Argenis Hurtado Moreno
It’s Friday evening and the last of the Arizona sun is making its way down as I pull up to a trailer park on the outskirts of Maryvale to meet with my friend, Griselda. A couple of stray dogs trot along beside my bright orange car as I look for somewhere to park. The streets are narrow, filled with vehicles, so I decide to park next to the only available space by the rec center where several cliques of teenagers have congregated. Three groups stand out, each keeps to themselves with hardly any acknowledgement towards me. A few long haired skaters perform tricks on their boards just about a dozen feet from the cholos that stand aloof against a white pickup. Three paisas (Mexican cowboys) stand side by side in their skinny Levi’s, paired with leather pointed boots and matching tan cowboy hats. I pass by these three gentlemen and I can hear corridos (narrative Mexican songs) playing from one of their phones. Aside from when I temporarily block the light on a set of older men working on a truck, no one really takes notice of me. Perhaps my brown skin lets me move with ease in this neighborhood.
As I make my way to Griselda’s mobile home, her dog, Gorda, barks ferociously at me. This comes as a surprise to me since I have known Griselda and her dog for quite some time now. Griselda and I met through a summer law program we attended at Arizona State University, which the late Democratic lawmaker and longtime Latino community leader, Ben Miranda, made possible for underprivileged, unauthorized immigrant high school students in 2010. Since then Griselda and I have remained good friends and kept in contact.
Walking inside Griselda’s mobile home two distinctions are made clear; her love for the arts and her deep admiration of her Mexican culture. The walls are painted a rich blue that remind me of what Freud calls the oceanic feeling. Portraits of Frida Kahlo and Emiliano Zapata are prominently displayed but nothing stands out more boldly than the Mexican flag that adorns her coffee table. Standing in Griselda’s humble property I get the sense that her home and her story are part of something much bigger.
Griselda is one of the the first 19,000 DACA recipients in Arizona (538,000 total nationwide) from DACA’s inception in 2012 (MPI, 2013). As of September 2016, Arizona had 30,184 initial DACA recipients (USCIS, 2016). DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, granted temporary legal status to young adults, and it must be renewed every two years. To apply for DACA, applicants must meet specific guidelines as noted by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS):
The introduction of DACA has allowed Griselda to continue her education after graduating from high school six years ago in 2011. She is currently finishing her academic certificate in Chicano/a Studies at Paradise Valley Community College. Griselda is an avid advocate for human rights. She has volunteered countless hours for various organizations not just in Phoenix, but in Washington D.C. as well. However, Griselda points out she did not always possess a passion for feminist and ethnic advocacy.
“I knew I was Mexican, but I never really understood what that meant,” she tells me. “I was actually not very socially or politically aware that things were bad, or that I was different. I went to a good school in the farming suburbs of Tolleson and immigration issues rarely came up. It was not until I moved to Phoenix and attended school in the Phoenix Union High School District, that I started to notice the tension centered on Mexicans. And it didn’t really affect me until my junior or senior year when all my friends started applying for financial aid.” The feeling of being left out of the college milestone is one unauthorized students know all too well.
Before DACA, unauthorized students heavily relied on competitive, private scholarships for funding as their status did not qualify them for FAFSA. Actually, DACA does not qualify students for any federal assistance, it only allows the recipients to work, and in some states, including Arizona, to qualify for in-state tuition.
When I ask Griselda what she hopes to accomplish with her degree she replies, “I don’t know exactly what I want to do. Continuing school is something to think about, but I really want to become a resource for my community, para mi gente. I want to be able to direct people to the appropriate resources that they qualify for, because many don’t know.”
After a shared hug with Griselda, I make my way back to my car. The sun has fully disappeared now, only to be replaced by porch lights and the soft television light that seeps out of people’s living room windows. The scene of kids outside of the rec center is now replaced by a larger group of paisas. They have Corona and Tecate beers in hand, and the music source has been upgraded from a phone to an actual stereo. Once again no one really takes notice of me. But I take notice of them. I take notice, and I cannot help myself from wondering about the children I had seen earlier. I wonder how many of them are unauthorized immigrants, or if they even know their status and what that even means for their future. And I wonder about the future for Griselda and my other friends, as well as myself. This moment is bittersweet for me; the uncertainty of our futures is offset by the joy for our current progress.