Emiliano X, pseud.

Basic Interview Metadata

Interview Text and Audio


Emiliano (pseudonym) is an undocumented youth who has recently graduated high school. Emiliano was born in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico, but now has been living in North Carolina with his family for seventeen years. He grew up speaking both English and Spanish but had to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for the majority of his schooling. Upon graduating, Emiliano had hopes of going to a nearby college, such as North Carolina State University, but was unable to do so because of his undocumented status and the high cost of tuition. Emiliano applied for the Deferred Act to receive his Work Permit and Social Security, but is still waiting to receive his approval. He was also a co-founder of a local group, “The Immigrant Youth Forum”, which is made up of undocumented youth and allies that spread their stories and try and gain followers through activism. Throughout the interview, Emiliano touches on topics such as ESL classes, feeling racially profiled, the Deferred Act and what it means to be a ""Dreamer"", the founding of the Immigrant Youth Forum, and his activism to date to get a bill passed affecting in-state tuition for undocumented youth.



Kelly Gagnon: Hello this is Kelly Gagnon interviewing Emiliano for the Latino Migration Project. The date is April 21, 2013. Where were you born?
Emiliano: I was born in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico.
KG: Are your parents from there too?
E: Yeah.
KG: Was Spanish your first language?
E: Yeah I was born…well I was raised speaking Spanish, but since I was brought to the United States at a really young age I was exposed to English kind of around the same time that I learned to speak Spanish.
KG: How old were you when you were brought to the United States?
E: I was between one and two years old when I was brought.
KG: Did you have to take the ESL, English as a Second Language, classes?
E: Yeah I took it kindergarten through first grade, but after that I kind of didn’t have to take it anymore since I was exposed to English at a really young age I kind of caught on quickly.
KG: How was your experience with the ESL classes?
E: I mean it was fun, you know, learning that second language and being more comfortable speaking it. And I don’t know it was just…it was just a really good experience for me.
KG: Were you put like in a different class room?
E: Uh yeah during some period of time I was brought to a different classroom with one teacher since I was…I think I was the only Hispanic there at that school at that time so it was just me and that one teacher and we got a lot done throughout that time.
KG: So there was…oh so you said that you were the only Hispanic there at the time. So you did know English fairly well like you didn’t have a hard time?
E: No.
KG: Did your parents come straight to North Carolina when they came?
E: Uh, no at first we went to Houston. We stayed there for a couple of months, but my dad was…he had some family living in North Carolina and they told him about a job he could have and that’s when we moved to North Carolina.
KG: What’s his job?
E: Ever since he’s been in North Carolina, he’s been working as a construction worker and he’s been working for different…a big variety of companies. Um, yeah.
KG: And your mom?
E: My mom, she’s always been in the house cleaning business. She came to North Carolina and didn’t have a job ready for her so she took some time to take care of us, bringing us up, but when we were old enough to take care of each other…when my older siblings were old enough to take care of us, she started working in house cleaning. She started off in Molly Maid and sooner or later she got out of it and went into business for herself.
KG: Do you have any siblings?
E: Yeah I have four other brothers and one older sister.
KG: Are they younger than you?
E: Two of my brothers are younger than me, two are older than me, and my sister is the oldest of all of us.
KG: How old was she when she came over?
E: So it was in ’94…she’s 24 now so she was about 7 or 8 years old.
KG: Did she have any…I guess you wouldn’t know, it would probably be by hearsay, but did she have any trouble integrating into the…?
E: Yeah, yeah she did. She would tell me stories about that…kids in her class would kind of pick on her for being brown. And even the African American kids they would pick on her for like being the only Hispanic there, the only one different from everyone else. And she would tell me stories about her trying to save my younger brothers because they were being picked on as well and they would be getting into a lot of fights coming up in North Carolina.
KG: So she was in ESL classes as well then?
E: Yeah, yeah she was. But the same thing, we were exposed to English at a really young age and it wasn’t that difficult for us to learn the language.
KG: Do your…how is your parent’s English?
E: My mom, she’s picked on a couple words here and there, but she understands it a lot more than she can speak it or write it. And my dad, he’s been in the United States since he was fifteen so he was exposed to a lot of the different language and he can put some sentences together and communicate with others fairly well.
KG: Your dad’s been in the United States since he was fifteen?
E: Yeah he was looking for a job when he was fifteen and that’s when he first came here. He worked in California doing whatever was available and after a couple of years here in the United States he went back and met my mom and that’s when they started having a family over there and as a family they decided to move to the United States and that’s when we were brought.
KG: Did your…so I guess your parents didn’t have a real hard time communicating with your teachers if your dad knew English fairly well?
