Gustavo X, pseud.

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Interview Text and Audio


Gustavo is a nineteen year old undocumented youth who recently graduated from high school. He was born in Mexico but moved with his family to North Carolina when he was two years old. Gustavo had dreams of going to a nearby community college when he graduated to take computer business classes and play soccer, but he was unable to do so because of the expense. Once he heard about the Deferred Act, he applied immediately and was able to get his Work Permit and Social Security. He now is in the process of applying to school once more, with the hope of the tuition being a lower cost. Gustavo hits on themes of his experience with English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, racial-profiling, and the process of getting his Work Permit and Social Security card.



KG: Hello, this is Kelly Gagnon interviewing Gustavo for the Latin Migration Project, and it is April 15, 2013. So where were you born?
G: In Mexico. In Mexico, it’s off the coast, where the Gulf of Mexico is.
KG: And how long did you live there for?
G: Uh, two years. I was born there and then we came when I was two, and we’ve been here since.
KG: Did your whole family come at once?
G: Um, no. My dad came first before I was born. But he went to California and lived there for a while. He came back and moved to North Carolina with my mom and left me and my sister in Mexico. And I guess it was like a year, maybe a year and a couple months, and they came back for us. And we all moved back here.
KG: So you have one sibling?
G: Uh, I have an older sister and a younger brother who’s seven. So.
KG: So how old was your sister when you came over?
G: Um, s—eight—seven—eight or seven.
KG: Was your younger brother born here?
G: Oh, yeah. He was born here, at UNC.
KG: How long um, how long was your dad in California for—before he came here?
G: Um, maybe like two years? Nah, maybe like a year and a half or two. And he had a steady job and he just got tired of it and came back.
KG: Do you know what type of job he had?
G: Yeah, he worked at a Chinese restaurant, and worked there—also, I think he was a farmer, I’m not too positive. I’m really positive—I’m like not for sure about the Chinese Restaurant. He used to get paid like two dollars and fifty cents and he used to work like all day like ten hours—twelve hours a day.
KG: So when he came back to get um, when he came back to get your mom and you and your sister, and then um, and then you guys went to California or you went to North Carolina?
G: Oh no, we came straight here. When me and my sister came to the US we came straight to Cali—or no we came straight to North Carolina.
KG: Why did he choose to come to North Carolina?
G: Well because when he came here, uh, for the first time, he saw that there were more job opportunities. And he met um, well he met a friend his name is Ricky- Rick ( ), and he gave him a job and then he told him he was just going to come back and get us. And then we got back and he just had that job already. It was at a golf course. He had that job for like four or five years. We originally went to Mebane though. We didn’t move to—we didn’t live in Chapel Hill. We lived in Mebane for two, two and a half years, then came to Carrboro. And I’ve been here since; since I was four.
KG: So Spanish was your first language then?
G: Yeah, it was. I learned how to like read and write in English before I learned how to read and write in Spanish. And I was kind of like speaking bad Spanish, like I wouldn’t speak it very good, until like sixth grade, I took a Spanish class and I learned better, and how to read and write and stuff.
KG: So did you grow up learning English too then?
G: Yeah.
KG: When did you start learning English?
G: When I was really young. Honestly, I learned my English by watching cartoons. That’s how I learned English the most. I went to a pre-school too, in like Mebane. And they taught me English there. It was pretty—pretty basic I guess. Just like learning another language. I didn’t really know how to speak in Spanish as much then, so. ( )
KG: So did you ever have to take an ESL class? Or was it—
G: Yeah, from kindergarten to second grade. Maybe, yeah second grade. And I didn’t have to take the ESL class anymore after that. Because they thought my English was good.
KG: Do you remember much about the ESL classes?
G: Yep, um, yeah a little bit. It was just them learning—or them teaching us how to write, correct—like correct sentences, how to place the words right and what they mean, and just how to read, and how to pronounce words, and stuff like that—how to sound out words, yeah.
KG: So did you speak—you spoke better Spanish than English then when you were younger?
G: Yeah, I did.
KG: And what about your parents’ English?
G: Um, they understand a lot more than they know how to speak. If they knew how to pronounce the words they were trying to speak, they’d do good, but, they know what they want to say and somehow they say it in their own little way. But, it’s alright. My mom’s Spanish isn’t as good as my dad’s was. But that’s because I guess my dad had to talk to more Americans ( ) more than my mom did.
