How Isabeth Mendoza's Life Changed After Her Father's Deportation in "10 Years"
It’s been ten years where you missed three graduations, job offers, job losses, losing our childhood home, my anxiety and self doubt before taking the GRE, the acceptance letters to graduate school, and the heartbreak that followed.
We’ve missed each others birthdays. We’ve missed emergency room visits. We’ve missed our waves of depression. It’s been too long. You called me every week during my first semester of graduate school because you said you knew what it felt like to be alone. That hit me. It was the first time I heard you mention anything related to the emotional toll you have lived. Or, it was the first time I was listening. Perhaps, it was the first time I understood the gravity of those words because I was across the country, alone, isolated, and broken.
Your absence was marked early on. Your father gave you emptiness--not just from love, but food, money, stability, and a parent. Your absence, however, was meant to fill that void for us through your sacrifices in order to provide just enough for schooling, books, sports, uniforms, and food. The emptiness that always remained for the both of us was a father's love that could not be bought. We both coped with this emptiness differently; you with alcohol and me with anger.
It would not be until your deportation, and even still some time after that, where I would learn of how you grew up; the voids you lived and filled for your siblings, and later for us. It was not until then that I saw you as a human, giving us what you defined as the best so we would not be as hungry as you ever were, so we would not have to grow up and cut our childhood short, so we would not have to see our father raise another family in a home across from ours, so we would not have to leave our homeland and family behind.
I knew what our family became after you were gone.
I knew we joined the hundred thousands of families torn apart by deportation and the innumerable amount of families separated by man made borders. Yet, I couldn’t get myself to the protests, to the teach-ins, and to the working groups. I stayed back from the academic learning, news events, from supporting everyone else in our similar or exact situation, but never really felt we were part of--that I was a part of it.
The common narratives were not me: full-time student on full ride scholarship with citizenship. Nor my dad: overstaying his visa, pulled over for a DUI with an existing criminal record, including jail time and rape. I didn’t feel we fit the mold of special, deserving, common. I didn’t know I felt this way until the 2016 elections where each vote tallied by the electoral college meant another 4 years of having to wait to bring you back. The thoughts and feelings of “it’s been too long” came up my throat, and I thought of all the other experiences we would miss out on together. Hopefully, just another 4 years. Our new hope is for you to return before we all started to have kids so you can be around your grandkids. To have a second chance at being there, as a dad.
I don’t want to see the progression of your wrinkles through FaceTime. I don’t want to see the new gray hairs during our annual visit. I don’t want us to grow older apart. I don’t want you to share a life with us through an iPad. I don’t want to teach you how to text, how to download the pictures I send you, through email. I don’t want a long distance relationship where we have more to say over the phone than in person because the day to day is easier than the culmination of our reality in one visit.
I never communicated how the deportation has changed my life to my family. It was easier to write them down.
I chose to open up to admissions teams, HR reps, managers, and supervisors. It was easier for me to write about my experience when a prompt asked of me what our family did not: "Name an experience that has shaped your life, and how has it shaped your dreams and aspirations?" After the deportation I felt being moved further along the periphery. Every topic discussed in the classroom, every theory, every community outreach, every task at work made me think of the humans behind them. It made me think of the purpose of my work and the purpose of me. Being at the periphery shifted my perspective, my line of vision and who I was seeing. So much so that when I applied to college, sought my major, submitted cover letters and internship applications I could no longer act as if this new viewpoints and outlooks did not matter.
I heard you and us being left out of discussions, being generalized under theories, and being understood as cultural competency in work efforts. I saw you and us get lost in the common hustle and bustle of a typical work day in America. I read you and us get minimized to data points and statistics. And I saw you and us get ignored for various reasons, including the fact that people didn’t know of our existence. When I told you what my research interests were, what I wanted to study, and the student organizations I was a part of, there was surprise. I was taken back by the feeling that I all of a sudden felt I had to explain why. That I had to explain that the deportation hurt and changed my life. So, although our family kept moving along, and as a group we coped by living life as usual, I wholeheartedly could not. I felt crazy for a second - am I the only one feeling this?
Sharing my story through professionalism and academia led me to get many seats at many tables. I waffled between being triggered, excited, pissed, sad, hurt and motivated - all in one team meeting. It was exhausting, revealing and personally necessary. It confirmed the unresolved feelings but also that to me, the professional was personal. And that fact is essential. I continue to negotiate feelings but never at the cost of the work. I pair my research projects with therapy sessions, my literature reviews with poetry from women of color, and my many meetings with miles of running soundtracked by podcasts. The balance is crucial because “the work” to me means human beings, people like you and us. And I know that people like you and us also want me to have happiness and peace, so breaks and breakdowns are opportunities for reflection of how gentle I am being with myself.
One of my true norths is acknowledging and remembering humanity in people. I needed to understand my dad's story in order to forgive all the times and ways I was hurt because of his absence and alcohol. I most importantly needed to remember it when I read his criminal record. I also needed to extend it to my mom and brother after hearing their own response to his criminal record. Professionally and academically, I need to remember it because others don’t. Because we all haven’t had the same experiences, or experiences that moved us away from the center closer to the periphery. Because of my experiences I can’t deny, ignore or simply observe what is happening with DACA, TPS, the travel ban, the tax bill, climate change, and sexual assault and harassment. It also means there are many who feel excluded from the communicated narratives as much as there are many who are feeling supported, inspired, and ready to speak. In all of these experiences there are various ways to heal (or not heal). Part of my healing is staying engaged, learning, meeting my edge and creating nuance. Creating as much nuance so I can bask in the degrees of difference, live across the gradation of fine distinctions and continue to heal simultaneously with my personal, academic and professional (un)learning.
IMAGES AND WORDS
BY ISABETH MENDOZA
THIS PIECE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED ON MEDIUM
Isabeth Mendoza is originally from Los Angeles, born and raised in Bell, California, to two Mexican-immigrant parents. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Health at Emory Rollins School of Public Health; interested in the health disparities affecting immigrant, detained, and incarcerated persons. She seeks to bridge public health research and data with multimedia journalism in order to shift the way knowledge is compiled and disseminated to communities. Isabeth loves chasing street art, eating ceviche, and reading writings by women of color. She is currently living in Atlanta, Georgia and travels home to East Los Angeles. and Tecate, Baja California, Mexico where her family lives.
Read some more of her work at Medium
Tweet her on Twitter : @isa_bethm
Follow her on Instagram: @Isa_beth