E: Yeah my dad did all of the talking, most of the time my mom was just there to observe.
KG: Do you have any complaints that you can remember – I know it was a while ago – about the ESL classes or do you think there’s anything that needs to be improved with helping students?
E: Yeah since it was a pretty long time ago, I was really young, I was just taught the basics and I don’t know it was just all like pretty exciting for me and I don’t remember anything that I didn’t like about it. Since I was in elementary school everything seems pretty fun, you know, so yeah I wouldn’t say like…I didn’t have anything that I didn’t like about it.
KG: How do you identify yourself? Would you say that, like if someone asked you, would you say you’re Mexican or would you say Mexican-American or how do you feel about like the…?
E: Well my first answer would be that I’m Mexican. That’s where I was born, but being raised in America I have a feeling that I am American, but I would consider myself as a Mexican more than anything.
KG: And what about the term Hispanic and Latino – how do you feel about those terms?
E: Well I think that Latino is kind of said more towards people like in Latin America, but Hispanic I would say…I identify myself more with Hispanic since Mexico was conquered by the Spanish.
KG: Have you ever felt racially profiled?
E: Growing up, yeah I mean there wasn’t really many others like me in my classrooms. Growing up, I would be surrounded by a lot of white faces and I did make friends with them, it wasn’t really that hard, but there were some students that kind of did outcast me and kind of set me to the side thinking that I wasn’t good enough just ‘cause I looked different. But it kind of slowed down for a while. In middle school, you know, the same thing happened, I still had my friends. But then in high school like everything changed, you know, everything is set up in groups where you would just go to some group that you pertain to and me, because I’m brown, people just thought that I would belong to the Hispanic group in my school and a lot of the times I lost some of the friends that I had made in elementary and middle school just because of those groups and that’s one way that I feel like I was discriminated against. And now that I graduated high school, I haven’t been able to go to college because I have to pay a higher rate of tuition because I don’t have a Social Security number and that’s why I started working at a restaurant.
KG: So in high school…you were talking about how there were a bunch of cliques?
E: Yeah.
KG: So it was really segregated?
E: Yeah I would say so like one of the English teachers in the high school he noticed this when he first walked in the cafeteria. He would…he noticed that there was this one section of all white students, one section of all African-American students, and one section of Asian students and one section of Hispanic students. And he brought this up to the principal and to the Assistant Principal, but nothing was really like tried…nothing was done to try to make that change because it was all up to the students to do that, it was there choice and yeah, I would say that my school was really segregated.
KG: And was that in Chapel Hill?
E: Yeah. But it was by the choice of the students, you know.
KG: So did you primarily hang out with the other Hispanic students?
E: Yeah. I mean, I would still talk to all the other students, you know, in class or in between class, but during lunch time I would be with my group.
KG: You said you began working in the restaurant business. How…what is that like? Have you faced any issues there?
E: Not really. I mean, starting off you’re put as a host and there’s three sections of those. One of them…one of which you’re in the kitchen most of the time. And in the kitchen there’s a lot of Hispanics so when I was back there I felt like I was at home because I would speak my native language and I was understood and I just felt like I belonged there. But everything changed as soon as I crossed that door between the kitchen and the dining room where I felt like I was kind of less than everyone else because I was different. And I don’t know I kind of felt like I was treated different by like the management and the customers because I looked different.
KG: Do you know much about the immigration reform that’s trying to happen?
E: Yeah I’ve been trying to stay in touch with the updates.
KG: What have you found out?
E: Well, as of Friday I believe the bill was proposed that would allow a path to citizenship for Dreamers that were looking for an easier way to go to college and have the same opportunities as citizens, but the timeline between…that it takes to become a citizen for those Dreamers, I think is way too long. And I think that we need to…that we need to take a step and kind of change that timeline.
KG: How would you define a Dreamer?
E: Well, a lot of like…a lot of the bills being proposed kind of like tell the story of a perfect child, you know, not ever being arrested, not ever getting into trouble, having straight A’s in school and that’s how I think a lot of these bills are kind of characterizing Dreamers. But in reality a lot of these students, they’re not perfect, but they want to go to college and they do want the same level of achievement as everybody else. But to me, a Dreamer is just any regular kid that doesn’t have a Social Security number.
KG: And so…you said that you wanted to go to school eventually?
E: Yeah after high school I was planning on going to a school with a good engineering program because that’s what I wanted to study and I was thinking about going to NC A&T, NC State, or anything other school that had a good engineering program. But I was looking for scholarships to help me pay off that tuition, but there was a scarce number of scholarships being given to undocumented youth so it was kind of hard to find scholarships there.
