Sylent

Interviewee

Anita Isaacs and Anne Preston

Interviewer

May 29, 2019

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Facing discirmination and adapting to Mexico

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*To hear more about Sylent listen to the playlist above

Anita:

Now maybe we can talk a little bit about your story.

Sylent:

Okay.

Anita:

Maybe we can start with your arms.

Sylent:

My arms.

Anita:

Illegal Mexican.

Sylent:

Yes.

Anita:

Where does that come from?

Sylent:

Well, since I learned that I was living illegally in the United States, I got discriminated for that. They would call me “illegal Mexican.” So I took that as a positive thing and said, "Yes, I am," and I felt like I needed to represent that not just for myself but for a whole generation because there's a lot of people just like me whose parents took them to the United States, and they struggled through the same thing. I felt that I needed to represent them. I didn't get the tattoos until I came back to Mexico. That's how it started. I do remember in high school, most of my friends that I hung out with were all Mexican, we were all born in Mexico. I guess that's how it started, just hanging out with friends and making jokes about it.

Sylent:

Eventually it became something that we represented. Other people knew that we were illegal so we took that another step and we said, "Yes. Yes, we are. We are illegal aliens. We are, but we're also Americans. We share the same traditions, we celebrate Thanksgiving, we celebrate the 4th of July." We had to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans. That's how it started.

Anita:

Let me ask you a question about that because I've thought about that in the past year or so of this work. That everybody who we talk to in your situation, describes themselves as being illegal. And ee who consider ourselves pro-migrant, et cetera, we use all these other words. Right?

Sylent:

Right.

Anita:

We don't say illegal. We say, "undocumented," or, "unauthorized," or whatever. Why do you guys describe yourselves as illegal? Why do we describe you -- we jump through all this stuff. How does that sound to you? It's something I've been thinking about.

Sylent:

I guess it's the-

Anita:

You're literally wearing it on your sleeve.

Sylent:

Yes.

Sylent:

I live it. I guess this is the street slang. We always use different vocabulary than the ones they use just to be different, I guess. We have our own lingo. We definitely want to represent. It's not like we're hiding or anything, but we want to also express ourselves to our full potential. I think that's one of the best ways. I got into the hip hop culture as a very young child, so I knew that there was graffiti, there was music, there was rapping, there was break dancing. We took that, and we placed our own little bits of ourselves into it. I guess that's where it comes from. I've heard immigrant. In school, I remember in elementary school, we were, there was a class called ESL.

Anita:

Yeah.

Sylent:

They would call us migrant students. And I didn't understand what it was until I grew older and started looking at the vocabulary. I saw that it could be you know, an alien. I said, "Yes, we are aliens. We're from a different planet called Mexico." I guess that's how it started and just people picking on us that we're illegal, "Go back to your country," and things like that. We definitely wanted to make that statement. Like, "Yes, we are illegal. So what?" That's how it started.

Anita:

A couple things with that. You said that you didn't know that you were illegal, though.

Sylent:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Anita:

When did you discover that you weren't? Did you have American friends?

Sylent:

Yes, of course. My grandfather was originally born in Texas. He came to Mexico when he was only seven years old. I didn't know I was illegal because I thought that my family had moved to a different part of the planet. I didn't think it was a bad thing. Of course, you see in the news, you start seeing people getting deported. I didn't understand it, but I somehow thought I was. I never asked my parents about it. We never really spoke about it. All my friends, of course, they were American. My neighbors were American. I guess in high school, maybe that's when it started up. I started investigating because there was, how do you call it, marchas?

Anita:

Protests.

Sylent:

Protests. I would see on TV students stepping out. I said, "Hey, I think I should be doing that. I'm not sure." Then once I just got pulled over and I said, "Oh, I'm American. I've been here my whole life. I have my documents." They actually told me, "Well, you're right about some things, but wrong about different things. Yes, you have been here your whole life, but you didn't cross legally into the States. That's why” I said, "Oh, okay. So, we are illegal." That's when I confirmed it, I guess. In the back of my mind, I thought I was, but I never actually officially heard it or knew about it.

Sylent:

Then after high school, when I got pulled over, they brought me to county and took me to prison. I said, "Okay, so it's real. I am illegal." Then after I fought my case and I came back out, that's when I really started to say, "Okay, yes, I am illegal. I am undocumented and I need to do something about it." I guess back then the easiest way was to get married with someone and they could fix you up. But I was 18 years old. I said, "No, I'd rather go back to Mexico." At the same time, I wanted to learn about my culture.

