My family may have brought me to this country physically, but what really brought me here was the United States itself. This country created the situation that prompts immigrants to migrate here from Mexico and other places. Historically speaking, many people in the Americas have migrated, or have been forced to migrate, because of political or economic factors caused by the United States—a country that I no longer choose to call "America."
America is a continent with a diverse range of people who have been confronting colonialism and imperialism for a long time. I do not think the United States was ever a democracy, since democracies are for the people and this country has not, for a long time, been for the people. It is not for the people of Latin America or for the indigenous people of North America. I am technically a North American. I have Spanish and indigenous blood.
How can I be multiple types of people in this country at the same time? I am at risk of being grabbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents even as I am protected from deportation through the actions of the previous president. I'm making art and being in the art world. And, I am just me.
CROSSING THE BORDER
My family migrated from Tabasco, Mexico, to Santa Rosa at the turn of the last century, when I was 11 years old. My parents had decided to move for economic reasons, but it was difficult to get a visa, so we came here through the means that many people come to as a last resort. Our mother took us to Tijuana where one of our aunts was waiting, a woman I had never met before. In this house, a large, round woman called a "coyote" picked us up. The coyote had skin burnt from the sun and dark, curly hair. She drove a minivan.
My mother gave us sleeping medicine on the night we left, and we got into the coyote's van and she drove us across the border. We were drugged with Tylenol so we wouldn't talk to the border patrol at the checkpoint. The driver pretended that we were her kids. We were young and I was the oldest, and we could have been her children.
Once we were across the border, I woke up and asked where we were going. My worry was that the coyote wouldn't give us back to our parents. She could easily have kidnapped us, but she took us to our aunt's house in Los Angeles, where we waited for our mother.
click to enlarge
'YOU DON'T BELONG HERE' Watercolor on paper, by Mara De Los Angeles.
BETWEEN TWO WORLDS
My first meal in the United States—I remember it clearly—was pineapple pizza with Coca Cola. I remember eating it in a beige apartment served by our very nice aunt. She took care of us until our mother got there—she had to cross the border by foot, and never arrived. But eventually our father did arrive, and he took us to Santa Rosa where a second aunt lived. We stayed in her living room for about a month until we were able to find our own place. We met up with my mom later. She still lives in Santa Rosa.
I turned 12 that year, and that summer one of my new friends took me to the Sonoma County Fair, and we rode the roller coasters. That was my birthday present.
I attended seventh and eighth grade at Lawrence Cook Middle School in Santa Rosa. It was very challenging because I had only been through the second grade in Mexico. When my parents left Mexico with us, I was very upset because they were taking me away from the school where I'd been promised that I'd stay through sixth grade—ironic, since I ended up moving up to seventh grade in the United States.