PITTSBURG — Local Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiary Janeth Canales shared her childhood memories of moving between Mexico and the United States Friday evening.
Canales, a Pittsburg resident, was born in Mexico and lived between the U.S. and Mexico until she was 10 on a visa with her family. Her parents would go back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. for work and their children would go along with them.
“We didn’t know any different,” she said. “We didn’t know what a visa was — we had a passport like everyone else traveling.”
She said otherwise, she grew up like any other child, with lots of friends and going to school.
“We were the same like any other kids here,” Canales said.
She said, despite traveling she never missed school as her parents would make sure she was enrolled in either country — which kept her on par with her classmates.
Canales said school was part of her most vivid memories of Mexico — a completely different world of education in comparison to the U.S., she said.
“I can tell you these are my most vivid memories of Mexico,” she said. “The schools there were so different than here and what I mean by ‘so different’ is the total opposite (of schools in the U.S.).”
She said the schools in her city were like little one room houses, which were separated by grade.
Aesthetically, she said the schools looked quite different, the landscaping was dull and uninviting — it reminded her of jails in movies, she said.
“Literally now when I watch movies, when there are jails, that’s what it looked like,” Canales said. “It’s creepy, it was scary and it was dark.”
Aside from that, the tuition was what was difficult for many, she said.
“We had to buy all of our school books and wear uniforms,” Canales said. “You had to pay tuition for school or you couldn’t even get in.”
Canales said she is glad to have memories of Mexico, but she said Pittsburg’s pretty schools, green trees and fresh air made Pittsburg feel like her hometown and she wants her daughter to have the same opportunity.
“If something happened with DACA I fear we will have to go back,” Canales said. “After me going to school here and then having to take her to school there — I can’t imagine that.”
Canales said there are a few better schools, depending on the size of the city — her school was nice in comparison to her husband's — who came from a more rural area of Mexico.
“I came from the city, which is nicer,” she said.
Canales said the difference between the two countries is education is a top priority in the U.S.
A few people from the crowd walking back from Immigrant Park after the DACA march and rally on Friday chimed in and said Mexico’s schools are underfunded.
Canales said her family decided to stay in the U.S. after 9/11 because they were worried about their visa renewals.
They made their final trip after the terrorist attack, which she said all flights and bus rides were canceled, causing them to take a long 22 hour trip to the states.
Canales said it was around high school when she found out she didn’t have a social security card and she learned it made choices on careers more difficult to achieve, she said.
“I loved high school — I loved school,” Canales said. “My goal was to get a 4.0 GPA and there were a couple of teachers in high school who knew of me, who pushed me, who motivated me and who believed in me to do really well.”
Canales said living with her status, as undocumented, lessened her opportunities during school and after.
“I was invited a couple of times to go to Washington D.C,” she said. “I have two or three invitations, I would get glad, but then I would get sad (when she received them). I didn’t have a social security number, how was I going to fly with the rest of the group?”
She said during her junior year in high school she opted out of the ACT test as she was unsure of the necessary documents to apply for the test.
“When you start taking ACTs and all of these tests to see what you can do, I knew I would do well,” Canales said. “I didn’t take them because I wasn’t sure about the documents. I was sad when my classmates were filling those out and I didn’t.”
DACA was instituted by then-President Barack Obama by executive order in June, 2012 — Canales graduated in May of 2012.
Canales has a job, a home and can provide for her family with DACA, she said.
She said her parents wished their children were born in the U.S. so they could have citizenship and the benefits which come with it.
“They feel guilty for all of our dreams that we can’t accomplish because we’re not from here,” she said.
She said her parents’ goal in coming to the United States was to buy a house for their family, to keep everyone comfortable and safe — a place to call home.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.