Anne:

When they pulled you over, what did they pull you over for?

Sylent:

It was like a checkup. It was a checkpoint.

Anne:

A checkpoint.

Sylent:

Yes. It was just a checkpoint. That's when I found out.

Anita:

How did they treat you?

Sylent:

I guess that first police officer, he was normal about it. He was like, "I'm just doing my job. You have to go here." Then once I got actually arrested, that's when things changed because they treated me like if I were an animal, or if I had done something really wrong. It wasn't the case. I did get in trouble like any normal kid. I don't know, maybe breaking something or with other guys playing in the street or fighting or things like that, but I don't know. I guess after I got arrested, and they put the handcuffs on me, that's when they started treating me like if I were a criminal. I said, "Why? I didn't do anything. I was only seven years old when I crossed." But I thought I crossed like everybody does. I guess it was after I got arrested that I started seeing the real discrimination with the authorities. In school, maybe just a typical guy that says, "Hey, you don't belong here." I would fight back saying, "Hey, you don't either because your ancestors are not even from America."

Anita:

Did you say, "My dad was born in Texas," My grandpa?

Sylent:

I didn't know then until I came back to Mexico. I don't know. I don't think my parents were trying to hide that. I think they were just trying to live, to continue living. I found out a lot of things when I came back to Mexico. Yeah, it was hard at first. I think I am actually happy that I haven't, otherwise I wouldn't be the person that I am now. That's how it was.

Anita:

But were you a member of a gang?

Sylent:

I knew people. The area where I lived there was all kinds of gangs. I did get affiliated. I didn't want to, but I guess I couldn't for some reason, or I did go out and hang out with them. I did do a lot of things that they did, but I never considered myself part of it. I thought I was just affiliated. I thought it was normal because everybody was doing it. Not only in my city but in other cities. I saw the TV, so I thought it was just something normal that teenagers went through and eventually they get back on track. I thought it was just part of being a teenager. I didn't really think I was, "Oh, I want to be the biggest gang member in the world." I just thought, "Oh, yeah, it's cool." I did want to be part of something, obviously. I didn't want to feel left out. I did have family members that did represent them more than that. I thought it was just normal.

Sylent:

I lived in Arkansas, so I remember a lot of people from California started coming in. A lot of people from Chicago started coming in. So, There was like a lot of activities going on. I just thought it was part of just being a normal teenager because including my, I don't want to discriminate, but my white friends, they were going through other things as well, so I was like, "Oh, it's just this normal thing." My black friends, they were doing similar things, so I didn't think it was only Mexicans. I thought it was just in general.

Anita:

What were your white friends and black friends doing that was the equivalent?

Sylent:

Well, graffiti. We used to love writing on the walls. Or, I don't know, smoking marijuana. Things like that. Not like damaging or killing people, nothing like that. But more like the lighter stuff. Especially my white friends, they were the ones that really had the marijuana. We didn't know where to get that. My black friends, well they were more into the hip hop and graffiti culture. So, I thought that was pretty cool, and I would go in the library and started just searching books about it. I said, "Okay, it's normal." There were like what you call crews, depending on which area that you lived. For example, this is the Centro so all the little kids from the Centro would hang out and they would go compete with the people from uptown and things like that. I guess that was just it.

Sylent:

Then eventually it got more into music. Instead of fighting each other we would like rap and insult each other but in a more clever way. At the end of the day, "Okay, you did good. I like what you said about them," or "I like what you said about this." It's just part of the culture for me to grow like that.

Anita:

Let me go back and then if you could talk a little bit more about the experience in detention, that would be important for us to know about it. When you grew up, did you see a lot of your parents? Were they working all the time? What was it like?

Sylent:

I guess I grew up more with my grandma because she would go and come back. During summer, I would stay with my grandma more. Yeah, I did see my father a lot. Mostly my father. My mom was the one that was more time at her job because she became a supervisor of a company, so she had to be there most of the time. My father was just a construction worker so after a certain time, he can't work anymore because of the light. I grew up with my father a lot. My sister and I, he would take us to the park, take us swimming. I don't feel like I missed them too much. I always felt that we were a family. No, I don't think I got that experience. I do know of other friends that their parents were at work all day and he was by himself at the house. I was like, "Hey, just come over here. You can come play at my house." We had a trampoline and everything.

