This is my story.

“Did you see who won? We need to talk later. We need to save up. Be ready. Who knows what will happen, but we have to be ready to leave just in case."

Those were the first words my mom said to me on Nov 9th, 2016, the day Trump officially won the Presidential election.

I went to bed last night at 10pm because I couldn’t handle it anymore, and woke up at 5 to the news of Trump winning. I spent my 20th birthday coming down from panic attacks and pretending like I wasn’t having them, but I always told my mom he would win so I was mentally prepared. Or so I thought. I haven’t stopped crying since I woke up, and I look like a stupid toad. Then again, when don’t I?

I’ve never been open about my mental health, or personal live in general. There are so many things I’ve never spoken about because of fear, and because once I say them no one will look at me the same. But I literally have nothing to lose now, so here goes.

I’m an undocumented person in the U.S. When Trump spoke about Mexican immigrants being rapists, Mexicans bringing drugs, he was speaking about me. People like me, friends, neighbors, even some of my students.

My mom came on December 24th, by herself, and created a life here. One where hopefully one day, I would join her. I was brought to the U.S when I was 5/6 years old. August 13th. I had lived with my aunt and uncle, who I consider my mom and dad, and their two sons since I was a baby. By the age of 5, my mom had a two bedroom in Cicero, a job as a teacher and enough money to pay to have me brought here. I didn’t know her, but I knew of her. I knew that the people I lived with weren’t my biological parents, but they were the ones who raised me and that’s all that mattered. But I also knew that this woman was waiting for me in a country I had heard about at school.

We talked every weekend, and she would ask if I wanted to go live with her but I never knew. I was 5 ya know? How the hell was I supposed to know what I wanted? Eventually, I agreed and they began to search for ways to have me sent. It sounds weird saying it like that, but that’s essentially what it’s like. You’re cargo. You get put in vehicles, and are smuggled from one country to another. Someday in August, I said goodbye to my family and got on a plane to Ciudad Juarez with my mom Lucy (aunt). She bought me a Winnie the Pooh backpack and some of those fake nails that came in the little wheel, and I looked out the window the whole ride. I didn’t know why I was sad, why I was crying, but I knew she also felt that so I wasn’t alone.

When we got off, there was a family waiting for me. They talked to her alone, and then walked away towards a blue van. My mom then talked to me and said “You’re going to go with them, and it’ll be okay. Sleep, be safe, trust them and do whatever they say. I love you, and never forget that. I will see you again, but you will be with your mom soon.”

I then got in the van, all the way to the back so I could look out the back window, and squeezed between two other kids. I wasn’t sitting the right way because I wanted to look at my mom and wave as we drove off, and all I saw was her face buried in her hands and not looking up. She never looked up.

We drove off and the man told me to sit right and put on my seatbelt, so I did. After who knows how long, we arrived at a house to rest. I took the floor, and slept. There are a lot of empty memories after this, but I’m going to do my best to remember.

When we woke up, we got in the van and had one more stop. I think it was like a party because there was music and a lot of people. I was walking along the side road alone because I got bored, but I made sure to not go too far since the man had told me to stay near his kids. Somehow, I lost myself in my own head and ended up a bit far from the party. Behind me was a man with an open Corona (beer) in his hand, and a closed one in the other hand. He began to talk to me and offered me the unopened one, and I knew better than to say yes.

I still remember the look and smile he was giving me. The way he just looked at me up and down, smirking, telling me how pretty I was and asking who I was with. He got closer and began to grab my arm. Not holding it or anything, just slowly touching it, and before he decided to get a grip on it, I hear a yell from behind him. He dropped both drinks and jumped, and I saw the man who was taking care of me standing behind us looking at him in disgust. He carried me away and we left.

I don’t remember anything after that. All I remember is waking up in a car in the middle of nowhere, in the arms of a strange woman. I fell right back asleep. When I woke up again, we were still driving in the middle of nowhere, some desert it looked like, and she asked how I was and if I knew who she was. I assumed she was my mom, and was right. She offered me some regular Pringles, and I looked towards the passenger and driver’s seat. Two men, her friends who tagged along for protection and to help.  I went back to sleep and when I woke up again, we were in Cicero at the apartment. There was a room and a trunk full of toys waiting for me. It was awesome, but it smelled strange. The building we lived in always had that scent, and I haven’t forgotten it since.

