Monday, August 25, 2014

A Family Visit

Every time I visit my family I notice how I'm taller than my parents, aunts, and uncles and my nieces, nephews, and cousins keep getting taller than I am. My immediate family, along with most of my extended family from my moms side, have been living in the state of Utah for the last seven years. Cheaper cost of living. I use to visit every summer, but over the years I've stopped going all together. I've seen my family here and there when they come to Los Angeles to visit, and this weekend was the first time in a long time that I've made the trip over there.

Before, I would make a summer trip out of it. I'd take a week off from what I'm doing and take Amtrak over there. This time around though, I'm better off financially than I've ever been and I can afford to fly over taking the bus or train. While I only spent two days over there, it was more than enough for me. While the more things change, the more they stay the same for the good and the bad. 

I've missed out on a lot of things in terms of my family and I've been ok with that. When I decided to leave I knew it was for the better and what I needed. Standing here now and being able to tell them how good I'm doing puts all those sacrifices in perspective. I've missed seeing my sisters grow into young women and into mothers. As much as I wanna pick up and hug my nieces, they're still to young to understand that they have an uncle who cares about them. Seeing them turn away and cry when I reach out to them sums it up nicely. 

In the past, it was distance and time that kept me away from visiting. Now a days, what keeps me away is more of a cultural divide. My parents have always know I was going to be different from what they expected, if they expected anything at all. They thrusted me into American culture without hesitation that there's no way for me to be anything else but Mexican American. Here in LA, I cherish and protect that which reminds me of the home I shared with my family growing up and the one I left at seven years old to come to the US. 

I'll go out of my way just to reminisce about something because I look through a romanticized lens. I think back on how good it was the first and no matter how hard I try, it's just not the same. That's how I am with my family. I've grown and changed dramatically from how my family pictures me. I know this cause they were surprised to see me karaoking to Selena and dancing cumbias. They've never known me to do any of that kind of stuff, let alone bask in it. 

My family ask how I'm doing, and me saying "good" is enough for them. Being there again for my least favorite sisters' wedding felt like being in a bubble, mostly because that's how things are over there for them. My sisters may be moms now and are moving out to live with their partners, my parents keep getting shorter the older they get because they're from the old world like that, along with all those aunts, uncles, and cousins who suddenly have a hard time remembering me because of my facial hair. 

During the party on Saturday night, it hit me on what I was missing out on by not being there. I shared my first dance with my mom, along with one of my nieces. I shared drinks with men who I use to literally look up to. I saw how through years of family drama, almost everyone was still keeping it together and supporting each other. All those familiar faces from parties of yesteryear were still there and it seemed like I never left in the place. Kids are running around everywhere, boy and girls separating to do their own thing while the teens try and look all cool and grown up with each other. 

I really wonder what idea and/or image they have of me. I rarely talk about the kind of work I do, let alone that I'm active in organizing and social justice spaces. But I know they've seen or heard something or other cause my parents would probably say something when asked about me. That and the fact that I use to be on spanish news segments every once in a while back in the day. Those are the kinds of conversations I use to be around as a kid. I always hated them because despite being right there in front of them, they would talk about you in the third person. 

Then there's inkling in me to want to talk to my older cousins, nieces, and nephews about what they're doing and what they might have planned. I wanna ask them how they're doing in school and if they are even thinking about college. To offer myself and all of my resources to help them get to where they wanna get. To leave the family behind for a while and go do their own thing. But I don't know them like to be asking anything other than if they remember me.  

There's a lot of lamenting on my part for what could have been and for what isn't. I move forward knowing the choices I made can't be change, but they can be mended. Once my nieces get older and can speak in full sentences, then maybe that's when I'll start visiting on a more regular basis. 


Sunday, August 17, 2014

DACA Two Years Later

As someone whose gone through the DACA process and is actively benefiting from it, almost everything I read about the program having failures and faults is nothing more than sensationalism from institutions and non-profits. While DACA is talked about in the media through the same sensationalist lens in explaining why a program that should benefit millions, has only about half a million individuals approved. There are actual studies and hard numbers that go into the numerous obstacles that come when someone can qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but ultimately don't apply. Those that have applied for DACA and by extent, anyone else whose gone through the immigration process here in the US understands first hand how overwhelming it is and how easily one mistake can ruin the entire process for an individual.

It should be clear to most that have a basic understanding of these processes that having the money to apply is the first and sometimes, the biggest hurdle one has to go through. $465 is a lot of money for a working class family/individual, specially when there's a possibility of not being approved for DACA or any other status that has an application fee. After the money, having the right documents to submit is the next biggest hurdle. I didn't apply for DACA until a few months after the program got started, and part of that was collecting evidence. I got lucky and found an old receipt from a lost library book I paid for and my dog's license from the city. If it wasn't for that, my chances of getting approved would have been substantially lower. However, I had the privilege of applying through a non-profit and had lawyer support in case anything took a turn for the worse, a resource only those of us in the "movement" have.