KG: But there are scholarships given out to undocumented youth?
E: Yeah there are, but since there are a lot of undocumented students it’s kind of competitive to get those scholarships.
KG: Are they particular to any type of Hispanic group like specific to Mexican or Guatemalan?
E: Yeah. Well some of them are, but a lot of these scholarships are open to any undocumented students.
KG: So what steps would you have to take in order to be able to go to school?
E: Well the tuition rates they’re…they can be three to five times as much as regular in-state tuition. And so kind of the biggest step is getting that money to go. And like everyone else you have to have good grades, gotta have a good number of community service learning hours…you have to have graduated from high school. And I had all those except the money so that’s one of the last steps that I had to take.
KG: Do you know much about the process for, I guess, getting granted that in-state tuition for undocumented youth?
E: Well I’m with…I’m working with a group that proposed a bill to the House here in Raleigh. But in that bill we were asking for in-state tuition for undocumented youth that met the requirements for the deferred action for early childhood arrivals. And yeah, we’ve been lobbying and knocking on representative’s doors and asking for their support, but since the House is predominantly Republican it’s kind of hard to get them on our side. But we have taken that step to try to get tuition equity and so that’s one way that I’ve been trying to get my tuition payable.
KG: How did the…you said that there’s a group that you’re with that…?
E: Yeah well I’m in this group called The Immigrant Youth Forum we’re just a lot of undocumented youth and allies that live in my community and we partnered with the North Carolina Dream Team and a lot of other groups across the state. And we got together and we brainstormed a lot of ideas that we can kind of do to like make ourselves noticed because in North Carolina a lot of youth are kind of scared to speak out because of the rhetoric that a lot of the representatives have of immigrants. And yeah, that’s how the bill came to be.
KG: How did you become a part of the group?
E: Well in high school, one of my counselors let me know that there was going to be a representative from El Centro Hispano coming in and talking to Hispanic youth about trying to get into a youth group and that’s when I went and I met the representative and yeah I joined his youth group where, in that group, we mostly talked about like sexual education and drugs and violence and gangs and I already knew that and all that stuff was bad so I wanted to learn something new. And that’s when we started working on immigrant activism, but the company he was working for didn’t like us talking about that stuff and it was a really delicate subject and so they were starting to cut our funds for the program. And that’s when we kind of went our own separate way and made the Immigrant Youth Forum.
KG: Did you say that was through El Centro Hispano?
E: Yeah. Yeah we were kind of surprised when they didn’t want us to be talking about the um, the Immigration Reform.
KG: And that was the owners of El Centro?
E: Yeah. Yeah we were really surprised that they wouldn’t be in support of us like, trying to better ourselves through like, through law, basically and learning about like what’s going on legislatively.
KG: Did they give any particular reasons as to why they weren’t supportive?
E: I mean they just told the representative to like, stop talking to us about that and to start sticking to the script, basically. And that’s when he kind of didn’t want to follow the rules anymore. And we—that’s why we separated from them.
KG: So is the representative still active within the group?
E: Yeah, yeah he’s still in the group. Um, I was actually one of the founders of the Immigrant Youth Forum. Me and three other people and after that we just started recruiting other youth and allies and we started meeting up with other groups across the state.
KG: Where do you—or how do you meet up with the other groups?
E: Um, we just uh, a lot of the representative and his friend they have a lot of contact with them, they’ve met them before, they’ve worked on a lot of other rallies and demonstrations before so they’ve already had a connection with them, and they just uh, they just uh showed us who they were. And we got to meet them.
KG: Okay, so you met the other groups through the representative?
E: Yeah.
KG: Who did you say the representative worked for?
E: Uh, El Centro Hispano, but he doesn’t work there anymore.
KG: How did he get the connection to the other groups, just like—
E: Well I guess just in his past—well, he was a big activist, he used to live in Texas, so in that state, they do have in-state tuition and—
KG: For undocumented youth?
E: Yeah, for undocumented youth. And for some reason he moved to North Carolina and he was really surprised when he found out that undocumented youth didn’t have in-state tuition here, so he started looking for groups that were pushing for activism and—in that section, and that’s when he came across the North Carolina Dream Team and a lot of other groups that associated with that group.
KG: Do you know any people that have been successful with being granted in-state tution?
E: Well I don’t know any people specifically but like a lot of states like California I know recently they changed their policy on tuition rates for undocumented youth—you would have in-state tuition there. Um, and a lot of other states have followed in their steps. It’s just, I think it’s some fifteen other states have in-state tuition for undocumented youth? And then—and we’re trying to keep that momentum going here in North Carolina and with the talk of the immigration reform, we think it’s a really timely subject to talk about. And yeah, it’s just that um, the timing can’t be any better for us.
