: What made it so? What kind of things happened as soon as you walked in?
Miguel: They gave me food. They took care of me. They had a smile on their face. They made me feel like I was an actual person and I didn't feel that for a while.
Sergio: You didn't feel it in the US?
Miguel: No, I felt out of place in the US. I know people are, "Oh, it's the big dream." I'm like, "Yeah, but it's not the same as here."
Sergio: So, when you were welcomed, they gave you food, they gave you water. What happened after that? What was the transition like?
Miguel: I called my dad, told them where I was. They gave me my papers. Basically, they guide you through everything. So basically, they were like, “Okay, well give me your name, give me all this, we'll put you in the system here.” I did, I gave him my birthday, everything that they needed. We went to a second building. That's the building where they gave me the papers, my ID, which is a piece of paper with my name on it and information about me and then a picture of me. And they used that to give me 10% off on buses, traveling, airplane tickets, anything. And from there we went to a different place—that's where you can call your family, whoever you need to send you money. That's where you can go ahead and trade your American money to Mexican money.
Miguel: And that's what I did. I waited there for a little bit and they were like, "Okay." Well I bought my ticket for my bus, I went with some people. And from there I bought my ticket and from buying my ticket I went to Monterey. From Monterey I went to here, Mexico City. From Mexico City I went to [foreign language, location] that I had family in. So there—
Sergio: How did you do that? How did you travel?
Miguel: How did I travel? Bus, all bus. It was long ride [Chuckle], a very long ride, it took like 17 hours. I was like "Wow." I was super tired when I was looking for my grandparents. I saw my grandfather and I didn't know. I knew him, but I didn't recognize him. So, some people were helping—
Sergio: Was that the first time you net your grandfather?
Miguel: Yes, since I was four, so I don't remember him, I don't remember him at the time.
Sergio: Had you ever seen him before, like over Skype?
Miguel: Nope, maybe over video, but people look so different from video than from in person. So yeah, I didn't know how he looked like. So, I called my dad and I was like, "Hey, how does your dad look like?" [Chuckle]. And he was like, "Well he's pretty short. He looks pretty white. He has green eyes." I'm like, "Oh, he has green eyes. I didn't know this. I was looking for a Brown-eyed short person." And he was like, "No, he has green eyes." I'm like, "Okay." So finally, actually, my cousin found me, and he called me by my name. He had a deep, really deep voice—I got scared. I was like, "Yeah, that's me." And he's like, "Okay, well come with me. Your grandfather's over here." And I'm like, "Okay. Well, they found me" [Chuckles].
Miguel: So, I went to their house. They were asking me a few questions—my Spanish wasn't so well back then like it is now. And they said “Hi,” they introduced themselves. Of course, I knew off the bat it was my dad's family, him and his brother look so much alike. And I took a shower. It was very different because their home is a little bit more from when my dad was younger. They had the house since forever. They had a boiler in the back and stuff like that. It was very different customs here than over there. They had a washer, but it was very different. I was like a little bit in shock still where I was. I'm like "Okay." At first they were strangers to me, so I was like "Uh.”
Sergio: Whose house was it?
Miguel: My grandparents. Yeah.
Sergio: Was this like a completely nice place?
Miguel: Yeah. It was very homey to put it in those words. Yeah.
Sergio: Is that not something you had in the US, or?
Miguel: I did. My parents, very neat home. But again, I felt an atmosphere in the US totally different from Mexico. It's a little bit more eye-opening here than over there. Or I should say more alive.
Sergio: More lively?
Miguel: More lively here than over there.
Sergio: [Laughs]. Is that because you can hear the music [crosstalk 00:27:27]?
Miguel: [Laughs]. But in a good way.
Sergio: So, was that transition difficult after you kind of met with your grandparents?
Miguel: For me, surprisingly it wasn't that difficult. Adapting to a different environment was pretty easy for me. Since back in the US it was pretty difficult. For here, I just saw it as a new beginning, a new way for me to start build my life, be an adult. I'm adult, write my own story. And, for me, that was a little bit exciting. My parents are still a little bit sad that I'm not with them, but for me to open my wings, I see it that way. For me to start a new life, basically. And I did.
Sergio: A little bit of an opportunity for you, you think?
Sergio: Aside from learning Spanish, what other things did you have to get used to?
Miguel: A little bit of the customs, kind of like transportation—I was used to in-car transportation—through the Metro or Combi or microbus. So, it’s a little bit different. It's a lot better, but I do miss driving sometimes because I did drive a lot over there, but other times I'm just like "I don't want to drive."
Sergio: Were you able to get a job right after?
Miguel: Yes, I was quickly to get a job.
Sergio: You said you wanted to go to school, you're still working on that.
Miguel: [Affirmative noise]. Is there any way we can wrap this up because I have to get back to work? Sorry about that.
Sergio: I guess, two more important questions. In what ways do you think that the US shaped who you are now?
Miguel: The US? I mean people in the US, even in my parents, I see that they see Mexico as very dangerous, very dark place to live. So they shaped me to believe into something that is not true. Completely not true. Actually the opposite. Coming to Mexico made me see that it was amazing to be here. It's actually a little bit more safer than over there. Over there, everywhere around the world, you get jumped, whatever. But over here, I mean I have been jumped before, but I still rather get jumped here than over there. It's a weird thing to say, but it's true because over there they won't think twice of killing you to say the least. I mean they bring guns to school. They're a little bit more violent in the US than here and they think here is violent. No, it's just we're more open showing you dead bodies on newspapers than I've noticed in over there. Over there, they were a little bit more like babying you and sugar coating it.
Sergio: Is there anything that the US or Mexico can do better at helping you kind of return, reintegrate?
Miguel: To return? Well for the US they should not just put fake felonies on you for example. Because I know they just kind of put stuff together and they're like, "Okay, here." But they can do a little bit more research on that and actually see what happened. If I got deported for that one reason, they could have just done a little bit more research instead of rushing through. That's what they can do better.
Sergio: Okay. Thank you so much for your time Miguel.