Open letter from an American Dreamer

DACA recipient Hugo Diaz was 10 years old when his parents decided to move to the US.

Hugo Diaz [Courtesy of Hugo Diaz]
Hugo Diaz is an American Dreamer and beneficiary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [Photo courtesy of Hugo Diaz]

For the most part, I like to keep my personal life private but on Tuesday, September 5, I learned about a decision which could have drastic effects on my life, both personal and professional.

I am a Dreamer. What does that mean? For some, it could mean dreaming about winning the lottery and retiring on a beach. My dream is more simple.

When I was 10 years old, my parents brought me and my then 12-year-old brother Aldo to the US from Mexico on tourist visas that we overstayed. My parents made this decision after a series of unfortunate events stripped our family of our financial resources. 

In the 1980s and early 1990s, my dad was a successful restauranteur. He owned several restaurants which allowed us to live a pretty comfortable lifestyle in Aguascalientes city in central Mexico.

In the early 1990s, my dad took out a loan to remodel the restaurants and promote future business. But a couple of years later, the Mexican Peso Crisis of 1994 struck. My dad’s business was hit hard and he was unable to pay back the loan. We lost absolutely everything. Our house, our cars and even my mom’s book collection, which she cherished and loved.

My parents decided to return to Oaxaca, my dad’s home state, to join the family farming business. With the very little money they had left, and the help of family members, they were able to invest in and plant 5,000 lime trees. My dad also had farm animals which provided some additional income through cheese making and meat sales.

It was a humble living, but I had an amazing childhood. We lived in a small town called Jamiltepec. Every day, we would go home for lunch from our nearby school, excited to see what my mom had made. On weekends, we hiked up the mountains and swam in the river. We’d spend time on the family ranch and ride horses, play with the goats, and milk the cows. 

My mom was a human rights activist for the local indigenous community. I attended seminars and meetings with her, witnessing dedicated people willing to fight for the rights of others.

We had found a semblance of stability. But our lives were again uprooted when in 1997, Hurricane Pauline roared towards the Pacific coast of Mexico. When it made landfall, Pauline had been elevated to Category 4, making it one of the deadliest hurricanes to hit Mexico.

Less than 30 percent of our lime trees survived the storm. 

After the hurricane, my parents tried everything to make do and provide for us. When my two older siblings, Julio and Tamy, went to college, my dad sold our few remaining cows to pay for their tuition. My parents realised then that by the time Aldo and I were ready for college, they would have nothing left to sell to help us. 

That’s when they started thinking about moving to the US. 

My parents are not college educated and they had done their best to provide us with a life better than their own, but felt they were running out of options. My dad was reluctant to leave his life behind and all his dreams, but he sacrificed all this to provide his kids with the opportunity for an education and a better life. 

Moving to the US

Back in the 1980s, some of my dad’s family members had immigrated to the US and some had successfully opened their own cleaning businesses. They convinced my parents that we would be better off in the US.

So, in 2002, we got our tourist visas and travelled to Dallas, Texas to stay. Although this was not legal, my parents felt this was our only option. The option of coming to the US legally wasn’t available for people without a college degree and struggling to support a family. 

The transition to the US was very difficult for my family. We had no identification documents and were left outside legal structures. We were separated from our loved ones and the developments in their lives. My older brother and sister had stayed behind; we didn’t know when we would see them again. My brother graduated from university, my sister had a baby, and we could not be there to share these moments with them.

The adjustment was difficult for me at school as well. It was hard walking into the 6th grade in a different country and culture, and not understand the language. I had always liked school, so much so that mom arranged for me to start 1st grade at five years old instead of at seven.

I remember walking into my new school, and for the first time ever, being scared and intimidated to go in. I felt lost. I remember the kindness of my teacher who noticed I looked confused. Realising what was happening, she asked one of the other students to translate.

I am ... grateful to the United States for being a country where a janitor can be anything he or she wants, with just a little bit of work and dedication.

by Hugo Diaz, Dreamer

But, it was frustrating having to depend on other students to get my work done. In Mexico, I had always been in first place at school, always very independent.

Even lunchtime at school was difficult. I was used to going home for lunch when we lived in Mexico, where my mom would prepare the meals and the utensils were always very clean. The kids at my new school picked on me for being too proper.

It was hard on my parents too, who both worked two full-time jobs, six or seven days a week, cleaning houses and buildings.

But, we quickly became financially stable again and my mom made our one bedroom apartment feel like home. My parents were able to pay off the university fees for my older siblings and we could afford things we would have never been able to in Mexico. We bought our first computer, my mom got her own car, we were able to buy new clothes and shoes for school. 

Six years after we arrived, my brother, Aldo, graduated from high school and decided to return to Mexico to study at university there. When I graduated the following year, I was planning to do the same, but was accepted with a scholarship to the University of North Texas, so I decided to stay. My parents remained in the US until I graduated from college, and in 2014, they too returned to Mexico to finally live their lives and enjoy their grandkids, family, and everything else they had left behind 12 years ago. 

My parents had paid the college tuition for their four children with the money they earned in the US.

We all graduated with no student loan debts because my parents worked so hard – with no sick days, vacations, or benefits. And yes, my parents paid taxes, although we lived pay cheque to pay cheque. 

Learn more about how scrapping DACA leaves Dreamers ‘vulnerable’

DACA and the life of a Dreamer

I had lived as a second-class citizen for such a long time, but, I finally felt human again when, in June 2012, Obama passed the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals; DACA recipients are also known as “Dreamers”). It may sound dramatic, but when you live in fear of getting pulled over because you don’t have a driver’s licence, or when your professional growth is limited because you don’t have a social security number, you start to realise how frustrating things can truly be. So, I became a Dreamer.

I liked maths and sustainability so I studied mechanical and energy engineering, with a minor in Spanish and mathematics.

When I was in college, in the evenings, I worked with my parents cleaning buildings. On my way home from work, I would always see a sign on a building that said “Jordan and Skala Engineers”. I was curious if this was a place within my grasp. I made contact with the company and a month before graduation, I was invited to apply for a position opening for recent graduates. After three interviews, I got the job as a sustainability consultant.

I’ve been with the company for three years now and I am currently studying to take the test to become a professional engineer in the State of Texas. 

After graduating from college, I also became a yoga teacher and also work as a part-time yoga instructor.

Since my parents left for Mexico, I am the only one of my immediate family who still lives in the US. I speak to my family daily and we share photos, plans and news with each other.

I will be forever grateful for the sacrifices my family made in order for all of us to live a better life. I am also grateful to the United States for being a country where a janitor can be anything he or she wants, with just a little bit of work and dedication.

It hurts me that the Trump Administration ended DACA, not because of me, but for the younger people who dream of a better future. I’ve gained my confidence by working hard to obtain a great career and am lucky enough to quickly adapt to change so I’m not scared, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. 

There could be millions of reasons why an immigrant ended up in America, but in the end, we are all just human beings trying to do what we can for a better life.

I hope that ending DACA is a way for Trump to put pressure on Congress to find a permanent solution to the immigration crisis in the US.

I hope that Republicans and Democrats can work together and come up with the solution to this problem.

I hope we can all work together and show compassion and understanding for the choices people make, and ask ourselves: what would you do for your loved ones?

A version of this essay first appeared on the author’s Facebook page. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera