DACA recipient Adrián Escárate hosted a conversation between Jose Antonio Vargas, undocumented journalist, filmmaker, and founder of Define American, and his mentee Yosimar Reyes, DACA recipient, poet, author, and activist.
JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS: How did it feel when you heard about the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold DACA?
YOSIMAR REYES: I was barely waking up. It came down early in the morning. I think you were one of the first people that texted me. And then I just got a bunch of text messages from people. I was shocked because I wasn’t expecting that kind of decision, being that we haven’t really been winning for the last couple of years. And then it was a sort of relief that I still have this for a bit longer.
JAV: How did it compare to hearing about the initial DACA announcement in 2012?
YR: It’s still frustrating. I feel like I’ve reached a level in the professional world that now it’s that constant reminder of uncertainty. In 2012, it was very aspirational. Like, I can’t believe I’m getting this opportunity to do things that I’ve never been able to do! And now, I’ve been able to do all those things. Now, DACA is a constant reminder of living your life in an uncertain way. I’m older now and I just want a normal life.
JAV: Is America worth this? Is this all worth it?
YR: I’ve been asking that to my undocumented friends. Was it worth it now that you have papers? Was all the emotional and psychological stress, the turmoil, worth it? And I’m questioning it, too. In the back of my mind, there’s this assumption that eventually we’re gonna get to a place where we are going to have citizenship. Nobody knows when it’s coming. But the idea is that we’ve waited long enough. Something’s gotta give. And yet, I’ve been thinking, is it worth all the sacrifices or the missed funerals or the family separation? Not being able to travel. Living with that reality. Once you have your citizenship, will it have been worth all of that? That’s what I’m asking myself now.
JAV: For me, another question is, what exactly are we a citizen of?
YR: Yeah! The idea of, what am I running away from should it come to the point that I have to go back? Have I created myths in my head about where I come from. Am I creating an illusion of where I’m at and why?
JAV: I think part of what this moment is asking us to consider is, it has to be greater than this citizenship that’s a piece of paper, right? We have to fight for something more because clearly that’s not enough.
YR: That’s initially what I thought growing up. Once I have this citizenship, all my problems are going to be solved. But now I’ve reached a point of self-reflection, excavating memories and circumstances that I’ve been placed in or things that happened to me because of this undocumented conditioning. And I think about all those experiences and if they amounted to this “prize” of citizenship. That’s the funny thing about having to question citizenship, do you really belong to this place?
JAV: Is it a place still? One of the first things you got to do when you got DACA was this thing called “advanced parole.” When you were able to go back to Mexico, I think I was one of the ones that said, “Don’t go.” I said don’t go because I was afraid that if you went, what if you couldn’t come back? Looking back at that now, what was that like going to this place that you hadn’t been to since you were three? I remember you saying that it didn’t feel like what it was supposed to feel. Like, you were not quite from there, that so much time had passed that you realized how American you were, by being in Mexico.
YR: Everything was amazing in the beginning because you’re touring, you’re seeing different places where you come from. But once I spent time by myself, I realized, “Wow, this is definitely a drastic change from what I’m used to.” And I thought, what if they don’t let me back in and this is gonna be the rest of my life? I realized I was American! I was so used to different things. One, I spoke English fluently. Two, I just had more goals! I want to change things. I want to impact people’s lives. I want to be able to express myself freely. I learned all these things in the United States. That I can achieve these goals if I work hard at them.
JAV: So America is worth it.
YR: That’s a hard question because America is all I’ve known, but… yes. And now, I’m at my grandmother’s house watching how old she’s getting and the fact that she can’t go back and forth, I’m realizing… yes. I imagine she has the reverse experience of, like, I’m stuck in this place that I know nothing about and I want to go back home. Like, I’m old. I want to go die. I used to think that was some romanticized story that old people say, but for her, it’s really real.
JAV: I feel like you have to develop your own sense of what the conditions are for your existence and survival. You can’t rely on a government to define that for you.
YR: I think you develop your own sense of country and self. And I think, oftentimes, that becomes the people that uplifted you, the people that saw you. And that becomes your place.
Adrián Escárate is a DACA recipient, immigrant rights activist and speaker, and the communications coordinator at Define American.