Anita:

You said you celebrated both American and Mexican?

Sylent:

Yes.

Anita:

Tell us a little bit about that.

Sylent:

Well, January 6 is the Dia de los Santos Reyes Magos, so of course I wanted my toys. Then fourth of July was more like everybody doing firecrackers and of course I wanted to do that, too. When it was Dia de los Muertos, we celebrated a little bit different because we put an altar and we celebrate all our people who have passed away. Then the day before was Halloween, so we could dress up as whatever we wanted. Obviously, Christmas is both, but we mixed it because in the Mexican culture the Christmas is not only giving gifts, it's also doing, I don't know how you call them, when you go out and you sing songs, Christian songs-

Anita:

Carols.

Sylent:

Carol songs or things like that. Instead of eating turkey, we ate Pozole. It was a little bit of both, of course.

Anita:

Tamales.

Sylent:

Tamales, yes. My parents had Chicano friends, they were third generation American, whose parents had moved there and they are already adults. Then their children were American, but they spoke Spanish. We had all that.

Anita:

Which is your favorite holiday?

Sylent:

My favorite holiday? I'm not sure. I'm not sure. I think, well, maybe every child's favorite holiday is Christmas because of the presents. I didn't really care about the presents. I cared more about everybody being there. Sometimes the whole family didn't see each other until the end of the year. I think that was the time where I really got to see all of my cousins or I really got to see my uncles. But a favorite holiday? I don't know, April Fool's maybe? [laughing] I could do a lot of pranks on people. I'm not sure. I don't think I had a favorite holiday.

Anita:

One last question about this. There's a lot of people, and this was surprising too to us, talked about discrimination between Mexicans, illegal Mexicans, and Chicanos. Did you experience that?

Sylent:

Maybe not, because I grew up as a Chicano. Maybe not that much. I do remember other people being discriminated because they were from Mexico but from provinces, so they got even more. They got called paisanos. They were darker skinned, so I did feel it, not me personally, but I did feel it for my peers.

Anita:

Because you were a city dude?

Sylent:

Yeah, well, the area where I lived wasn't a big city. It was like _______. It wasn't super big, but it wasn't small.

Anita:

You said you weren't like people from the provinces, so you were considered Chicano?

Sylent:

Yes. That's, I guess, because of the area where we lived. I don't know. I guess my parents always wanted us to live in the nicer area so I would hang out with people like that. Then, when I would go see my friends, they didn't have white neighbors they had Mexican neighbors or people from other countries. In the area where I lived, we were the only Mexicans in the area. I do remember my neighbors that were black, the person on the side, he was my middle school coach from PE classes. We grew up in a very nice area. We had a front yard, a back yard, we had a pool in the back, we had a trampoline, we had a swing. I guess that's why they were working all day so they could provide us with that type of lifestyle. I didn't really feel that personally, but I do remember other people discriminating. I don't want to say for lower class people, they did. They did get that.

Anita:

When you got arrested, what happened? You got handcuffed.

Sylent:

I got handcuffed.

Anne:

Were you driving at the time or were you-

Sylent:

Yes. I was driving. I was coming back from work. I had the truck. I had my father's truck. He had all the tools in the back, and I was just coming back from work. There was a checkpoint. I got pulled over. I had a permission that they give teenagers to drive. I remember giving that. Then they were asking me more questions and then I started getting nervous for some reason. Then they started questioning me, "Hey, why are you so nervous?" "You're here. I don't know what you're trying to do." Then they took me into the, I don't know how to call it, separos, where they separate you from– There’s a glass window and they just put you in a room. They make you take off your shoes. It's like a cell, like a big cell. I do remember looking at people and they're like, "Wow, man, these people really look bad. I'm just 18 years old. I'm just a child."

Sylent:

They detained me there. I was there for six hours. I remember not being fed until a police guy, I guess he was Hispanic, he asked me, "Have you eaten?" I said, "No, I haven't." He went and got me some McDonald's. I do remember it was a long time, though. Then, they took me in to the county. I was in Arkansas. I went into _____________. Then that's whenever I said, "Okay, so it's real." They put me into the outfit, it was an orange outfit. I was separated with other people. It was hard because I didn't know, I didn't understand like that. I said, "Well, I don't think I can compare myself to them. They really are people who either hurt people or they’ve done damages. I don't think I have done that." I was in there with those people, so I guess they put me in the same category as those people.