KG: What does your mom do?
G: She cleans houses. ( ) the company ( ).
KG: So did—did they ever have a hard time communicating with your teachers or did they know enough English to get by?
G: Uh, no they always had to have a translator at every meeting. And then when I got to high school I was the translator but some—they’d still get it. Or my Hispanic teacher would be their translator. But, yeah.
KG: Did you have any friends that um, that primarily spoke Spanish when you were younger, but had problems like communicating with the other kids, like the kids that were in the ESL classes?
G: Yeah, yeah. I had a couple friends that didn’t speak very good English and still got by. I don’t know. It was kind of like just with the Hispanic kids mostly. But I guess it was really fast—you really—you learn how to speak Spanish really quick when you’re young. So he picked it up really quick, but still with like an accent. Kind of, like, so. He was kind of—I don’t know. It was always just like him and his Hispanic friends, and they were with I guess the other type of kids—American kids or Black kids.
KG: So your friends that um, didn’t speak much English at all, did they kind of isolate themselves from the other kids?
G: Not really, I mean kind of because they’d just feel uncomfortable not knowing how to speak English so they—they wouldn’t isolate themselves but they—they just would hang out with them sometimes. Or unless they were playing like a group game they’d ( ). But yeah.
KG: Do you think there need to be like any improvements in the schools with the—like the ESL classrooms or how they, um, work with students that don’t speak very good English?
G: Um, I don’t—I don’t know. I can’t remember very well.
KG: Yeah, it was a while ago.
G: Yeah, like if they were doing a very good job or anything like—I kind of just, I feel like I kind of just learned on my own a lot. Cause just—I don’t know. So, but they would help me pronounce words, which was useful. They definitely—I guess they did help me like write sentences and stuff like that. So that was really useful, but other than that, I don’t really remember.
KG: Um, how do you identify yourself like, would you say you’re like Mexican-American or just American? Or—
G: Well, I’m a Mexican. I always say that I’m Mexican, but I always say that I’m American because I mean I grew up here. I probably know more about US history than I do about the Mexican history, which is kind of sad to say on my part because I’m Mexican. But I mean I just never grew up learning that stuff, you know? I got to learn it on my own. And um, yeah I don’t know—I shouldn’t just be called a Mexican because like I kind of grew up here and I’m always going to say I’m from Chapel Hill no matter like where I go and end up and if I like end up in Mexico and people ask me where you’re from, I’m like, Chapel Hill. Mexico, but I’m from Chapel Hill. But yeah, so—I guess I kind of say Mexican-American.
KG: How do you feel about the Hispanic or Latino identities? Do you use that or do you not like that as much?
G: No, I do. I like the Latino/Hispanic kind of thing. I don’t like people just being called Mexicans or people just calling them Puerto Ricans. Um, I like that, how people identify as Latinos or Hispanics. Although some people think that’s like, I don’t know—bad. But I don’t mind, like, I think it’s good. I’d rather be called that than Mexican, or Puerto Rican, or Columbian or whatever.
KG: Have you ever, um, have you ever had any problems like you felt like you were racially profiled or something like that?
G: Yeah, definitely. I’ve been called wetback, I’ve been called beaner, I’ve been called a lot of things just because I am. I’ve been like, um, blamed for stealing something just because I’m Hispanic—I was the only Hispanic at the place, so, yeah.
KG: You were blamed for stealing something because you were the only Hispanic?
G: Yeah, I was like the only—like the most suspicious. And I was the only unracial—like, Mexican or Hispanic there, but everyone else was White. It was at camp. It was at Camp, uh, I can’t remember what it’s called—uh, Greenhope? Or something like that, I don’t know it’s in Virginia. This is a couple of years ago. Actually no, probably like middle school. They thought I stole somebody’s camera, I was in the cabin, but just like I said, just White people. They thought it was me, they checked my stuff, and I felt really bad. And I asked to be switched cabins just because of that.
KG: You asked to switch cabins or they—
G: No, I asked to switch cabins to somebody else’s. And that was more diverse, the one that I got switched to. And it was actually fun—I actually got kind of glad I got blamed for it because I got switched and it was better—it was fun. I had a better time. So, but whatever, you know? Um, I’ve gone to a gas station and um, the guy at the cashier just starts talking to me in Spanish and just kind of starts making fun of me and stuff, thinking I don’t know English and that I can’t speak English, and he sees that I don’t really have an accent and just like—he just like opens up his eyes and this really like shocked look and was like oh, your English is very well. And I was like, yeah. Been here all of my life. And I’m just like can I just get some gas, and I walk out. And that’s it.
