This is the first in a two-part series based on Tim’s conversation with Ricardo. Stay tuned for part two coming up this Friday.
Ricardo, 20, is an undocumented college student living in Phoenix. He recently spoke with advocacy journalist Tim Høiland ( http://www.tjhoiland.com ) about his journey from Mexico to the United States, the painful realities of being undocumented in Arizona, and why he is hopeful for the future.
1. Share a bit of your story, including what led you and your family to Phoenix.
Growing up in Mexico, I remember my dad was always trying to stay put with a job, because there were always opportunities to go away to work. Where we lived there was always something pushing workers out. The jobs that were available weren’t really honest – selling drugs or something. Dad was always keeping away from that stuff. He just wanted an honest job with decent money, but there was never an opportunity. My parents didn’t see any future for me and my sisters where we lived, so we had a family talk about going to the US and see how we could do there. As a kid I pictured the US as a Disneyland like I’d seen in movies, so I was excited. A week later we were at the Nogales border, and my sisters and I went with a friend of my aunt who lived in Phoenix. My parents came a week later, crossing at the San Diego-Tijuana border, and one of my dad’s uncles helped them get to Arizona.
2. In high school, you were recruited to play Division I football, but then that opportunity was taken away from you. Can you tell that story and share how that experience impacted you?
Ever since we got to the US, I wanted to do something that wasn’t available back home in Mexico. There was a group doing ministry in the neighborhood where we lived, doing sports and Bible study, and I got involved with them. One night I saw them playing football, and I sat there and watched. The coach was one of the Bible study leaders in the youth group and he invited me to play. I was nervous at first, but I got comfortable with it and started to really like it. It became something that helped me stay out of trouble. Our neighborhood was rough, with lots of gang activity, drugs, murders, prostitution – a lot of weird things going on. After playing for a while, my coach encouraged me to try out for the high school team and said I could even play in college. I started to think about college for the first time, realizing that if I got a degree I could make money, and I’d be set. I wanted that opportunity for me and my family. When I heard that football was a way to make that happen, I was all into it. My coach really supported me, helped me get equipment, and was always there for me, always pushing me and guiding me through the process until I made the school team.
My family didn’t have money for equipment or insurance, but they made sacrifices – my dad took the bus to work to save money to buy my cleats and other things I needed. Eventually I started getting letters from colleges wanting me to come be part of their football programs. Every student athlete dreams of that, and it was happening to me. I got interested in a school in California, and began the application process. All of a sudden the hopes of my family were tied to my playing football. Everything was going well, and they said all my test scores were good, but then I got a letter saying they needed my Social Security number. I went to my coach, asking if he could help since I’d never needed a Social Security number before, and I really didn’t think it would be an issue this time. But finally I realized that without it, there was just no way to move forward. The deadline to sign with a school passed, and interest in recruiting me passed until there were no more opportunities.
Now the reality of being undocumented became real to me. I had been protected from these realities as a kid. I felt like I had nothing else I could do. We couldn’t go back home, because with the violence there, if you come back from the US they keep an eye on you since (in their minds) you supposedly have money. I’d just sit there and cry and try to find God, but I was full of hate and depression. I couldn’t see any future, and didn’t have any hope. I kept reading the letters telling me I couldn’t play, but I’d watch tape of me playing and be reminded I could play. That was one of the most depressing, darkest times. A cloud came over me.
3. What has the impact of SB 1070 been for you and others in similar circumstances? How has it affected not just those who are undocumented, but Latinos in general?
When SB 1070 was right around the corner, in the days before it was signed, a lot of those who were undocumented were leaving. Those who were still here were shocked, wondering, what do we do? After it passed, there was the whole boycott of Arizona and that had an impact on everyone who needed work. Honestly, it became more about skin color than about being undocumented. If you are considered reasonably suspicious, you’ll be stopped by the police. You can paint the picture with any color, but at the end of the day, it meant that if you’re brown, you’re in danger of being arrested. For citizens who are Latinos, it became a time of asking what they were doing to do, where we’re going and why there weren’t people in office who represent them. There were massive ICE raids in Phoenix, going to businesses and even checking homes. My dad had been caught before, so we were really scared. We went up to north Phoenix to a little hotel where we stayed for a couple of days so ICE couldn’t find us. It was scary. My dad always had the answer for everything, but that day he didn’t. We felt that we were running like animals, hiding like dogs. We decided we were not going to run anymore, because this is our home, and we were going to do what we could to join our community and fight this law. We all got involved, and we refused to run anymore.
Join us Friday, March 23, 2012 for part 2 of Tim’s interview with Ricardo where he will talk more about the importance of the DREAM Act and his hopes for the future.
Tim Høiland ( http://www.tjhoiland.com ) is an advocacy journalist and communications specialist based in Phoenix, Arizona. In his writing he has explored the intersections of faith, development, justice and peace in Latin America and the United States. As a child, Høiland lived in Guatemala with dual US-Guatemalan citizenship.
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