There's an endless list of why an individual who qualifies for DACA won't apply for it. From fear of the government, cultural norms, lack of resources, lack of information, and scheming lawyers are just some of those hurdles. The odds keep stacking against you from there. Unless you're one of those folks that's featured regularly in news stories on being undocumented and doing something that's not common place like being in a Doctorates program or studying some other high class profession that doesn't lend itself to working class/poor immigrants, the government doesn't see you as a priority. The government wants those that will contribute more versus those they see as not being able to contribute enough or nothing at all. It's the kind of rhetoric used by non-profits and movement celebrities.

When the program first rolled out, everyone and their momma were talking about. You'd see everyone coming outta the wood work to take advantage of this new situation. From crooked lawyers and organizations, to non-profits that rolled out their own programs to help their members. All of a sudden everyone was overwhelmed because of the demand for information regarding the program. From how much it would cost to how one would qualify or if it was necessary for one to seek legal help in filling out the application.

I imagine this is how everything went down in the 80s when Regan rolled out his immigration amnesty. Everyone and their mom, clamoring to take advantage and come up in the world. I saw a lot of that through DACA. A surge of individuals who have never been part of movement and/or organizing spaces for one reason or another. They all wanted help with DACA with an urgency that I've never seen before. Everyone wanted to get theirs and peace out, which I can understand. While it may require pulling some teeth, if someone can qualify for DACA, they'll find the money and resources to apply, there's no doubt about that. They will lie on the application to cover up anything that may cause trouble and go to crooked lawyers and notaries to make it happen.

The only times I hear talk of an individual not applying for DACA on some moral principle or because of the politics involved is someone who claims they're "radical" or "revolutionary." If you're anti-government, anti-DACA or basically anti-anything that is short of demanding unrealistic changes the US government will make, then you need a pie to face. But that's just a waste of a good pie. They all talk big game to the point of saying something to the affect of
 rather dying on their feet than living on their knees. It's just like the Dave Chappell skit "when keeping it real goes wrong." 

At the end of the day though, all I see is everyone is fighting with themselves in trying to take credit for whatever happens and being at the metaphorical table when it's being talked about. People will get screwed and left out will others will be thrusted into the lime light as examples of how whatever happens can affect individuals positively. It comes down to nothing more than a show and tell when you get to that level of working with institutions and non-profits, which is more often than not a mirror for those that work in those spaces.

My DACA renewal is already coming up toward the end of the year, I will be applying again and I know that I will be approved. For someone whose been a straight arrow on paper and with legal resources at my disposal, it's something I don't even think twice about. I haven't done anything that will disqualify me from re-applying and have been working three different jobs at the same time. Again, I'm an exception to a lot of things not because I'm above average or anything of the sorts, I have resources from being in movement spaces.

I had a kind of stability before my DACA kicked in, and when it finally came through, I didn't go through a dramatic process or change. I was 29 and my reactions would have been worlds apart if I had gone through this 10 years ago. Getting DACA wasn't life altering, it just made things easier for me. To work in spaces that previously had difficulties because of my lack of legal status. I've been undocumented for 23 years and I know how to navigate the system to do what I need to do. Those that are younger aren't as wily for different reasons, most prevalent is that they'll no longer have to be.

There's a stark difference in how the immigrants rights movement looks now and how it looked 10 years ago. Things have gotten better for the few and have gotten worse for the rest. There's no doubt that DACA will continue on for the foreseeable future and that other stuff will happen in-between. Do I have any fears or worries about the DACA program being terminated and being assed out again? Sure, just like I wonder if I'll be hit by a bus on my way to work, but that doesn't stop me from moving forward.

I've come a long way from the days of being scarred to share my real name online because I'm undocumented. If DACA were to end tomorrow, I know there would be an alternative or a kind of compensation for those in the program. As fucked up as the government is, I doubt it would do anything to those in the DACA program if it came to an end. If anything, there'll probably something along the lines of being permanent residency because of the redundant system that is in place and the government doesn't want all these new tax payers going any where.

I've taken full advantage of having DACA short of being able to qualify for health insurance. I still have to hustle, but I have the space to do other things I want here and there. While I've detached myself from being active in immigration spaces, I have been more active in other social justice spaces because of what I learned all those years in the Dream Act trenches.

I'm not the kind of person to plan too far ahead into the future. The older I get, the more emphasis I put in things that are personally rewarding for me and by extension, those around me. The options of always working toward something greater in terms of finishing college and beyond are always there, but that's not me. I'm not one for academia or being institutionalized like that. More power to those that can and have worked those systems, but that ain't me, yet I'm not completely closed off to such aspirations. I just like taking things as they come.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Fucking with the guys that sell Micas

For the uninitiated, when I talk about Micas, I'm talking about fake IDs. If you need further details on Micas, you can check out this LA Times Story, this NPR segment, and this article from a USC student.