Sylent:

Then they put us in a big cellblock, and they would ask me, "Why are you here?" I'd say, "Just being illegal." And then I would ask them, "Why are you here?" "Oh, first degree murder, armed robbery, possession of paraphernalia, drug trafficking." I was like, "Wow. Well, I'm just illegal." They were like, "Oh, don't worry. You're going to get out. You're not as bad as we are." I was like, "I hope not." It was whites, blacks, from other nations, Mexican, Hispanic people. It was everybody mixed. I do remember people just being with each other. White people being with them, and black people being with them. I said, "Why? Why can't we all just be together? It was like that at school, why can't it be here?" But I guess I started learning that racism exists, and you have to either defend yourself or defend your people.

Sylent:

I remember even defending a person from the Marshall Islands because a Mexican guy had taken his food. I said, "Hey, man, don't take his food. That's all he got to eat." They were like, "So, what, are you going to defend them now?" I'm like, "I'm just defending a person. He's just like us. We're all detained. We shouldn't be like that." But they got onto me and they said, "Either you're with us or against us. If you're against us, we're more." I said, "Okay, I guess I can be with you guys," just for being scared. Then after that I was there for about a month. Then they took me to a real prison. I remember they asked us to do jobs like clean your cell, clean the bathrooms, and things like that. Again, I was only 18 years old. I didn't know why I was put in prison with those people. In there, yes, I met some people that really had done some really bad stuff.

Anita:

Was this a maximum security?

Sylent:

I don't know. I don't think it was maximum security, but it was a federal prison. I think it was called ____________ or something like that. I was there for a couple more months. It was the same thing in there. If you were Mexican, you had to be with Mexicans. There were people in there from Russia. There were people from all over the world. But it was a federal prison. I remember asking, "Is this an immigration prison or is this a federal prison?" "No, it's both. We keep both immigrants and… you know" Yeah, I did get scared a lot, especially with just being 18 years old and being with people who are either double my age or older. They really had gang tattoos all over their face. They had marks. They had a lot of things going on with them. I remember hearing stories that they did. I was like, "Wow."

Sylent:

[43:33] They would ask me, "So why are you in here for?" I didn't want to lie because I didn't want to make them think that I was a bad person or like, "Yeah, I'm hard, too." I was like, "No, I'm just here because I'm illegal." Then I remember a group of Mexicans from Mexico City approaching me. It was like 18 people. They were like, "So, why are you here?" "I'm just illegal." They put me in a room. I thought, I don't know, you hear a lot of stories that they're going to do to you. But they were actually – They had my back. It was like, "You are our youngest guy here. Don't worry. We're going to take care of you. What do you need?" They gave me food, they gave me clothing, they gave me sandals.

Anita:

These are inmates.

Sylent:

Yeah, inmates. They said, "We're going to protect you but at the same time if you see something happening, you need to step up. It doesn't matter if your cellmate is white. If he goes out and harms another one of our guys, you have to step in. If not, we're going to step you out." Luckily nothing ever happened when I was in there. But it was drastically [unintelligible 43:48]. It was a new experience for me.

Anita:

You discovered racism in prison.

Sylent:

Real racism. In school you always hear people talking, but then the next day we're friends again. We have to be in the same class and do group activities. I guess now that I think about it, those kids, they were just acting what they would see on TV or what their parents taught them. But, yeah, once I got to prison, I guess I felt it more directly. During high school, it's just a normal shit talker saying, "Hey, go back to Mexico, you don't belong here." You can always defend yourself there, saying, "Hey, you're not even from here neither, so what are you talking about?" Or "I could be more American than you. Ask me any question and I'll answer it just as well as you can." I guess that was our power was being able to speak English and say, "Hey, I can speak Spanish and you can't and I'm already learning French," because I took French classes. "You don't even -" Things like that. It was just more like bullies trying to be a bully.

Anita:

Yeah.

