DACAmented: ERIK

Erik was born in Celaya, Guanajuato, MX. His parents were struggling financially in Mexico, and, like many immigrant families, wanted to provide a better life and education to their kids. Despite how people want to put the blame on DACA recipient parents for the limbo their kids are living in, Erik is proud of his parents’ decision. He believes it’s difficult for people who have never been put in a similar situation to understand how it feels to escape poverty, war zones, persecution, etc. But at the end of the day, he believes that any good parent would want to make sure their kids have the best life possible and will do anything in their power to do so. Erik was 9 months old when he came to the U.S. with his family.  

How did living undocumented make you feel growing up?

Growing up was difficult, there were certain things I could and couldn’t do — at the time I didn’t fully understand it. It was anything from participating in contact sports to taking driver’s Ed — even applying for colleges was difficult. At one point I contemplated joining the military only to get told I wasn’t able to. I wasn’t able to do everything my friends could do growing up, but as I got older, I started to understand more and more why. My mother was very overprotective in what I was doing and who I was with. She wanted to make sure my siblings and I were staying out of trouble and making sure we always tried to better ourselves. More importantly, my mom wanted my siblings and I to finish High School and further our education to better our lives. 

How did your life change when you obtained DACA status?

It was a year after I graduated high school when I became a DACA recipient. It took me like nine months to even be able to submit my application because there was so much information I had to provide. But everything changed for me once I got my DACA status. It changed where I could work to what I could do to help my mom provide for the family. She wasn’t the only one that was bringing money to the table anymore, I could help now. I could also be in charge of driving my younger brother to school because I had a license now. For me, it changed my life for the better.

Does having DACA make you less afraid?

No, it doesn’t. I always knew it wasn’t a permanent solution. I have always felt that just because we have been given an amazing opportunity it can be quickly taken away. So, in the back of my head, there is always that fear like “ok this can happen, this can be canceled just like they have been talking about doing.” I think for me, I just keep trying to better my life with the opportunity and time that I do have. If it does get to the point that it gets taken away, I will cross that bridge once I get there.

What was your reaction to our last election? What were your initial thoughts on what that could mean to immigrants/DACA recipients?

I think I had a similar reaction to how most immigrants/DACA recipients probably had. It was fear. The fear of the new president, who would publicly go out and call people coming from Mexico criminals, rapists, murderers and things like that. Basically, stereotyping people from Mexico. I feel that it has given the OK for people to act a certain way in public knowing that our president, the leader of the country, has the same views and beliefs. I think it was becoming a reality that this [DACA] could end.

What is the thing you are the proudest of, and why?

I think for me, even though I have made mistakes in my life, I have been able to apply myself to be more than just what society has stereotyped me to be, more than what I thought I could ever be. I personally think that my parents brought us over to the states to do more than labor work or become complacent in life. They wanted us to get an education and better ourselves. I think I’ve been able to achieve that in some way, by going back to college and getting a decent job. For me, the proudest thing I’ve ever done is being able to make my mom somewhat proud of me and to show her that her risks, her courage, her strength and her determination to give us a better life, I hope she knows, that it has paid off, and it wasn’t for nothing.

What are you hoping to accomplish in the future?

My goal is to finish school. I know for a fact that I can look at myself in the mirror and say “I made my mom proud” when I get my master’s degree. I know, for a lot of parents, finishing school, especially in the Hispanic culture, is something big because not everyone does, most people drop out. If I can show my mom that I got a degree, it shows that her sacrifice wasn’t put to waste. I feel that is a small repayment to show her that she came here [to the U.S.] for me and I want to show her that it was worth it. Our parents are the original Dreamers and their dream was so that their kids can have a much better life, a life that our parents could only ever dream of. By accomplishing our goals and being successful in our lives, that is helping to accomplish their dreams and wishes for us.

How might losing DACA affect your life?

I think for me, and for everyone else, they lose the career that they worked so hard to get and they lose the ability to afford not only school but their way of living to pay their mortgage/rent, food, bills, etc. I feel that by losing DACA, it puts people back into a limited spot to what they can and can’t do. I think if DACA ends not only does it hurt the recipients but also the country. A lot of Dreamers are essential to the country but not many people want to admit that.

Why do you think it’s important to share your story?

 I have always felt that people need to understand that DACA recipients are people too; they contribute to the economy and country every day. I decided to share my story because there are other recipients that are scared to share theirs. We have always been told to live in the shadows for our own protection. I want to show them that they are not alone. There are thousands of people who are in their shoes and who understand the struggle that they go through every single day.  

There are many misconceptions that we hear about immigrants/DACA recipients, what do you wish more people were aware of?

I want people to know that for a lot of us, including myself, we are proud of where we come from, our heritage, of our parents. We are proud of our parents and the risks they took, but we are also proud to live in and be part of a great country that has given us amazing opportunities.

Most of us [DACA recipients] try to live our life by the book. We try to do everything right and stay out of trouble and pay our taxes, we try to do everything correctly because if there is ever an opportunity for reform, we don’t want anything negative to prevent us from getting something permanent. We want to be outstanding citizens and I don’t think some people fully understand that and that we currently don’t get the rights that citizens do such as vote or ask/get help from the government and that we can’t become citizens just because we are DACA recipients. There is no pathway to citizenship.

What message do you have for undocumented folks/Dreamers?

Even though our parents taught us to be aware of what’s going and all the risks of being undocumented/DACAmented, our parents didn’t teach us to leave in fear. Our parents have taught us about perseverance, determination, and that if you want something and work hard for it it’s going to happen. A bunch of our parents left their country with absolutely nothing and brought us over because they knew that the reward was worth more than the risk. Just because something doesn’t go our way, or there is a bump in the road, that doesn’t mean we give up. Keep striving for more. We cannot give up, because that would be a slap in the face to our parents and make their sacrifices useless.