What followed is a series of mental and physical health issues. Within a few months of living here, I was diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia, depression, anxiety, malnutrition, and a shit ton of other things that I don’t remember. I was homesick and suffering from culture shock. I refused to eat anything except McDonald’s chicken nuggets and genuine Mexican food because that’s all I knew. (Nothing has changed, let’s be honest)

The doctor told my mom that I was on the verge of having to be hospitalized and infused with nutrients. So I was forced to eat. I’d have recurring nightmares and would wake up screaming, wanting my mom. No my actual mom, my aunt. Sorry if that’s confusing. Imagine how I felt. Eventually, my mom and I made a deal. I wasn’t getting better, I was having a hard time in school, so she proposed that we stay until I was fluent in English and then we would both go back to Mexico. I agreed and called it a day. A few years (1/2) later, I couldn’t handle it anymore and she agreed to move back. We sold the apartment, our belongings, and got plane tickets. However, for some reason we both are still trying to figure out, we never left. We were homeless, with only one bag of clothing, and staying.

Since then, we’ve lived on people’s couches, extra bedrooms, basements, and a few apartments. We’ve had squirrels, mice, rats, floods, I’ve had pneumonia because a basement we lived in didn’t have heat, well because the people didn’t turn it on, until my mom’s male friend had to come and threaten them. She has fallen off stairs because they were half assed. There’s a lot of shit we’ve gone through, let’s leave it at that. I don’t have time to tell it all.

When I was accepted to Lane Tech, she decided we needed to move. We lived on 63rd street by Ford City, and there was no way in hell she was letting me take the bus at 5:30 am to get to school on time. So we moved to Wrigleyville, she picked up 2 more jobs, and we’ve been there since. Until now. We’re currently moving to another neighborhood; in front of the job she’s had for almost 20 years now.

The reality is, we both haven’t seen our family in close to two decades. It’s just us here. Our family is made up of the closest friends we have.

By now you’re probably asking how we get to work and live here. Well, when DACA was passed, I was 16 and in high school so I was a perfect candidate. DACA allows me to work in the U.S and to study for two years at a time. It’s simply a worker’s permit. My mom has been here for so long that she has an ITIN number in order to pay taxes (yes, we have always payed taxes even though we don’t benefit from them). Apart from that, it’s just a matter of luck.

So, what does this election mean?

It means that me, and many of my friends and acquaintances, might have to go back to a country we don’t know. A place we don’t remember. It means that people of color, minorities, LGBQT, women, disabled, anyone who isn’t a white cis male, is going to have a fucking difficult time for the next 4+ years. This election wasn’t just about immigration and basic human rights, it was about climate change, world relations. These next few years are crucial for our planet and its inhabitants, and the U.S has voted for a man who has literally ZERO experience.

Tell me, how is it that if I want to work at Forever 21 or a coffee shop, they want me to have 2+ years of experience in the field, but if someone wants to run for presidency you don’t need any experience, but you do have to be a certain age? Explain that to me.

My mom has created a life here, singlehandedly, out of nothing. The shit she has gone through (and still going through) will not have been for nothing because a stale cheeto (as my friend Kat Nijmedin said) feels like his America doesn’t have room for anyone but white people. My mom has changed people’s lives for the better, she has educated people outside of academics, and is arguably the most beloved teacher at her school.

As much as we’d both like to see our families again, this is not the situation we had in mind. And there are millions of people like us. There are millions of people that will be affected because of this election.

And if you’re thinking “Well don’t like it, go back / should have done it the legal way / no one cares / it doesn’t affect me so I don’t care / etc” then buddy you can go fuck yourself right about now. I’ve heard it all, it honestly doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is how uneducated and thick you are.

I’ve been lucky enough to have met many amazing people through music, and one of my bestest friends in the world who supports me and knows my situation. And I love her. And we’re both terrified.

I’m not so much afraid of Trump, as much as I am afraid of his followers, his message, brand, rhetoric. I know that being President doesn’t mean he can get things done, but I know his campaign is responsible for inspiring many hate crimes, and violence. That’s what I fear.

But in the meantime, I still plan to take over the music industry with my friends. I still plan to tour with people who appreciate me, and to work my ass off. I’ll keep eating my chicken nuggets and crying over wanting tacos.

Be kind. Be tolerant. These are scary days, but there’s always hope. Remind your minority friends that you support them, because we need it more than ever.  Please stay safe.



Ps. This wasn’t a pitty letter, I don’t need nor want pity. I simply want people to understand why I won’t be talking to anyone for some time, why I won’t be responding to anything. I want people to understand why I am the way I am, and maybe chance some of your views. Regardless, thanks for reading. Please keep your negativity away from me. Send dog pics instead.

PPS. I’m accepting Rosé and chicken nuggets.

Penelope MartinezComment