Sylent:

Not really a racist. I do remember when I was working in construction, we went to a chicken house to do a couple of jobs there. One of the guys, not my co-workers but one of the guys that I guess it was his property, he did say something that I got offended at. But at the same time, I said, "Well, it's kind of real." He said that he had left out some shoes or boots out on the field and the next day that he went to go get them, they weren't there. He said, "One of those Mexicans probably stole them." It was probably true because there were some people that did those activities, but at the same time you're not sure. What if it was one of your own guys? Or what if you misplaced them? I did get back at him. I remember getting some scissors and I started cutting all his fence. I just started cutting the wires like, "Okay. Now you can really talk about it. Yes." I guess that was my form of defending myself. I don't think it was the best thing.

Sylent:

I remember that day I was crying back home. I said, "How can people just, I don't know, how can they discriminate if really if we take out our skin, we're the same on the inside? We both have flesh and bone. We're going to bleed the same." I'm like, "It doesn't matter where you're from. We're the same on the inside." I guess that was one of the few things because I worked with American people my whole life. They gave me jobs, they fed me, they would invite me into their house. Some people had pools, said, "Hey, we're going to have a pool party and I want you to come because you're one of my workers." Christmas parties where the company invites the whole co-workers to eat. I don't think I felt it until that day and until I arrived to prison.

Anita:

Did anything bad happen to you in prison?

Sylent:

No. Actually I was well taken care of by those people. They always told me that if I ever need anything, I should just call them or walk up to them and they would try to take care of me because I was the youngest. Most of the people were in their late 20s, 50s and I was the only teenager. They were like, "No, you don't belong here. We're going to take care of you."

Anita:

Did your family visit you?

Sylent:

They couldn't. They couldn't because they were illegal too, so they couldn't. They couldn't. I guess the only other way was to write letters. I never received any letter, but I do remember writing them. That was our freedom through writing letters.

Anita:

But you didn't receive any.

Sylent:

No.

Anita:

Did they write you?

Sylent:

Probably not. No, probably not. I think my dad said he did, but I never received it.

Anita:

Did you see your family again before you were deported?

Sylent:

Yes. I came back home. I came back home, and we fought my case, and my dad was actually locked up with me in county. He didn't go to prison like I did. He got out pretty quickly. I don't know why even. I'm not sure why. I don't know why I was the only person that was taken to prison. I don't know. Maybe they were just trying to prove a point. Then my dad came back to Mexico first. But I do remember meeting up with my family and then them telling us that we have to do something or we're going to keep getting those type of cases. Actually, my sister was sent to Mexico first. She didn't get any deportation. My mom sent her back to Mexico. She was only 15 years old.

Sylent:

[49:44] Then my dad came back and then I was living with my mom. I guess that was one of the most difficult part of my life was being with my mom and watching her struggle because I couldn't really work because I didn't have the papers. She could because she also had an illegal name there. She wasn't working under her name. She had another person's papers. She was able to work, but instead of my dad helping her out, it was on her. Of course, she had car payments, rent, bills. That's when I saw and I said, "Hey, I need to do something. If I stay here, all I am doing is causing my mom to spend more money." So, I told her, "Hey, I think I'm going to go back." Then I came to Mexico. She still stayed there. She was probably there for 20 years. But she moved to a different city.

Anita:

Is she back now?

Sylent:

Yeah, she's back now. Yeah, she's been here for maybe five years, four years.

Anita:

She stayed all by herself for another five years?

Sylent:

For another– I had stayed for 13, she stayed there for another seven years.

Anita:

Why didn't she come back?

Sylent:

She was trying to make money so when she could come back, we would have something. She did do it because now she has a car. I guess that was it. But as my mom and dad got separated, they eventually divorced. It was hard on both of us, my sister and I. I did feel guilty because I thought that because of me being deported caused my mom to send my sister and it caused my parents to separate. I did feel bad about that. It was horrible because I felt like I was a bad person. I felt like it was my fault that my parents got divorced. I felt really bad.

Sylent:

[51:59] Then as I got older, maybe in my mid 20s or early on, when I was 25, I learned that I had nothing to do with it. It was their choice. Recently, my mom came to visit here, and it was amazing because once again my whole family was sitting down at a table eating together. My mom has a boyfriend, my dad has a girlfriend, so I guess they put those issues aside as, "Hey now, we're still family. It doesn't matter who's next to us. We're always going to be a family." This happened last month.

Anita:

It was like Christmas.

Sylent:

Yeah, it was amazing. We all sat down at the same table to eat. I said, "Okay, we can work this out."