KG: Does that ever get old or annoying or?
G: I mean, sometimes, sometimes it gets old, but it’s just like whatever. It happens. I don’t take offense to it anymore. Like, not like other people do. I know it’s going to happen, I’m not too worried about it. But I mean if someone takes it to another level, then yeah I guess I’ll take offense to it and probably act on that. I’ve gotten called a wetback, and beaner, and go back to Mexico like on the soccer field plenty of times. Plenty of times.
KG: Really?
G: Yeah. Plenty of times. So, like I said it’s not like a big deal anymore.
KG: Like by the opposing team?
G: Mmhmm. Yeah, one of my teammates got a redcard because somebody called me a wetback and he defended me. I felt really good about that, but at the same time I felt kind of bad like dude you shouldn’t have done anything you should’ve just let him offend me, but it’s whatever. Yeah, things like that.
KG: So what is the process—do you know much about the process for becoming like a citizen?
G: Yeah, well—I know a lot of my family members are applying to be citizens here or have at least their residence here, essentially here. So, the process is you go to D.C., you ask them for forgiveness, um, and um, you just ask for forgiveness and they’re like okay, you have to go to Mexico and ask them for forgiveness because you made them look bad, you know? Just kind of like made them look bad or something—something like that, I don’t know. And ask for further forgiveness, but that just like an excuse for you to like, sometimes you get a couple of months just to stay or something, you get up to ten years. And you can’t come back for ten years. And after those ten years you can come back, and get your residency.
KG: Who are you supposed to be asking for forgiveness?
G: Um, like the council over there and um in D.F., Mexico City. They keep you there for a while, and you have to fill out paperwork, and other stuff. My cousin got lucky and he was just there for nine months, you have to be there for at least three months. That’s the least. And he was there for nine months and got his—came back here and got his residency. Had to take a couple of quizzes, um—or not quizzes, tests. Um, and then that’s it. He got his green card. That’s it.
KG: Have any of your other family members had any experiences like that or any difficulty?
G: With um, like racism and stuff like that, or like—
KG: Yeah, yeah that or you know, or becoming a citizen?
G: Oh, yeah. But yeah, um, my dad had his visa, so he’d go there and come back. He got his visa when I was in fifth grade. Yeah. And, um, he just would go whenever he wanted to, but he hardly ever went. And um yeah, he just got it every two years you have to go back and get it for his job. His job was provided by the guy I told you, Rick ( ), he helped us out, he still helps us out, ( ) after everything that happened. Yeah.
KG: So, um, what about you? You graduate high school--?
G: Twenty –twelve. Mmhmm. Um, what did—what did you mean? Sorry. [Laughter]
KG: What um, I guess just what has been your process for um--?
G: Like my status here? I um, well there’s this thing called the Deferred Act, also known as the Dream Act. Um, and it provides you with, um, a permit to work, like you have permission to work here, um, and you can get your driver’s license and your social security number, stuff like that, but you can’t leave the country, and I mean I applied to that and I got it and everything. And you just have to have graduated high school or if you’re still studying or you’re still in high school you have to be over the age of fifteen to thirty-three, and um, yeah you just have to have like a high school diploma, and you can get it. Because most people can’t go to college anyways so that’s why they stop studying. So as long as you have a high school diploma, you’re good.
KG: How did you hear about it?
G: Well it was really, really, really, really big. Like there was like really big news. And I guess there’s like a Hispanic channel, you know? Like a—where like the news and stuff, they’re updated with all of this stuff. So that’s how I heard about it. And also just like friends and teachers and stuff like that were just saying and yeah, I applied for it pretty soon, and I got it. It was like in the beginning before most people applied for it. A lot of people were scared to get it because people thought that it was just like a—going to be like fake and they were going to have all, like everybody’s address and stuff like that, and were going to come deport them and stuff like that. So that’s why people didn’t really apply until now.
KG: Do you remember when you started like the process of applying?
