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Recently, I visited Carnegie Mellon University and other colleges and universities in Pittsburgh, PA to recruit young adults to attend FCNL’s upcoming Spring Lobby Weekend on immigration reform. While I was there, I met Cristina, a freshman at CMU from the border community of Brownsville, TX. Cristina offered to share some of her experiences as a Mexican-American person living in a border community while immigration is such a live issue in Congress.


Spring Lobby Weekend 2020

SLW 2020 will gather virtually, March 29-31. Join us online!

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Emmett: Can I ask you to start off by saying a little bit about yourself?

Cristina: I’m Cristina, I’m from Brownsville, Texas, which is on the border between Mexico and the US. Where I’m from consists of a population of 99% Hispanics. But we’re all living in the US right now. So, everyone is basically bilingual. And there are a lot of DACA recipients and undocumented immigrants and kids who have gotten there at birth but their parents are undocumented and just a mix of immigrants but we all go to the same school. We all have the same friend groups. It’s not like anyone is ostracized because of where they’re from. At the end of the day, the majority is Mexican.

Emmett: Can you talk a little bit about your own family? Have they lived in Brownsville for a while?

Cristina: Yeah. Well, I’ve lived in Brownsville since I was born. But I was born in the border city of Matamoros, which is in Mexico on the other side of the border. And I have dual citizenship in Mexico and the U.S. because my parents were also U.S. citizens. But my mother and my dad both lived in Mexico. My dad lived in Mexico City and my mom lived in Matamoros, but she actually went to school in Brownsville. Then she would cross the border every day to go to school but she would live in the Mexican side of the border. Obviously that’s not very possible any more.

Emmett: You mentioned that you have a lot of friends and peers that are DACA recipients? Can you tell me about any of them?

Cristina: Yeah. I went to school and there was this one girl who was a DACA recipient and she hasn’t seen her parents in, I think, in years and she’s living with her aunt and uncle. She’s the first ever of her family to graduate high school and now she will be attending college in the same city. But getting citizenship for her parents is something that’s not very possible right now because the laws are so strict.

Emmett: How does she or other friends of yours that are DACA recipients feel about the current politics surrounding that issue?

Cristina: But I know my city, personally, hates all the anti-immigration stuff that’s going on because obviously everyone in that city is pro-immigration. Everyone’s freaking out. I have a friend from school. She was born in the US, just like her little brother when they were born, but her mother’s work permit has expired and her father never had documentation. So obviously she’s a citizen cause she was born here but all that anxiety she has for her family, for her parents, is very real. It’s ridiculous. It’s scaring the lives out of people in that city. I mean, when Trump got elected, people wore black to school. People didn’t go to school. It was a very traumatizing experience.

Emmett: How are people coping with that kind of fear?

Cristina: Well, what is there to do? We’re such a small little city and they’ve had protest’s here and then but at the same time, people are scared to protest cause they’re scared of being deported as retaliation. Our governor wanted to make it so, let’s say for example the police can ask anyone who looks hispanic for their papers. And it’s like, imagine just going to the grocery store with your four kids and all of a sudden they ask for your papers and you’re like, “Well, I’ve lived here for 12, 15, 20 plus years and I’ve never been asked for my papers and now I get deported?”

That kind of fear is everywhere. It’s ridiculous. It’s so scary. I know families that have gone off food stamps because they’re. Because they would be attacking people who don’t make that much money, who haven’t been very educated and going at them from a racial standpoint. “Oh, you’re Mexican, you’re on food stamps, you definitely don’t have papers. So, we’re gonna go investigate your house and meddle into your personal life.” That kind of thing is just not okay.

It feels like it’s an attack on my culture. It’s an attack on who I am, where I’m from.

Emmett: Can you describe some of the ways that you’ve been personally affected?

Cristina: Well, one of my closest friends, her parents are undocumented and she’s at the top of her class. And she has a younger brother who’s in third grade and they’re getting really good education but if for whatever reason their parents get deported, who are they gonna stay with? What’s gonna happen to them?

It feels like it’s an attack on my culture. It’s an attack on who I am, where I’m from. I’m Mexican, my parents are Mexican, my whole family line is Mexican and that’s true of most people living near the border right now.

It used to be so nice to be able to cross the border every day. I used to go to dance classes in Mexico. Now I can’t go. It’s dangerous. It’s very heavily secured and it’s not accessible anymore.

Emmett: It sounds like you’re speaking about border militarization. How do people in your community react to calls in Congress for more border security or even a border wall?

Cristina: I hate it. I think it’s ridiculous. Our [State] Senator Filemon Vela is speaking out against it and I’m very glad that he does. But it’s ridiculous. What are they protecting us from? All these people that are crossing, the majority of the people are just looking for a better, safer place to live. And as much as the US says it’s not their problem, it’s a humanitarian thing. It’s like people should care about other people and right now it just feel like they don’t.

I think we have a responsibility as humans to just be there for each other. I don’t like the way that they make Mexicans seem as objects of fear. We’re not being humanized.

Emmett: What do you think are the major misconceptions or myths that you hear?

Cristina: Oh my God, there’s so many. That Mexicans are rapists. That undocumented people are asking for handouts. They’re willing to work their way in. They’re willing to do the menial work that the average American citizen doesn’t because they’re trying to better the lives of their kids and of their families. Which is something that we should all understand as Americans, as people. Another one is that they’re bringing a bunch of drugs and guns in.

I think we have a responsibility as humans to just be there for each other. I don’t like the way that they make Mexicans seem as objects of fear. We’re not being humanized.

Emmett: As you know, we’re bringing hundreds of young adults to DC this march to lobby on immigration. What what do you want to see happen in Congress?

Cristina: Help people who cross. Because people who cross and get caught, they are being detained in horrible conditions. They treat them like criminals. It’s just ridiculous, like a hostage situation. So if there was any reform, I think a better idea would just be to start helping these people and start aiding them because it’s really affecting our state, our city, our world right now. The U.S. was built on immigration.



Spring Lobby Weekend 2020

SLW 2020 will gather virtually, March 29-31. Join us online!

Register


As Cristina makes so clear, immigration is more than a political issue being debated in Congress. The action that Congress takes (or fails to take) to protect Dreamers will affect millions of people. And millions more occupy border communities that would be hurt by the construction of a border wall or by militarizing the border even more. This is a matter of life. It’s a matter of justice.

That’s why we’re bringing hundreds of young adults from across the United States to DC to lobby Congress for moral action on immigration. Spring Lobby Weekend is just a few weeks away, but it’s not too late to sign up. Demanding justice for Dreamers and other immigrants is growing more urgent each day. Register now.

Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred

Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred

Communications Assistant
Emmett Witkovsky-Eldred assists the Communications team with a particular focus on digital advocacy.

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