Editor’s note: President Donald Trump announced new immigration policies in recent weeks. The impact the changes will have on undocumented immigrants is not clear. But one potential impact is families who have called this country home for many years may be separated — mothers and fathers from sons and daughters, siblings from each other. Today, a Ramseur teenager tells her story.
ASHEBORO — On Thursday, Feb. 16, people across the nation participated in “Day Without Immigrants” to protest against U.S. immigration policy. Many skipped work or school to support the effort.
Guadalupe Martinez, who is 19, wanted to express her opinion, but did not want to miss school. School is too important to her, so, she did some advance planning.
The 2016 graduate of Eastern Randolph High School ordered a custom-made T-shirt to wear to classes at Randolph Community College in Asheboro that day. The message she had printed on the shirt: “UNDOCUMENTED BUT UNAFRAID. CAUSE MOMMA DIDN’T RAISE NO RAJONA.”
In a recent interview, the 2016 graduate of Eastern Randolph High School explained that “rajona” is Spanish for “somebody who backs out of a situation, walks out of it, or is afraid” — in other words, a quitter.
“I feel, especially this year,” she said, “people are always putting labels on us. I wanted to be a bit more literal about it, so I put a label on myself because I’m really not ashamed. I put the spotlight on me to take advantage of it in a good way. My mother always tells us to be proud of who we are, where we came from — no matter how far you go, never forget where you came from.
“I do it all for my parents, mostly because they have done nothing wrong other than try to give us a better future. I feel like if they weren’t afraid to cross rivers, borders, the desert, then I shouldn’t be afraid to speak up for them.”
The shirt captured attention.
“I noticed everybody would look at it,” she said, “but they didn’t say anything.”
A new life
Martinez does not remember the short trip from Mexico to this country some 16 years ago. She was not yet 3 when her parents crossed a river into the United States with her and her brother, who is a year older, on their shoulders.
The Martinez family headed for North Carolina because they had relatives already settled here. It’s more peaceful than Texas, they were told. They shared a house with two of Guadalupe’s uncles and their families until they could afford to live on their own.
Before she and her parents came to the United States, Martinez’s mother used to cross the border often to buy things at “the dollar store.” She took them back to Mexico and resold them to help support her family.
In Mexico, she said, beans were a diet staple because often that was all her parents could afford. Having a pack of cookies was a rare treat.
“I understand that it’s wrong to come here illegally, but I think the problem is people don’t put themselves in our shoes. If I was (my mother), I would have crossed borders. To be honest, I would have crossed everything to feed my children.”
Hope and worry
Martinez is both hopeful and concerned about her future.
She is excited about her planned path to earn a two-year associate degree in arts on the college transfer track at RCC and then to enroll at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to complete a bachelor’s degree.
She wants to be a schoolteacher. It’s been her goal since she took a high school class in early childhood education and served an internship in local elementary schools.
“I really liked it. When it was time to think about going to college, I really didn’t see myself doing anything else.”
She is worried about how changes in the nation’s immigration policy might affect her family, her parents and some of her older siblings.
Martinez received temporary protection from the threat of deportation via an Obama administration policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, commonly known as DACA. The brother who arrived on U.S. soil at the same time she did also signed up for the program, but another older brother and two older sisters did not.
Her parents, of course, have no protection, but they have always worked to provide for their family. They have not gotten into trouble with the law. They have not been high on the list of undocumented immigrants federal agents have pursued for deportation — those with criminal records or those who recently arrived in the country.
With President Donald Trump giving the green light for more aggressive immigration enforcement, they may be higher on the priority list now.
“Now they’re scared to even get pulled over for going over the speed limit,” Martinez said.
Fear is common among local Latinos these days, according to Alan Maldonado, a Mexican native and Asheboro businessman who has lived in the city for more than 15 years.
“My community, they are afraid,” he said in an interview last week. “They live like scared every single day — to go to work, to buy groceries for their family. I think the people start living like a nightmare.”
A teen’s thoughts
“Contrary to what is being said, we’re not all criminals,” Martinez said. “There are criminals within us, as well as there are criminals within people already here. We’re the same. The only difference is we have different colored skin. We were born in a different part, but we’re all looking for the same thing, which is a good future here.”
She said that as the president, Trump deserves respect.
“I understand the people that support his opinion because I put myself in their shoes.”
She said she does not want to live among criminals, either.
“I really wouldn’t do anything to kick the neighbors out unless they have a really bad criminal background.”
Martinez is the youngest of seven children. She has never met one of her older sisters, who lives in Mexico. That is, she does not remember meeting her; she was too young the last time they were together.
Another older sister came to the United States and lived here for a couple of years. She and her husband returned to Mexico when his mother was sick. They have not returned. In recent years, it has not been as easy to cross the border as it used to be. Another older brother and two older sisters in the United States illegally do not have DACA status.
Martinez said that when she applied, she did not understand how much DACA would change her future.
“Now that I think about it,” she said, “I wouldn’t be able to have a license, I would be able to have a job, I wouldn’t have gone to college.”
Martinez understands that DACA protection is limited. “It’s pretty much ‘an unlawful presence.’ It’s just so I can work and go to school. It doesn’t mean that I can stay.”
DACA must be renewed every two years. She received DACA approval in 2013 and renewed it in 2015, so it will soon be time to seek renewal. That requires going to a designated place to be fingerprinted.
“I really don’t know if I should or not,” Martinez said. “I’m scared. I would be a straight target if I did, but if I don’t, I still would be a target. I don’t know. I try to stay positive. I feel like if I’m not doing anything wrong, then they really shouldn’t come after me. By submitting my information, or going to the immigration place, it’s a more direct type of spotlight.”
To the president
What is her dream?
“Basically to be in a place where I can have my parents around,” she said. “I feel like if they weren’t around, I don’t know how I would do it, as well as when I have children for them to never get separated from me. I guess everybody’s dream since the pilgrims came to the New World is for a better future. To start all over and to get away from places where you really can’t grow, you can’t grow within yourself.”
Martinez wonders whether that dream is at risk.
“They’re [her parents] always thinking about our future,” she said. “They really don’t think about themselves. Well, they do, but they put us first. They don’t want us to leave because our life is here. It started here. There’s not that much that Mexico offers for us.
“We have talked about what would happen if they were to get deported. If they didn’t take our DACA away, we would stay here and hope that a future program would allow us to go visit, and, if not, that would be our last goodbye.”
If Martinez had a chance to speak with Donald Trump, this is what she would tell him:
“I would want him to know that people die for the American dream. And that he’s a father. He understands what it is to want the best for your children.
“I would ask him to get in my mother’s and my dad’s shoes, and ask him whether it would be worth it to cross into another country where you don’t know the language or the culture for a better future for your daughter. Just ask him to put himself in their shoes.”
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Coming Tuesday: What is the mood in the local Latino community? And what do local law enforcement officers have to say about their role in immigration enforcement?