G: Mmhmm. Um, we just had to get a lot of our info uh, dated –like our birth certificate, proof that we started school here, we had to have—actually the other requirement was you had to be here for more than five years. So studying more than five years. So we had to get proof of that, and I just—I’ve been here since I was in pre-school so I wasn’t really wor—I had that. Uh, you had to get like, like if you ever went to doctor like the clinic like flu shots and stuff like that. Um, yeah, like your grades, your report card, your high school um, transcript, and high school diploma if you have it. Pretty much it. Bunch of paperwork from middle school and high school and stuff like that. So, it was kind of a pain, but whatever. Worth it. [laughter].
KG: How long did it take you to be accepted?
G: Uh, it takes up to three months. Well, no, no. It took up to a month. Maybe less to go get my like—I guess they approved me and I had to go get my fingerprints done in uh, Carey or something, Apex? So that took less than thirty days for sure. And then I did that and they were like, okay well now you’ve got to just wait for your permit—your little card and your social security. And that took up to, that took four months. And that’s what the lawyer told me, she said three to four months. So. But my sister’s hasn’t gotten here, so that’s the thing. She hasn’t gotten her permit or anything.
KG: But she’s been approved?
G: Yeah, but she’s been approved, but a lot of my family member and my friends and stuff, um, they’re in the same situation. If there’s like more than one in the family, usually just one gets it first and then the other one waits for a while.
KG: Really?
G: So, that’s happened to a lot of people, actually. Um, but I don’t know. I know a friend that literally applied, uh, in November, had to go get her fingerprints in December, and then got her card in January. So it took three months to get everything. Mine took I guess four or five in total.
KG: Was that like, in the past year or?
G: Yeah. Two-thousand-twelve. Yeah. Started in the process in—during my—in September? And got my fingerprints in October, and then got my thing in February. So.
KG: Did you just get some sort of letter in the mail that said you were approved?
G: Uh, no. Well, yeah I guess. You just got like a—yeah—you got like a letter saying hey you’ve got to come in and get your fingerprints on this day and that’s it. And then you just go, and you’re approved pretty much. It doesn’t really say you’ve been approved or anything it just gives you like a ( ) and that’s your ticket to get in there. After that I guess that means you’re approved. I guess they check your um, your fingerprints and see if you have any records or anything, anything, anything. And then after that, they see if you’re approved. And you just, if you’re approved they send it to you. I’m pretty sure if you don’t get approved, they send you a letter and say hey you didn’t get approved, and if you did they just send everything at once. Cause that’s how I got it, just a little letter with my thing on the piece of paper but I didn’t read it [Laughter] I just got the card and I threw away the paper. I should have read the paper, but I was really just excited for that little ID card. And uh, [Laughter] uh, my social security. So, oops. It might have been something important. [Laughter]
KG: So what does that mean for you now that you have that?
G: Well that means I can get a better job for sure, and I can get into school without paying out-of-state tuition. Which is awesome. Um, that’s honestly why I took the year off because I—it was really expensive. I mean Wake Tech was originally thirteen-hundred or something like that and out-of-state tution was like five—five thousand dollars, almost six if I wanted to be—and that wasn’t to be a full-time student.
KG: That was just part-time?
G: Yeah. So it was like more to get more hours. So I was just like, you know what, I’m just going to wait until I get that.
KG: So when you—when you were looking into that you were in the process of applying for—
G: Yeah, well, I applied when I got in, but then when I was going to do everything like register for classes and stuff, like that’s when—I couldn’t register for classes until everybody else registered for classes, so I had to go last and see whatever was left over. That’s what I was going to choose from. So that kind of sucked also because of that so I was just like, no I’m just going to do it. But now I have my social security number, it’ll be easier. But yeah.
KG: So what are your plans now with that? Are you going to try and go?
G: Yeah, yeah I’m trying to—I’m going to go to Wake Tech , uh, take a couple of computer classes—computer business classes, um, and play soccer for them. They have a pretty good soccer team, so, it’ll be fun.
KG: Um, so when are you applying? Have you applied to go to Wake Tech or are you still--?
G: Yeah, well, I guess I have to apply again because I didn’t go the year before that. So maybe I have to apply again, I haven’t yet, but I’m in the process of doing that. I will soon. And this time it’ll be different because I’ll be able to choose classes at the same time as everyone else. And it won’t be as expensive.
KG: so what does the dream act mean as far as citizenship, it’s not exactly citizenship is it?
