The Saldivar familyEllas vuelan con sus propias alas posted on 05/01/2019
Mountain family from Mexico shares
their journeys to
30 years ago last month, Maria Saldivar, her husband Pablo
and their four children arrived in Welches after leaving their home in
Zacatecas, Mexico. The parents made the choice to immigrate to the U.S.,
seeking a better life for their children, and Pablo considered the Mount Hood
area to be the most beautiful in the Pacific Northwest, settling their choice
“He saw what everybody else here sees; it’s a perfect place
to raise a family,” said their daughter, Maria De Los Angeles Burke, who arrived
to the Mountain when she was five.
Upon their arrival, the family saw snow for the first time,
prompting them to think it was Christmas, Burke recalled.
Pablo had a work permit, offering him legal status in the
U.S., but the rest of the family did not. Their initial hope was to live here
and travel back to Mexico when time and finances allowed to visit their family
“It turned out to be a little harder than that,” Maria said.
As they each endeavored to find their own path to U.S.
citizenship, challenges and changes within the system still impact their lives
three decades later.
The family first arrived with the understanding that Pablo’s
employer would offer an opportunity for legal status for the entire family, but
that promise was not fulfilled. And it became even harder as the years went by.
After 9/11, the country saw widespread securitization and immigration
enforcement increased. Detention and deportation rates rose while opportunities
for legal immigration were curtailed.
For the Saldivar family, the choice was to stay in the U.S.
undocumented and not return to Mexico to their family or go back and leave
behind their life in America. Burke added that it’s important to understand the
sacrifices her parents made for them.
“My mother left everything she knew (in Mexico),” Burke
said. “She left her parents there and couldn’t go see them. They passed and she
wasn’t able to say goodbye. If they left (the U.S.), they would not be able to
“I don’t think it was easy for her to make that decision,”
she added. “My kids have never experienced hardship, and (it’s important) just
for them to know the sacrifices of their grandparents.”
Burke, now 35, noted that when her family arrived to the
Mountain, there were many challenges for them all. It was particularly
difficult for her at school, where her parents were unable to communicate with
her teachers. Some teachers wanted to help, she noted, but others seemed to see
her as a “lost cause.”
The challenges continued in high school, where Burke didn’t
feel accepted and she eventually modified her middle name to make it easier for
native English speakers to pronounce.
“I felt rejected and incomplete,” she noted.
Burke moved to Idaho after high school, where she worked in
a chain of retail stores and rose up the ladder to become a traveling manager,
spending time in five northwest locations. But after she confided in her
employer about her legal status as an undocumented worker, she saw a
significant reduction in wages, prompting her to return to Oregon and enroll in
Mount Hood Community College.
As laws grew stricter after her return, Burke was unable to
renew her driver’s license and a path to citizenship seemed elusive. Even when
she fell in love with a fellow Mountain resident and got married in 2007, the
process was long, complicated, time consuming and expensive, including needing
to go back to Mexico for an unknown stretch of time.
In 2011, Burke received a work permit, offering the chance
to work without fear of deportation or exploitation and in 2013 she became a
legal permanent resident with a green card. This past March, Burke interviewed
at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Portland and became
Burke spent months studying for the test with her four
children and husband, noting that there were questions they struggled with, but
in the end, she discovered she did not feel “completed” by that piece of paper,
as she had previously thought she would be.
“I am no different now, than I was before I become a
citizen,” Burke noted. “I am still Maria De Los Angeles Burke. I am a loving
and devoted parent. I own and manage a successful vacation rental. I help
manage my husband’s logging and firewood business. I have helped make some real
positive changes in this community, and I did it all without this piece of
Vanessa Saldivar was a one-month old infant when she arrived
with her family and grew up on the Mountain unaware of her immigration
situation. She excelled in school, crediting her older sister, Maria, for
instilling a love of learning in her early on.
“I have vivid memories of playing school with my sister,
only she was very serious,” Vanessa noted. “She didn’t want me to go through
the same challenges she went through in school.”
