This piece was written by a student author who wishes to remain anonymous due to the stigma surrounding immigration issues. The name of the author and the names used in this story have been changed to protect that anonymity.
It’s Thanksgiving day. My dad is driving us all the way to Antioch for dinner at my Tio Oscar’s house. It is already dark outside as I watch the red brake lights of cars race past us. The air smells like campfire and I can see my breath. A towering pine tree greets us as we walk up to the house. The door opens. My Tia Maria is dressed up and welcomes us in. It’s as if the interior of the house is glowing. I instantly feel warm as I step inside onto the bright orange tile. I see my Tio Oscar with his big mustache and he picks me up as he hugs me. I get a hug from each of my aunts, uncles, and my grandmother and then I run off to watch cartoons with my cousin, Jose. Then, my mom calls me and tells me it’s time for dinner. My Tia Maria and my Tia Rosa finish preparing the food and the turkey is taken out of the oven. There is a table for the adults and a smaller table for the kids. I look forward to the day I’m old enough to sit with the grown-ups. My Tia Rosa makes sure the table is set for the kids and that we have everything we need. The smells of turkey, cranberries, and potatoes fill the room. We pray and then we eat. Us kids talk to each other in English because we’re all second-generation immigrants — that is, children of immigrants from Mexico. The adults speak in Spanish, and we pick up on a lot of what they are saying. I like being able to understand Spanish. It feels like a secret I’m being let in on; like something that connects me to my family. I look over to my grandma who is sitting next to her older sister, my Tia Adriana. Usually, I see that my grandmother is shy and quiet in public, but not today. She is laughing with her brothers and sisters and she looks carefree. We eat for a long time, mostly because everyone is talking so much. My uncle, Manuel, is taking photos of everything, making sure that this special day is documented. Now it’s late and time for people to leave. My cousin Alejandro, who is younger than I am, is riding around on his red toy truck as my mom is saying goodbye for what seems like the fifteenth time now. Before we leave, I give a big hug to my Tia Maria and my Tio Oscar and they tell us that we can come anytime. I can’t wait to come back.
It is Christmas Eve, 2005. This time, the party’s at our house. Earlier, I had helped my mom set up Christmas decorations all over the house in preparation for our family. We have a large living room with carpet and that is where the long tables are set. There is a bowl of homemade horchata in the entrance, and the “Little Drummer Boy” is playing in the background. My Tia Rosa and her family arrive. I go and play with my cousin, Bianca, who is almost the same age as me. My Tia Adriana and her family knock on the door. She is here with her daughter and son, Adriana and Manuel, and my two cousins, Karmen and Alejandro. Karmen comes to play with Bianca and I. My mom is busy watching the food and greeting our guests, making sure that she is being a good hostess. The doorbell rings and it is my Tio Oscar and Tia Maria with my cousin Jose. Soon, everyone is there, and the house is full of life. The lights are dim so that we can see the blue, green, red, pink, and yellow Christmas lights on the Christmas tree. My uncle, Roberto, is sitting in the big comfy chair with a Santa hat on. We can see houses lined with Christmas lights through the large window in the living room. We eat and talk and dance. The sweet smell of sugar and the look of joy on everyone’s faces make it seem like a Christmas miracle. I feel good to be here surrounded by my family; by my people who are like me and who love me. The night is ingrained in my memory.
Today, there is a party at my Tia Rosa’s house. My mom ties my shoes and we are ready to go. I skip up the steps to the house with my brother and we ring the doorbell. My Tia shouts through the screen door, “Come on in!” My cousin, Bianca, shows me her new toys in her room, and soon our cousin Karmen joins us. Later, we go outside where my Tio Eduardo is making carne asada. I can hear the meat crackling and sizzling as it cooks. We rush to the trampoline and start trying to jump as high as we can. The grown-ups are standing around outside drinking their beers and laughing about a joke my Tio Carlos told. He has a ponytail, which I think is cool. I take a sip from my cold cup of Squirt, the best grapefruit soda there is. It tastes sour and like citrus, but it’s sweet and refreshing, making it the perfect drink for a hot day like today. The weather is perfect, the sun is setting, and a cool breeze passes by. Tio Oscar Jr. is there too with his family. Music is playing and the overall smell is sweet, like a mix of honey and beer. It’s the scent that I associate with my family. I look around and see a smile on everyone’s face. The warmth that I feel isn’t just from the sun. I feel like I am a part of something bigger than I am. I feel like I belong here.
In 2010, the nightmare that haunts every undocumented immigrant in the United States happened to my family. My Tio Oscar, my Tia Maria, my Tio Oscar Jr., my Tio Javier, and my Tio Roberto were deported to Mexico. Immigration officers knocked on their door. They put them in handcuffs and took them out on the street for all the neighbors to see. They didn’t know they were taking my family. They didn’t know they were taking the people I loved. They didn’t take into account the lives they were ruining or the people they were separating. When they looked at my family, all they saw were criminals; people who were not supposed to be here. They didn’t see that these people were real. They didn’t see that they had roots in America and were there for the dream. They didn’t see that they had been here for twenty years, that they paid their taxes, or that their whole family lived here. My cousin Jose, my Tio Oscar Jr.’s wife, and their two kids were left behind. Everything happened fast. They were taken and dropped right outside the U.S. border within 24 hours. My grandmother was frantic and sobbing when she called to tell my mom the news. She was afraid and hurting. I was only eleven years old. I didn’t understand what was going on. I knew that they were taken, but I didn’t understand how or why. It didn’t make sense to me how they could just take my family like that. They didn’t even have time to collect their things. My mom and dad took my brother and me to pick up and clean out the house that belonged to my Tio Oscar. The pine tree outside seemed to droop a little bit. The house felt cold and empty even though there were things everywhere. It didn’t smell like anything. In the backyard, there was a lone tree with a little blue swing. The glow from their home was gone.
My Tio Oscar and my Tia Maria were like the glue of the family. They were the ones that got the family together and made sure everyone was included. They threw parties and hyped up other people’s parties. Wherever they went, they were happy and laughing. They exuded light. When they were taken, everything changed. We stopped having parties. We tried getting together, but it wasn’t the same. We stopped seeing each other altogether. I don’t feel like I am part of a big family anymore. My family was a big part of my connection to my culture. I didn’t learn as much Spanish as I could have. I didn’t get to experience things like a quinceanera. I don’t feel like I fit in the Hispanic community, and I can’t help but think that it’s because my relationship with my extended family was cut short. If Tio Oscar and Tia Maria were here, maybe we would have kept having family parties; maybe we would have kept seeing each other all the time. If they had stayed, maybe I would be able to speak Spanish better, maybe I would know more about my culture, and maybe I wouldn’t feel so out of place. I loved being part of a big, happy family. I loved feeling like I was part of something. That is why the period of time before my Tio Oscar and his family were taken is still my favorite childhood memory. It brings me back to a time when my family was all together. It’s when I remember my family being the happiest.