KG: So what do you see happening with the bill that you proposed?
E: Well, um, I think It was going to be proposed to the um, to the Rose Committee at the House, but the Democrats that are pushing the bill, they’ve already sent a lot of like—a lot of pro-migrant bills through but they’ve died immediately reaching that Rose Committee. And um, we don’t want that to happen with our bill, we want, um, we want the Republicans to get on board with it and to support us. And so we’re just waiting to hear back from, from uh, the Democrats that were supporting the bill.
KG: How—and then what? How long would it take to take effect?
E: Um, I have no idea. They still have to debate and look over the whole bill, see what they like, see what they don’t like. But I—I have no idea how long it would take. If it even passes that committee.
KG: So if you—you’re fighting for in-state tuition, that’s not residency though, right? That’s just in-state tuition for school?
E: Yeah, that’s just—that is basically what we were fighting for, but I have been living in North Carolina for seventeen years, and I don’t know, I just don’t understand why I don’t qualify for residency since I’ve been living here for that long. Um, but yeah, we are just fighting for the in-state tuition bill, we’ve got to start somewhere. And, yeah we just want the tuition rates to be equal. You know? So we can go to college.
KG: What’s the, do you know much about the process right now for becoming a resident? Or what it takes?
E: Um, it was a really long time ago when I heard about the amount of years it takes to like become a resident, but I talked to a lawyer about my situation, this was like two years ago, when I was—when I was seventeen, he told me that if I wanted to—that a better chance for me to become a citizen in the United States was for me to move out, to move back to Mexico and apply for a Visa. And he would tell me that the Visas would be approved after like ten years of submitting them, and that’s just too long for me to wait for so I decided to stay. And as soon as I turned eighteen there was a time—a time clock set, and for the amount of time that you stay in the United States after you’re eighteen, there’s like, a penalty for it. If you ever get caught or if you ever get put into um, deportment proceedings. And so yeah, that kind of got me scared. So I decided to stay thinking that the reform would happen soon. And my hopes are pretty high now that there’s a lot of talk around the Immigration Reform.
KG: What are the penalties for staying after you’re eighteen?
E: Well you uh, a lot of the penalties have to do with the application for the Visa. Like, I’m not quite sure how the years add up, but the more time you spend in the United States after you’re eighteen, the more you have to wait to apply for a Visa, if they even let you apply for a Visa at all.
KG: While you’re here, or?
E: When you get—when you get sent back.
KG: So if you get sent back and you’ve been living here for a few years after you’ve been eighteen—
E: Yeah, you have to wait until you can apply for a Visa.
KG: And even then it’ll take roughly ten years?
E: Yeah, there’s like a—yeah. Yeah so that was too long for me to wait for so I decided to stay.
KG: Do you know much about the Deferred Act?
E: Yeah, I was uh, I was on my way home from Raleigh when me and my sister heard about it on the radio, we were like really excited that it was going to be more than it actually was, we were going to be able to like, basically have residency. Um, but after like days went by, and uh, the guidelines were more set, we realized that it was something but like, it wasn’t much. And, and so yeah, we applied for it, we got a lawyer to do the application for us, and even though it did cost us quite a bit of money we knew that it would be worth it in the end.
KG: And what happened?
E: Well, uh, yeah the lawyer got all the paperwork fixed, and she sent the paperwork in January. We received a letter the next month, saying that um, we had to go to Durham and get our Biometrics done. So we did that earlier than the date that they wanted us to and they still and uh they still took us in, they still got our fingerprints, they took a picture of us, and we got a letter like right after that, like a week after that saying that we would have to wait like three to six more months in order to get the actual work permit. Um, but there’s been like a lot of talk, I’ve heard a lot of people talking about how this Deferred Action was going to help student’s get into school, in reality it’s just a work permit. Even though they do give you the Social Security number, you won’t be able to apply for financial aid or be eligible for in-state tution.
KG: Really?
E: Yeah.
KG: I thought the whole point of it was to get in-state tution?
E: It’s just a work permit.
KG: Oh.
E: Yeah.
KG: So it’s—it’s only allowing you to work—
E: Yeah, it’s only allowing us to be here and kind of the risk of being deported taken away.
KG: For how long? Is there like an expiration date?
E: Yeah, there’s like a two year period. After two years you have to renew the application and then another two years. But after—after um, Barack Obama’s um, term is up, and a new president steps in, he can take the Deferred Action away. And with all of the information that they have about us and our family, it kind of like scares me a little bit to what they can do with that.
KG: Based on the stuff you used to apply?
