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The Saldivar family
Ellas vuelan con sus propias alas posted on 05/01/2019

Mountain family from Mexico shares

their journeys to citizenship

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 of destination.

“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 back home.

“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 come back.”

“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 a citizen.

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 paper.”

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 citizenship.

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 Mountain.

“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

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