Anita:

Tell us about coming back. You said it was really hard.

Sylent:

[53:02] Yeah. Maybe not coming back. I was really excited. I was like, "Oh, yeah. I'm going to go back to Mexico and everything's going to go perfect because I'm Mexican." I came back and I tried to go to school. It was too expensive. I either had to work or study but I didn't have the money to study. I wanted to be a welder. I tried to do it here in Mexico, but they didn't pay at all. They didn't pay well at all. My uncle told me to become a teacher. I didn't want to, obviously. Who wants to be a teacher of other children? I saw the potential. All my cousins say, "Hey, you teach me English because they're asking me at my job to have a percentage." Friends telling me, "Hey, teach me English," or including meeting girls. They were like, "Hey, you speak English? You should come teach me." "Oh, yeah. Why not?"

Sylent:

It was good for that part but at the same time I did feel discrimination by my own people because they were saying, "Hey, you're American. What are you doing here?" Like, "Well, I'm Mexican. I was born here," because my Spanish wasn't good. Even still today it's not the best. They're like, "You need to learn how to speak Spanish." I said, "I do speak Spanish, just not as well." It's like, "You need to learn how to speak English." My defense has always been like that, "Yeah, okay, you too."

Anita:

Should’ve spoken to them in French.

Sylent:

Yeah. Yeah, and I didn't use it then, but I should have. But I did feel a cultural shock especially because, in Mexico City there's all kinds of people, all kinds of people. Of course, when I was in United States, I would hang out with people that listened to hip hop. That was it. I didn't really meet people that listened to metal music or reggae or things like that. I started going out with my cousin, he's a guitar player, so he started inviting me to his events. I would see different kinds of people. People with long hair, makeup on, all black. I thought it was pretty cool, like, "Okay, they have their own identity." Then I would go into the reggae events and saw people with dreadlocks, different type of black style, including people that worship other– Not just Christianity but people that practice Buddhism or practice Satanism or things like that. I said, "Wow. It's amazing."

Sylent:

Back then hip hop was really not a thing. It was bad. If you listened to hip hop, like, "Oh, you're a drug addict. You're bad. You're a criminal." That has always been the issue. I felt discriminated because of that because I'd dress like I do now with my hats. I would go ask for a job, they say, "No. I'm sorry. We're not looking for people like you." Those were the words. I'm like, "What do you mean?" It's like, "Yes. The way you have tattoos, the way you dress. We're not looking for people like you." I said, "What does that have to do with my knowledge? I'm probably smarter than that guy right there. What does that have to do with my knowledge?" "No." Because I had piercings also. Then it's, "Because our image is not like that." I was like, "Why?"

Sylent:

Every job I try to go get, it was like, "No." I was shut down. I learned that here in Mexico it's all about image. I just changed a little, started wearing dress shoes, maybe tighter pants, maybe dress shirts. I would go back to the same places and they would welcome me with open arms. It's like, "Wow. So, it was just all about image." If you look nice, they're going to treat you nice. Depending on how you dress and how you speak or how you drive yourself, that's how people treat you. I took that to my advantage and said, "Okay. I need to do something." That's when I said, "Okay, maybe teaching is a good opportunity since everybody's asking." I started looking for schools.

Sylent:

Then there was this one school that they said, "Hey, I don't care how you look, just you do need to change some things, but I'm not asking you to completely change yourself. Just so that you can seem legit." I'm like, "Okay. I can do that, I guess." I was only 18, 19 years old so I was like, "Am I ready to change or do I want to change even?" I said, "Why not? Maybe it could be better." So, I did change for that school, but then I realized that my identity or my personality started to change as well. I started to become somewhat of a prick. Yes. Then I said, "No. I can't do that no more. I can't." Because that's how the system takes you in and eventually it's not you that changes the system but the system that eventually changes you. So, I said, "No. I have to quit. I have to quit. I am getting paid well, I have everything I have because of that, but I can't lose my identity."

Sylent:

I got out, and then I realized that I didn't have to be different. I could still be me, but I could act some way around certain people. Yeah, it was hard because I didn't want to, I didn't want to but I felt like I have to because if I didn't I wouldn't get what I wanted, or obtain what I would get. But I do feel bad for becoming, not a total prick, but I do remember saying, "I don't know, don't buy from him because he's from the street," or "Don't buy your groceries there because it's not a good store." Things like that.