E: Yeah. Like I know the President said that what we use won’t be used against us, but yeah, I don’t know. Kind of like there’s a distrust with that.
KG: So you think that after someone else is elected it could—
E: Yeah. That’s why we like have to push for change in the law now that we have a pro-migrant president. So that um, so that we can stay here in the United States where we’ve been living our whole lives, and so that we won’t be sent back to a country that we don’t know.
KG: So did you ever hear anything back about the work permit?
E: Um, not as, not in a month. The last time I heard was that um, our application was in Chicago. And that’s like where the main office is, where they like sort everything out. But that was the last time I heard about it, that was like a month ago. And the lawyer did tell us that it was going to take up to six months, so, we have to wait a little bit longer to receive that work permit.
KG: When did you start that process?
E: Um, January. Well we got the application I think in—November. And we got the application in in January and that’s when we sent them in.
KG: So it could be up to another six months?
E: Yeah. Up until July I think. That’s like the latest we’ll be able to receive them. And a lot of times the application are just sent from like one place to the other, just because they don’t have enough space for some applications in one center, and they just send it to another.
KG: So do you—do you get some sort of letter or--?
E: Uh, they gave my sister and I a tracking number for the application. But she’s the one that’s been taking charge of that. And she’s been checking on that more than I have.
KG: Will it just come up and say like if you’ve been granted--?
E: I think they’ll send the letter with like the—telling us to go over to someplace in Raleigh to pick up the ID.
KG: And what if—what if it gets rejected will they just tell you It’s rejected?
E: I guess. I don’t know, hopefully they don’t say that.
KG: So do you—do you know anyone that—did you say you know anyone that has been successful with that?
E: Yeah, I know one, two, three people. Yeah I know three people that already have their work permits. They seem like, they seem like really relieved and happy.
KG: So, ultimately, what would you like to see change? Not necessarily just in this state, but the country as a whole?
E: Um, I think the biggest problem is that a lot of people like don’t really know the stories of a lot of these undocumented youth because of that same fear that they have of kind of like telling their peers who they are and what their situation is, and I think that, one of the things that should change is that a lot of um, that a lot of these student and youth should just drop their fear and realize that now is a good time to let their presence be known so that people can take notice of what’s going on in the country in order for something to change and I’m just really grateful for the people that I have come in contact with, that I have shared my story and they were understanding of what’s going on and they’ve supported us.
KG: What kind of people have—do you mean like as a group usually you’ve been sharing your story?
E: Yeah, like we’ve been, we’ve been um using all sorts of types of media, radio, um, newspapers, newsletters, and uh, a lot of methods of telling our stories like art and speaking out and doing rallies. And yeah like a lot of the times people are kind of shocked by these stories and it’s the reason that we tell them because they didn’t know about it. Um, and yeah for the people that hear them and take action with us, um, those are like, the kind of people I want to see more of.
KG: What part of the stories are most shocking to people?
E: I guess like that—that like, like in my position after graduation I can’t really go anywhere, you know, despite like how many times I’ve been told that if you work hard you’ll go far, you know? A lot of these students, they’ve worked hard in school and they think that they’re going to be able to go to college straight from high school, and I think that’s what like, gets a lot of people that hear the stories, you know? They’ve been able to go to high school and college or they’re in college at the moment, so they know what it is to be in college, and all of these experiences that they will have, all of the—all of the things that they will learn. I guess like, being able to deny people of that right to education is kind of the most shocking to them.
KG: What kinds of people or groups have you guys been reaching out to?
E: Well a lot of the times we had been reaching out to colleges because we had been pushing for further education, so that—that seemed like a pretty good basis for um, for speaking out. Um, we’ve—we’ve been uh, I wanna say college. College is a lot of where we go to talk to people.
KG: So you’ve been going around to different colleges and talking to people?
E: Yeah, mostly in uh, UNC now, since we are here in Chapel Hill and it’s closer. But we have gone to Durham to Duke. Um, we’ve gone to D.C. and Charlotte when the DNC was happening. Uh, the group that I was in—that I’m involved in was over there and uh, just listening to what was going on, and meeting people.
KG: And you felt like it was well received among the college students?
E: Um, well some of the—some of the students you know they have their own lives, you know they’re still in their little bubble, um, yeah and just a lot of the time it’s really busy but some of the students do have time to take a minute and listen to what these people have to say. Um, I think that a point was—is being taken from people just by stopping and listening to us.
KG: Do you have any final thoughts on, I guess your—your process so far trying to get um, the equal tuition or even just residency—I mean like on your story so far?
E: Um, not really.
KG: Well, that is all of my questions, so thank you very much.
E: You’re welcome, thank you.