Carlos was born in Ciudad de México, MX. His dad and one of his brothers had been living in the U.S. for a year. Which is why Carlos, his mom, and other brother decided to immigrate to the states to reunite with them. Like a lot of families, they had to cross the border to get here. Carlos remembers how that was one of the worst experiences of his life. Not only were they almost abandoned in the middle of the desert, but he had to witness his mom being abused by the person crossing them over.
It was in the middle of summer when they crossed through the Arizona desert — he recalls having to hide in some type of metal shed for a week. The people who were supposed to take care of them forgot about them, and they were left with no water to drink. Fortunately, they were able to find some beer that someone had left behind and were able to get their lips wet with it to feel less dehydrated. After a week of hiding, border patrol found them, and they got sent back to Mexico. Despite all those hardships, they tried again.
The second time around they decided to ask a Catholic church for shelter while they waited to cross again. While the process was better the second time around, they still had to walk around 12 hours at night and they even bumped into a gang member along the way (there are usually gangs across the border fighting for territory). Luckily, they found another group of people that were crossing and tagged along with them to make their journey a bit safer. He was 14 years old when he came to the U.S.
Once you arrived in the U.S. did your family have an emergency plan in case someone was to get detained?
We never had an emergency plan. One thing that my dad always told us though, was to look down, stay quiet, and don’t go against the people, because you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. We knew the status that we were in. Growing up I saw a lot of injustices, but I was afraid of something happening to me or my family, so I never spoke up. That was probably my dad giving us his best advice, but that instilled fear in us, and it followed me through all of my high school years. I never went out to parties or went out with friends, because I was afraid that if one of my friends did something and cops were involved, something could happen to me or my family.
How did living undocumented make you feel, knowing there was that cloud over your head?
I was 14 when I arrived here so I was aware of my status. I remember one of my best friends in high school — since the very first day I met him I thought he was a great guy. One day I decided to open up to him about my status and because of that, he stopped talking to me. A week later he was hanging out with one of his friends and he started yelling “wetback” at me. This was someone I actually trusted, and it just made me feel that I couldn’t talk to anyone about my situation anymore, so I just decided to isolate myself.
Once you obtained DACA status how did your life change?
Before I was able to get DACA I felt like I was tied down. One of the things my parents always taught me when I was in Mexico was “always help whenever you get a chance to.” I always wanted to get involved in my community, but I was afraid that because of my status people would discriminate against me. Once I became a recipient, I began volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club, 20-30 club with my wife and other community organizations. I was also able to find a better job and began working at a financial institution. My manager at my job — who was part of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — saw everything I was doing, and I was presented with the 2015 Man of the Year Award due to my community work. DACA opened up a lot of doors for me.
Did having DACA make you less afraid?
Yes. It actually made me feel that I could achieve more since I wasn’t afraid of being deported. It gave me that security to follow my dreams and continue helping my community.
What were your initial thoughts last election and what that could mean to immigrants/DACA recipients?
I was actually able to obtain my residency before the election but I still have friends and family that are undocumented or DACA recipients so I’m still scared of what could happen to them. When I heard the news that Trump had won my heart sank, I was afraid all over again. Every day, waking up and reading everything he is doing and all the hate and fear he is provoking on people just hurts. People need to realize that DACA recipients and undocumented people are great people and that to be a DACA recipient you have to have a 100% clean record.
I hope that this pandemic showed people that we are essential. Many undocumented and DACA people are working in the fields, and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have any food on our tables. We have DACA recipients who are working in hospitals and helping take care of people. It’s not fair for them to be marginalized for just trying to better their lives, the economy, and the community.
What is the thing you are the proudest of and why?
Even though I never asked for any recognition, in 2015 I received the Man of the Year Award in Merced county from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for my community work. Also, working in a financial institution has taught me so much, and I take pride in teaching my customers and anyone who asks me how to be financially stable. It feels good!
What is something you are hoping to accomplish in the future?
I want to teach my daughter to be inclusive and treat everyone equally. I will talk to her about my history so she knows what I’ve been through and can be grateful and humble. I want to teach her that you have to set your goals and work hard for them. That's something my grandparents and parents taught me, and I feel like I have a responsibility to pass it down to her.
Why do you think it’s important to share your story and speak up?
I think I was always scared to speak up especially after the way my friend treated me after telling him about my status. But with everything going on, I feel that if I don’t speak up people won’t learn the other side. In order for people to understand each other and be able to coexist, we need to talk to each other and share our experiences. If I can at least touch one person’s heart and make them think twice about their prejudices, I think that’s a good thing.
What do you wish people knew about DACA recipients/immigrants?
I wish people knew that they/we are not bad people. We are here to help. We came, or were brought, here trying to escape a place where insecurity and violence could have ended our lives. We are trying to make a better life here. We are not here to take advantage of the system, we pay taxes, we work hard, we do not take government assistance like people claim we do. To some people this is the country where they grew up and know no other country, we are Americans and we love this country and will do what we can to improve it. I wish people realized when they say “why don’t they come the legal way?” To understand that the legal way is not so simple and that people coming from South/Central America have a lot more hurdles than people from other continents.
What message do you have for Dreamers/immigrants?
Don’t be afraid, don’t give up and don’t let anything stop you. Always be the best person that you are and show people that we are respectful. Keep moving forward, como decia mi abue “el hambre me tumba, pero el orgullo me levanta, (hunger may knock me down, but my pride will make me get up) things will get better.