Was hanging out with a friend yesterday and during our conversation about a bunch of random stuff, I remembered something my family and I would get a kick outta of, clowning the dudes in Mac Arthur Park that sell Micas. Ohh man, I completely forgot about how we use to do that every time we drove down on Alvarado or on 7th street. I look back on it now and it's funnier now than it was then.

Back in the day, if one was inclined in getting a fake ID, Mac Arthur Park was the place to go. It was always recommended to get someone who knows someone there to hook you up so you don't screwed over. You tell the guys what you need, and in a few hours they'd come back with what you ordered. Money is exchanged and everyone goes home happy. The other thing is that these guys are all over the place hanging out in front of shops or restaurants, shooting the shit.

They'll casually solicit crowds of folks walking down the street in Spanish, "Micas, Micas." Most folks just ignore it cause they know the what's up. The guys are hustling and doing their own thing, if you don't paid them no attention, they won't press you. But if you're looking to get an ID, they'll walk with you and talk details. Best part of all this is you can haggle with them too.

So aside from asking people walking, they would post up at street corners and put out their hand as if they were holding an invisible card or holding up the letter C. That meant that they sold Micas. You could drive up next to them and they would try and slang you a Mica.

Because the guys would be on the look out for cars slowing down, pulling over next to them or flashing back the same hand signal for a Mica, they would run from where they are to the cars window, cause they don't wanna lose a customer. So on occasions in which the family vehicle was filled everyone: Mom, Dad, three younger sisters, and myself, we'd make my dad clown one of these Mica guys.

Before we would get to the park, we'd tell him to clown the guys, so he could get in the right lane ahead of time. We'd all be giggling and holding our laughs so as to not ruin the fun or tip off the Mica guy. The excitement would continue to build as we got closer and closer to the park, until contact was made. My dad would slowly drive up to the curb, we'd see the guy drop everything and start running toward the car. As soon as he was a few steps away from the window, my dad would speed of. Mean while, my sisters and I would be busting up in the back. No matter how many times we did that, it never got old.

To that end, I'b be lying if I said that lil flashback didn't tug at the old heart strings. I miss my sisters and my mom. My other sister and dad, not soo much. Coming from a Mexican family means you're pretty tight with your family in good and bad ways. I stopped living at home seven years ago, and I only see my family once a year cause they live in another state. Either they come for a visit in LA or I go over there. There's a night and day contrast with my family and me and at times it can't be helped. My parents are from the rancho, and while I spent some time there, I'm an Americanized immigrant.

I've missed out on a bunch of stuff over the years that I wish I was there for. Even now that my sisters are having kids and I'm three times an uncle. I've only met my nieces a hand full of times, and because they don't know who I am, they're scarred of me. They won't even let me carry them, but that's the way things are. I can't stand living with them where they are and I would go insane within a month. But I still miss them. Hopefully they won't have to live so far off in the future so I can just drop by more often. We'll see.  


Sunday, August 03, 2014

Employment Transitions

Unemployment is something I'm not all too familiar with. While I grew up helping in the family business, which varied from year to year, I was comfortable with the kind of work and jobs that make the world go round. Nothing special or fancy, just manual labor and being a street vendor. How I've loathed and hated all of those past jobs, but not without taking away valuable lessons from doing them.

It's only been within the last two years or so that work became stable and I was no longer doing odd jobs here and there to make a living. Stability is the shit. I've lived the majority of my life going from hand to mouth. I learned to be resourceful and how to hustle living like that with my family. Most if not all those skills I picked up during those times have helped me in every aspect of my life.

Stability afforded me many first these last few years, and I have been blessed tremendously everyday since, but everything changes after a while. A week ago, I was working three jobs and now I'm down to 1 1/2. I was working two part time jobs that added up to full time at the end of the month and free lancing here and there. Doing that allowed me to just move in to a new place this past July and to visit my family living in Utah later this month. I was let go from one part time job and I had to cut back time on the other part time gig as well, leaving me with freelancing and a few hours of work a week.

For a good while there, I was in a panic and thought to myself, what the fuck and I gonna do. I've been in these situations before and wasn't falling apart when things crashed down. Instead, I took the sudden free time I have to get to some pending work done, went on a few bike rides and enjoyed my time as a kind of sudden break from the pace I was keeping up working. I also had close friends help me with some next steps, but mostly offering the kind of support one needs when down on the dumps like that.

At the same time though, I was ready for this change in jobs. Before everything went down, I already applied to another part time that involved more of the work I want to do versus the work I can do and get paid for. The first interview went great and that it carries on to the next one. I would love this gig because of the organization I'd be with and the community I'd be working with. Whatever is in the cards, I'll be on top on my game to make sure that I'm able to stay where I'm at right now. I've worked hard and have put in my time to be where I'm at. I'm not losing it all without a fight.  

Besides, when I think of everything I've done without having DACA to make things easier, I know I'll bounce back. Even if it means doing work that I thought I would never have to do again, I'll do what I need to, to survive at the end of the day. No matter how high up the ladder I go, I'll always be working class. I know how to survive and adjust.