G: No, no, no not it’s not even a residence—residency, um it’s just permission to be here without being kicked out and being able to have a job legally and having to pay taxes and stuff like that and being able to have a driver’s license. But it doesn’t apply to everybody, see the thing is like you have to be between the ages of 15 and 33 and have to have graduated. Not a lot of people are graduated so, but a lot of people are now they’re like getting their GED and stuff like that so in some type of way all of this is to like make money. That’s how I see it, that’s honestly how I see it because you have to pay, we only get our license for 2 years so every like every 2 years we have to renew our license. We have to pay 400 dollars just to get for immigration and stuff like that and then we have to pay the lawyers ( another hundred dollars ). But I guess the lawyer doesn’t count, I’m just talking about the government type of money, and then uh, what was I saying I forgot—oh yea yeah about getting money and just-- it’s all about getting money to be honest. It’s kinda stupid but at the same time they’re kind of smart cause it’s a lot of people. Just think about like how many Hispanics are here, Mexicans are here. How many kids, so much money.
KG: Is there an expiration or a certain time period for the--
G:-- yea I actually have it with me. (this is how it’s--)
KG: -- oh so it’s for 2 years
G: Yeah so every two years we get it renewed and we have to pay like two-hundred dollars or something like that.
KG: But you’re allowed to apply for renewal every two years?
G: Yeah, yeah as long as your record stays clean and stuff like that. I think so yeah.
KG: Is that only like as long as you’re in school or is it--
G: -- oh no, it’s for working too so some people are like not in school anymore and they can still get it. And they said that I guess if you’re here for 5 years or stuff like that you can probably (maybe he’s saying finally) or 3 years not 5, you can start applying for your residency. Eventually ( your citizenship ). But.
KG: That’s after how long?
G: Three years of having it, so they just gave it to us last year—oh, yeah they gave it to us last year. Another three years.
KG: So another three years and then, do you know what steps you would have to take or like is it all--
G: Maybe it’d be the same thing as doing like a regular residency but I doubt, I doubt you would have to go out of the country for this one. Because you’ve been here and stuff and got permission. So it’d probably be easier um. There’s also a thing for this, that you could apply to get uh to go out of the s—out of the country for a couple months or weeks.
KG: Just to visit or?
G: Yeah, yeah just to visit. Um just like a couple weeks maybe. I heard it was two but I’m not sure, like that’s just like rumors and stuff like that. Um but you have to pay three-hundred-seventy dollars for that little extra thing and that’s every, every time you try to go back so, plus your plane ticket and all that stuff so yea it’s not really—but it’s kinda worth it if you have the money but, yea not a lot of people have it
KG: Do you know a lot of other people that have been successful too with the---
G: Yeah a lot of my friends ( not sure what he’s saying) a lot of my family members too, my cousins.
KG: And then you said your sister is still waiting?
G: Yeah, I mean my brother is born here so he doesn’t you know
KG: So since he was born here, is he automatically granted residency or—
G: Yeah, well he just has a united states citizenship just because he was born here and he can do whatever- he’s pretty much an American he’s like an American he has all the rights of an American, he has all the rights of an American. We still don’t have all the rights of Americans, we have some things—oh yeah they, they also sent us like a thing of like pretty much the list of things that we like the rights between us and the rights between the actual citizens. So what we were allowed and what we weren’t allowed, like we’re not allowed to vote still (mumble) um what other things? We’re not allowed to leave the country, I can’t remember (mumble) some kinda dumb ones that didn’t make sense. So.
KG: Is there anything you want to see happen in the future, like regarding immigration reform and um--
G: Yeah I would love for the reform to like happen that like uh, at least give us like a residency, you know? Or green card or something. A lot of people are like Hispanics are being greedy and stuff and being like no we want the whole thing or we want a full citizenship. But you know like, since sometimes you can’t get the whole thing, you should at least appreciate the residency. And I wish everybody thought like that, but of course not everyone thinks like that. They want the whole thing. I’d just be fine with a residency. That’s me being here, stable, fine, no worries, no nothing. Yeah, so I would love that to happen in the future, and maybe it will happen sometime. They’ve been talking about it, it’s been really big lately in the Hispanic community [Laughter]. Yeah I guess they’ve been asking for it. So who knows, and maybe it will take longer because of this Boston thing and this bombing thing. Maybe that will postpone that idea for a while. So.
KG: Well, I think that’s about all of the questions that I had.