I am filled with joy to be able to share Apolinar Islas’ story. I recently met Apolinar at a creative writing workshop and when I first heard his story, I knew I had to share it. He is one of the bravest people and dreamers I know. As I have said in my past articles, I believe our strongest weapons as dreamers are our stories. It is truly an honor to be able to share Apolinar’s story. Apolinar’s words were filled with perseverance, love and longing.
1. How did you arrive to this country?
I arrived to this country as a nomadic person, I crossed the México-USA border by foot at the age of 15. According to the law, I came illegally, but according to my knowledge, I came here under the natural rights which make me a free living being. At that age, I was as ignorant as the law was. Although I didn't want to come here nor go anywhere else far from my family, I came pushed, and obliged by necessity. I felt like I needed to be free and to develop my personal perspective of life to reach the maximum potential of my existence.
2. Did you have people waiting for you?
I came to live with my older sister Maria, who took care of me as her own son. Nonetheless, the coldness of this country made me feel alone. Besides that, I miss my other family members and I miss the fresh air of the campo in which I was born.
3. What do you miss most about Mexico?
I was segregated from my family because of the oppressive inequality offered by the Mexican government which forces me to conform to the mud of its injustice.
4. What was the most difficult part about the transition?
The most difficult part about transitioning was the adaptation to American culture. Here, Holidays are not holidays. Here, life is working and working and then more working. Time passes by faster than light. Christmas is not Christmas. Everything is about spending money and about being closed off at work, home, and in the train. The language was hard to learn and even harder to speak, but it wasn't as painful as being apart from family.
5. Did you ever experience hate or discrimination?
Discrimination welcomes every immigrant in this country. At first, I didn't notice any sort of hate. It felt like the wind on my skin. And as the wind, discrimination is hard to see, since I was never discriminated against before. Therefore, I didn’t know it was being done to me. In fact, discrimination and racism were one of the first faces I met here in the USA. I felt it each time my check was not enough to resolve my needs. I felt it each time I had to work 10 to 12 hours without a break, for 6 and sometimes 7 days a week. I felt it every time my bosses refused to pay me more or at least right wage. I felt it every time I was denied to eat at a table at work since I had to eat standing and quickly. It was food that not even dogs would dare to eat. I felt it each and every time people looked and still look at me as if I am an inferior being. But now that I know, and I learned the hard way what discrimination and racism are, I know how to recognize the feeling of being discriminated against. The good thing after that, is that I learned I have to face the reality of being immigrant. And because of that I started studying again.
6. What were your plans when you first arrived?
When I came here I arrived with the main purpose to work hard and support my mother and siblings in México, and I did it. But after President Obama allowed the youth to stay through DACA, I dropped the plan of going back to Mexico and made the decision to go to college. But of course I wish to go back to my town and would rather be there than anywhere.
7. How are you going to school now?
By DACA and the Dream.USA Scholarship for DACA recipients. Also, I’ve worked in many campaigns, and communal things such as helping people register to vote. I have also volunteered in nonprofit organizations, and I woke up to dream again. I realized that it is never late to restart and continue my education and that I could help just by adding my “grain of sand” to help our community—our families.
8. What are your aspirations?
My aspirations are many. But in sense of career, I will be an economist and political scientist because Mexicans have no representatives.
9. Has anyone ever discouraged you from attending school or fulfilling your aspirations?
I was discouraged by the circumstances in which I was in. For example, I had to help my family by working and only working in order to get money to support them. As I grew and time passed, I thought I was a bit old to continue but mostly because I didn't have the enough money to pay my education and my needs and my family's needs.
10. If you had the option to not be an immigrant would you choose it?
To be an immigrant is not a choice because anyhow, humans are migrants by nature. However, if I had the choice of not emigrating, I wouldn't. Leaving behind my family and town was as dying alive.