Anita:

Is that becoming a prick or was that becoming more Mexican chi-chi?

Sylent:

Oh, okay. I kind of guess that. Like, "Oh, I don't want to take the Metro because I'd rather take a taxi." Things like that. Because I was making more money and I could afford a taxi. I said, "No, that's not me. My parents never taught me to be like that." That's why I left that school. It was a very big school, but they did practice Christianity. They kind of, not forced us, but they said, "Hey, if you want to be part of this, you have to follow this, you have to come to our meetings, you have to come to our events." I guess that's what made me turn a little bit.

Anita:

It didn't appeal to you, the Christianity?

Sylent:

I don't mind it, but if they're trying to force it on me, then I say– It could have been like other religions. I just feel like if they try to force something on me, I'll say, "No. I'm sorry, but you can't do that." Because my parents, they're Catholic and my mom eventually became Christian because of her cousins in the United States. I had a lot of ideas. Once I arrived to Mexico, I said, "Okay, I don't want to be part of no religion. I do believe in God, but I don't want to be part of no religion." I guess that made me see things differently because there are lot of beggars in the street, and that school taught me to look at them differently. I didn't like that. Or when we had events, we all had to dress nice and everything. When we walk in the street to go to that event, we would see beggars in the street. My co-workers, they would look at them with, "Ugh." I guess I started to do it the same just to be part of it. I realized, "No. I'm wrong. I'm wrong for doing that. That person is just like me. He's also a human."

Sylent:

Speaking to my cousin helped me out a lot because he had other beliefs. He was more into the historic part of things rather than to look at it how it is. If he would talk about religion, he'd say, "It's just a part of history. We're all the same. It doesn't matter if you follow this or that. We're still human." He made me realize that it doesn't matter what religion you are, you're still a human. When we're born, they say, "Hey, he's born a human." They don't say, "Hey, he's born a Christian," or "He's born something." I guess he made me open my eyes towards that. That's when I realized that I have to leave that school so I wouldn't become something that I'm not. Now I don't discriminate no religion.

Anita:

Listening to you, it makes me think of the fact that you had this choice to leave. In prison, you didn't have a choice. To survive, you had to be with the Mexicans, you had to play that. But once you were here, you could exercise your free choice, right? Your free will.

Sylent:

Yeah. I could.

Anita:

You described the prison where you had to be with the Mexicans because it was a question of life and death.

Sylent:

I had to.

Anita:

But here, you didn't.

Sylent:

I didn't have to. I didn't have to. Right. Yeah, I guess that part has been struggling for me. I always think that there's a right and a wrong, but that's on both ends. What about the middle part? I don't want to be right nor wrong. I want to investigate first. I don't want people to tell me, "Hey, you have to do this because it's the right thing." I would say, "Hey, but you're not telling me what the bad thing is so how do I know what your right is also my right?" I guess that becoming neutral to things because too much of one thing can also be bad. Not enough of another thing can also be bad. You have to always keep it in the middle, keep it neutral. There's no right or wrong.

Anita:

How did you feel the Mexican government treats returning migrants?

Sylent:

They don't care. They have no – They don't care. I guess now that we've become more, they're starting to look into it. But back then, they didn't care. Even if you're Mexican living here, they didn't care so why would they care about another person that hasn't been here? I don't think they care.

Anita:

If you were given a chance to talk to them and to say, "You should care," do you think they should care?

Sylent:

No.

Anita:

You don't think they should care.

Sylent:

I don't think I would want to sit and talk to them.

Anita:

Why do you think they should care? What's the argument? Why do they have it wrong?

Sylent:

Because we're a big community. If they want our vote, they need to start to care. A lot of us, it's going to be either the first or second time that we vote. They have to start caring and start to look into our community because we're also Mexican, but we're not Mexican from here, we're Mexican from another place. They should care because if they want our vote, they should also start looking into that. Yeah.

Anita:

Do you think you bring special skills that they're missing?

Sylent:

Yes. Yes. English. Mexico is – I hear they want to make Mexico in the next 20 years to become bilingual. They can't do that without us. They can't. They can try, but it's like learning Spanish in the United States. You'll learn it, but you're not going to learn Spanish like we do in Mexico. We have that. We have both Spanish from here and both English from there. They should start to look into that. I don't know how to answer that. Yeah.

