GABRIELA, 25
Born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Came to Carpinteria at 7 years old in 1999
Currently undocumented
Low priority enforcement under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals
Graduated from Oxnard High School
A.A. in psychology at Oxnard College
B.A. in Spanish and Latin American Studies at UCSB
Advocated for immigrant rights through IDEAS at UCSB
Youth coordinator at a social justice nonprofit in Oxnard

My parents had both attended trade schools in Jalisco, Mexico, after graduating from high school and had held jobs as a secretary and bookkeeper before I was born. Both of my parents came from humble homes that did not have any accumulated wealth so, in a sense, they were both part of the first generation in their families to have access to formal schooling. My mom dedicated most of her working years in Mexico as a small business owner; my dad tried his luck at a variety of jobs, among them purse/handbag, jewelry maker and food delivery truck driver.

Gaby, 7, in Guadalajara, Mexico.

At some point my parents realized that, given their income and the neighborhood we lived in, they would not be able to offer their three children all the opportunities that they envisioned for us. Also, as they got older they learned they experienced ageism in the workplace. There are limited work opportunities for men over 35 and moms. My dad came first to the U.S. so that he could prepare for us to come, and my siblings and I stayed behind while my mom finalized the permanence of the move by selling all of our belongings and renting out our home. We were reunited with my dad about six months later at LAX, and my life began in the nation where so many people come to find opportunities. 

I think that my mom made a huge effort to explain to us kids everything that was happening and that some parts would be temporary (living with family members) and some permanent (us staying). I remember understanding all the reasons why we had come here and the reasons for being discreet about our journey here; we were undocumented immigrants. I remember being happy about being surrounded by cousins and family because we were living in my uncle’s house, but I remember being confused often. First, because of the language barrier and, then later, feeling that my siblings and I were a novelty among family because we were the newest immigrants in the family and undocumented.

Growing up, I always found it hard to find students/friends whom I could relate with at school. When I was taking honors or advanced placement classes, I found myself to be the only Latina in those classes. And while I was capable of competing in these classes, it was hard to find motivation in being in class where I felt I couldn’t relate with my peers. Among my Latino friends, who were oftentimes in lower-level classes, I felt like I also didn’t fit in because oftentimes they were not making plans for college as I was.

After a couple of years of living in the United States, I realized we were here to stay for good but I always wondered if that would really be the case. Were we going to be allowed to stay? Would we be forced to uproot our lives at some point? It’s a difficult thing to grow up in a place where you have to conceal your roots and who you are. It’s a tremendous feeling of uncertainty and oftentimes shame. 

After going through college and learning about the broader issue of immigration and also understanding the reasons that brought me here, I realize that immigration is a global issue; it’s a basic human necessity to move in order to survive, in order to succeed.  

One of the happier times of my life here in the United States was being able to complete college completely debt free. Graduating from UCSB was a major accomplishment, not only for completing my degree but also because it was a dream that had felt unattainable for so many years. At the end of my senior year in high school, I was not of the top achieving students whom counselors were excited to help out. I was a good student with great work ethic but my legal status put me in a difficult predicament.

When I would ask my counselors for guidance, they did not know how to help. It was then, I began to isolate myself from other students and staff members on my campus because it seemed there was no help for someone in my position. By the time I graduated from high school I had become very discouraged from attending college and did not think it was possible.

Unfortunately, immigrants become the scapegoat to a system that thrives on low-wage labor. Here in the United States, we defend our comfort, our rights, our liberty but oftentimes don’t realize that it comes at the expense of exploiting the resources and workers of other countries, which in turn forces people to leave their homes because of the lack of economic growth and opportunities there. I think we need to ask ourselves more often: What kind of conditions would force human beings to abandon their homes? What kind of circumstances would push them to leave everything behind and come to a place where they aren’t wanted?

It is easy to blame immigrants who do not come here with the proper documentation, but the reality is that our immigration system is made to favor some type of immigrants over others. Laws have been to criminalize certain behaviors but also reward others, and a lot of these laws have been used as patchwork for the immigration system. There is not a fair process for coming into the United States the so-called right way.