Pancho first came to the United States when he was 5 years old. His father, mother and uncle led him and his younger brother through a desert to pass through the Mexican-American border. Pancho’s mother carried Hugo, Pancho’s younger brother, then 3 years old, in her arms as they walked. They were all undocumented.
Pancho is from a small town in Michoacán, a state on the western side of Mexico. Many of the people in his town are from an indigenous tribe in the area called Purépecha that speak their own language in addition to Spanish. The town is impoverished and relies on farming. Abuelas cook on fire pits instead of stoves, the scent of which still reminds them of their abuelas cooking. Pancho and Hugo recall the memories they have of living in Mexico -- Pancho laughs as he remembers the one time Hugo got kicked by a horse. Pancho remembers playing in the streets around town with his family and friends as a kid. He was known for falling asleep anywhere as a toddler, often falling asleep outside on the streets. Because the town was so small, the adults would see little Pancho and carry him to his parent’s house. The pueblito was close-knit and happy. Everyone was like family to each other.
When Pancho first came to the United States, it was so his parents could find jobs. They had friends and family in the United States who all promised the availability of jobs. Pancho entered kindergarten but spoke no English. He made friends with other immigrants and slowly began learning the language. He was becoming integrated within the United States, and it was becoming his home. A little after five years of living in the States, the family moved back to Michoacán.
Because he moved to the United States at age 5, he didn’t know how to read or write Spanish. He could only speak it. At ages 10 and 7, Pancho and Hugo faced a hurdle when the school in their town wouldn’t let them attend because they were too behind. They didn’t know the language, and couldn’t keep up with other children their age. Luckily, their dad's elementary school teacher in the town over promised to teach them and help them with their Spanish. The boys had to walk a mile to school every day, but they didn’t mind it.
Less than a year later, the family moved back to the United States for the last time. Pancho's mother had a friend that was a U.S. citizen with sons the same age Pancho and Hugo, and they looked close enough alike to pass as these U.S. citizens. Using the passports as their own, the family crossed the border the second and final time.
"Imagine you know that what you are about to do is illegal, and you have no choice but to do it because you miss your parents," Pancho confides. The boys were scared, but it was something they had to do.
At age 11, Pancho was going into middle school. English was his worst subject. He struggled to keep up with the language, but his teachers helped him get through it. He had a passion for soccer and excelled in it. When Pancho was 12, his mother gave birth to his baby brother in the United States, meaning that his youngest brother would be a citizen. Throughout high school, Pancho was a star soccer player. He played other sports too, including wrestling and cross-country. He liked being busy, and he enjoyed making his parents proud.
His senior year of high school, Pancho won the Most Valuable Player title for his school. He was scouted by local colleges for soccer, and he had a good chance. He scored well on the SAT, and was bound to do great things. However, his dreams were crushed when he was not allowed to go to college, all because of a piece of paper. An undocumented immigrant can attend college, but must pay an expensive international tuition, which is not an option for most of these immigrants.
Because he went to high school in the United States, he was granted a visa a few years later. His parents applied for visas as well but were denied. Because Pancho isn’t a United States citizen, he is ineligible to vote in the 2016 election, but that does not mean it doesn’t matter to him. Due to a tie in the Supreme Court's decision on immigration, illegal immigrants that are parents to United States citizens are not granted visas. There is a chance that Pancho’s parents could be deported, and his baby brother could be without his parents.
Illegal immigrants are not bad people. Undocumented immigrants are not criminals. They are good people with ambition and drive who want to live a better life in the U.S. Pancho’s entire family works hard and deserves that good life. When you hear about immigrants crossing the border undocumented, these are those people. Life has never been easy for them, but they stay optimistic. They are appreciative of the small things and don’t need much to be happy. The next time you hear hateful opinions about immigrants, remember Pancho’s story.