Undocumented Parents go back to Mexico through the eyes of their children

The ‘Dreamers’ who are able to travel to Mexico serve as a connection between their undocumented parents in the U.S. and the family they left in Mexico.

By: Isaias Alvarado, Univision Digital (Spanish) ~ August 19, 2016


LOS ANGELES, California.-  When Carla Martinez visited Mexico as part of the California-Mexico Dreamers Study Abroad Program, the first thing she did upon arrival in the city of Lerdo, Durango, was to visit the grave of her grandmother who had just been buried in the city’s cemetery, from where she called her undocumented mother in Los Angeles, California.

"I called my mom so she could be with me, so that she was also there" said Carla, one of the hundreds of thousands of undocumented students who are protected under the DACA program and who are now able to travel abroad through a special travel permit known as Advance Parole, which is granted by USCIS immigration authorities.

Carla Martínez, con playera gris, en medio, se reencontró este verano con su familia en su natal Durango. (Foto:Carla Martínez)

Carla Martinez, reconnects with her extended family in Lerdo Durango | Photo by: Carla Martinez

Carla, a California State University Northridge (CSUN) student, was finally able to return to the small community from which she and her family migrated while she was less than a year old.

Carla’s study abroad experience could not have been possible if it wasn’t because of her status under the Deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), the federal program that, for four years, has protected from deportation and given work permission to almost 800,000 undocumented people. DACA allows them to travel abroad under exceptional circumstances such as academic programs or because of a serious illness of a family member.

Her parents have not had the same luck. In mid-July, shortly before Carla traveled to Mexico as part of an academic program for dreamers, her maternal grandmother died of kidney cancer.

To be the connection between her mother and her grandmother's grave, she said, was the most difficult experience of her life.

"I knew that I was going to go to Mexico on behalf of my parents, that both of them were going to be there with me," she said.

Trapped in the United States

Los estudiantes visitan el campus de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM)

The students visit the campus of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) | Photo: Lidieth Arevalo

The 35 Dreamers that participated in the California-Mexico Studies Center’s Summer 2016 Dreamers Study Abroad Program (totaling nearly 100 DACA-students in four years) had the chance to visit their families and their birthplace on behalf of their parents.

Many do not dare not to bury their parents. 

A study by the Pew Research Center shows that 21% of the undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. have lived in the U.S. for more than two decades. Furthermore, the average length of stay increased from 8 to 13 years between 2003 and 2013.

Yuritzi Galarza, another program participant, had not returned to Mexico in more than 12 years. She was a child when her family and her migrated to the U.S. from their native state of Mexico.

Like her companions, Yuritzi, 23, returned to California loaded with photos, videos, gifts, stories and hugs from relatives whom she did not know or had not seen in several years.

Yuritzi se reune con su abuelita y tias despues de 12 años | Photo: Lidieth Arevalo

Yuritzi reunites with her grandmother and aunts after not seeing them for 12 years | Photo: Lidieth Arevalo

"It felt as if I was the eyes of my parents, because I was going to bring everything I was seeing. All I lived, all the emotions are conveyed through them," explained Yuritzi, who graduated from CSU Long Beach this Spring semester.

For her, the hardest part was accepting that time does not forgive as she reunited with her grandparents who are very sick.

Maturing in Mexico

Yuritzi was greatly moved by her visit to the village where she was born and spent his childhood. “It was only five days”, but that was “enough to change [her] life,” she said.

"I came to the village where we lived, where there is no electricity or water, things that I take for granted here [in Los Angeles]. I learned to value the things, my family and my parents did for me. I finally understood why they brought me to America, why they did not see a future for me in Mexico ".

Armando Vazquez-Ramos, CSULB professor and coordinator of the California-Mexico Dreamers Study Abroad Program, noted that most of these students return to California with another vision.

"I've seen year after year that these young people understand the sacrifice that their parents made in order for them to have a greater future. This experience brings them a greater sense of responsibility."

Carla Martinez, literately brought a little piece of her hometown Lerdo: a handful of soil from the grave of her maternal grandmother, with the idea of planting flowers with it.

"It's symbolic and gives me some peace, knowing that I not only brought some of Mexico, but a little of what's left of my grandmother," she said.

To read the Spanish version of this article go to the following link:

Volver a México a través de la mirada de los hijos