Anita:

It's a hard question.

Sylent:

Yeah, it's a hard question.

Anita:

What about your education?

Sylent:

That, too. I feel like a lot of us that have come back, we don't have that opportunity to continue our education because we don't have the money. We don't have – Including just to get your ID here, you go through a lot. You have to take a lot of documents that you don't even know if you have. A lot of people that came back, they don't even know what Mexico is like. Even trying to get an education, what are we going to study? What career can we make, or can we select to become part of a helpful community? My best guess is languages, not only English but other languages like French or German. I think if we want to be a first world country, we have to act like it. That's where our government is not putting its full potential because we do have the resources, but they're so corrupted that they'd rather keep that to themselves.

Anita:

What about values?

Sylent:

Values?

Anita:

Yeah. Do you think that growing up in the U.S. you come back with certain values?

Sylent:

Now that you mentioned it, yes, we do bring a lot of values, especially in the cleanliness. In Mexico City, everybody's accustomed to whenever they finish their package of whatever food they have, they just throw it on the floor. Not everybody, of course, but most of the people do that. Us, growing up in the States, we know that that's a horrible thing. Like, "You shouldn't do that. What type of person are you?" You know? That's one thing. Cleanliness. We bring that. Being independent. Over there in the United States, when you're 18 like most of the people that turn 18, they get to live in their own apartment, have their own car. Here in Mexico, of course we can't afford it. Sometimes we're 25 and we still live with our parents and we still have to give them some type of expense. Maybe that. Being independent.

Sylent:

I remember my cousins telling me when I was only 18, and I was trying to have my own apartment already. They're like, "Why? Why? You should just live with your dad." I'd go, "No. I want to have my own room. I want to have my own kitchen." They're like, "No, don't worry about that. You can just ..." I don't know. I guess we're more attached in Mexico.

Anita: Do you think that you come back with certain values that are different?

Sylent:

Some of us. Not all of them. Not all of us. But I think if we gather together and separate our difference, then yeah. I think it's possible. It maybe is going to take a long time because even here in Mexico we tend… Let's just say in Mexico, él que no transa, no avanza.

Anita:

No transa, no avanza?

Sylent:

Yes. Do you know what that means?

Anita:

Yes. If you don't transact, you don't make it.

Sylent:

Yes.

Anita:

You don't negotiate.

Sylent:

Exactly.

Anita:

Make, connect, whatever, pay off.

Sylent:

Maybe if we stop thinking like that, because like I said, if you enter a system that they're going to pull you in. Maybe if we stop thinking like that and say, "Hey, I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing this for all of us," the next person can say the same thing. He can influence another person to think the same thing because I think that here in Mexico, it's all about what I can do for myself, not really for others. Maybe if we change just a little bit on how we think, then maybe we could. Maybe we're the ones that need to plant the seeds so that the next generations could do it. So, yeah.

Anita:

Do you feel Mexican or American or both?

Sylent:

I've always been asked that question.

Anita:

I know.

Sylent:

I always say, "I can be more Mexican because I love history and I love studying about my culture here as a Mexican. I know more than the average person does about Mexico." Then they question me about, "How is it like to be an American?" I have that answer also. But now-

Anita:

What's that answer?

Sylent:

Now I don't want to be a nationality. I want to be a human. If aliens from different planet come, they're going to be, "Oh, wait, not the Mexicans because they're cool. Not the Americans." No, they're going to say, "Hey, all of you are humans and we're going to take over." I hope it never happens, but I don't think I want to be Mexican. I don't think I want to be American. I just want to be human. I think because if we are placed in that category of just a nationality, then it reduces everything because people categorize. Even in movies, they say, "Best Mexican actor," or something like that. Like, "No. He's an actor or an actress. He or she shouldn't be categorized as best Mexican or best Hispanic. They're humans. They have the talent just like anybody else."

Sylent:

I don't want to say that I'm Mexican or American. I am both. I'm bi-cultural. I just don't like that. I don't like what they say. I'd rather we say, "Hey, we're human. You and I are human." Yes, later on we get that, later on they tell us, "Okay, you were born in Mexico so that makes you Mexican." But since we're born, we're born as human, not even as a woman or a man. We're born as a human. Yeah. I get asked that question a lot.

Anita:

Yeah. It's an amazing answer. A human.


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