Vanessa was recognized as a National Hispanic Scholar and as
graduation approached she received generous scholarship offers from
universities across the country. When it came time to accept an offer, the 2006
valedictorian of Sandy High School (as a 17-year-old graduating a year early),
discovered she didn’t have legal status and could not accept any.
“I was shattered,” said Vanessa, now 30.
To pursue her dream of furthering her education, she
enrolled at Mount Hood Community College, where she wasn’t asked to prove her
legal status. Vanessa added that it was hard for some of her peers to
understand why she didn’t accept the scholarships she was offered.
“It didn’t add up, but they didn’t know about my legal
status,” she said. “They didn’t really know me.”
In 2012, Vanessa received temporary protection from
deportation and the ability to apply for a social security number through the
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. She continued her
education, including earning a Master’s degree in Migration Studies from the
University of San Francisco last May, and has worked in immigration law for the
past eight years.
Vanessa has also received national recognition for her work
and was featured in the New York Times Magazine in 2015 for her work helping
Central American refugees.
Yet her own immigration journey is still not over. Vanessa
intends to pursue citizenship but after seeing her sister go through it,
acknowledges how emotionally complicated it could also be for her.
“I imagine it will be a lot to process.” she said. “It has
been difficult to reconcile the reality that the place where you have lived
your entire life (America), the place that you call home doesn’t fully acknowledge
and accept you.”
She added that she considers Welches home and may even
return to the Mountain to raise children, but reflecting on her family’s
journey, she admits that she often wonders whether the community will love and
accept her as she has loved this community after they know the truth. “It can
be lonely, feeling like people don’t really know us,” Vanessa said. “I don’t
think I’ve ever felt truly seen by my community and I do worry that some people
on the Mountain wouldn’t understand the sacrifices my parents made for us.”
“It would be amazing to receive that understanding and
support though,” she added.
The family arrived on the Mountain with two boys, who were
not interviewed for this story and will not be named to respect their privacy. The
youngest is now a legal permanent resident and is waiting to gain full
However, the oldest boy struggled as a six-year-old upon
arriving as one of the only non-white children in the classroom and lacking
support. The struggles continued throughout adolescence and young adulthood,
and he was deported more than five years ago, leaving behind a U.S. citizen
wife and three young sons.
“He was a very good father and loved his kids very much,”
Vanessa said, “I think he still hasn’t come to terms with it fully, and as the
close-knit family that we are, I don’t think we have either.”
A fifth child, Christina, was born after the family arrived
to the Mountain, granting her full citizenship from birth. Now in college and
studying to be a social worker, she only recently discovered the complex
challenges her family have been dealing with since they arrived on the
“As I was exploring my family’s story through my social work
lens, I wanted to look into how being an immigrant family shaped all of our
identities differently,” said Christina, 23. “Growing up with a different
status as my siblings was something that I did not understand, but knew was a
privilege they did not share. I want to use their experiences as a platform to
advocate for other families like mine. Sometimes I struggle to navigate between
the spaces of being American and Mexican. I am very proud of being both, but
often feel I am not enough of either, especially now.”
Christina is a familiar face on the Mountain, working at
various businesses and staying active in the community, but she notes that
people may not realize that Latino immigrant workers are all around us.
“We are not the only Latinos here,” Burke added, noting
she’d like to see the community fully embrace the different culture. “There are
so many other families and they have their own stories. I would love to see
their stories told as well.”
They also see the challenges the immigrant community faces
in the country today, with an administration that “systematically and strategically
dehumanizes” them, as Vanessa pointed out.
“I think it’s such important work to bring people’s humanity
to light and to try to bring community together,” she said, adding there is a
level of vulnerability in sharing their family’s story. “We are nervous, but we
believe it is an important time to authentically connect our community. We have
hope that it will do good.”
As for Maria, the decision to leave her home in Mexico and
move her family to the Mountain to find a better life has worked out for the
best, despite the challenges they have faced over the years.
“I believe it’s a good thing,” she said. “I feel it’s worth
it. I see my kids, they are successful and happy. I see my grandkids growing. I
see my kids, they are good. I feel good.”
By Garth Guibord/MT