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Hearts divided: U.S. Dreamers search for their past in Mexico

Culture & Community By Sandra Dibble882 views
Hearts divided: U.S. Dreamers search for their past in Mexico

 EXCERPT: The San Diego Union Tribune

Mirian Juan had no recollections of her central Mexico hometown. Yet returning this month for the first time in 18 years, “the moment I landed felt like home,” said the 21-year-old math major at Cal Poly Pomona. “It filled a big hole in my heart.”

Mirian Juan, center, in Purepecha dress with her grandmother, left, and great-grandmother

Juan, who was born in La Cantera, Michoacan, was one of 35 U.S. students who traveled to their native country for the first time since they were brought to the United States as children. On Monday, they crossed back to the United States—openly and legally through the San Ysidro Port of Entry—carrying precious memories of a native land that had grown distant and unfamiliar.

During their three-week stay in Mexico, they visited graveyards, churches, relatives’ homes, ancient monuments.

“It’s that tug and pull of where do you belong,” said Francisca Mejía Campos, a 25-year-old senior majoring in human services at Western Washington University. She was able to reunite in Puerta Vallarta with an older brother who was forced to return to Mexico, and meet her niece and nephew for the first time.

Mejía and Juan were participants in a program run by the Long Beach-based California-Mexico Studies Center, a small nonprofit that arranges for “dreamers” from Mexico to return and learn about the country where they were born.

“Dreamers” is the term for unauthorized young immigrants brought to the United States as children who are temporarily protected from deportation and granted work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA. Created by President Barack Obama through an executive order in 2012, the program’s future is uncertain under President Donald Trump, with immigration hard-liners pushing for its termination.

The chief aim of the three-week trip to Mexico is to allow participants “to close the emotional, the psychological identity gap,” said founder Armando Vazquez Ramos, a longtime Cal State Long Beach professor.

This month’s group was the sixth since Vazquez Ramos founded the program three years ago. After traveling individually to different parts of Mexico.

“They’re going to be main actors in the United States, so we want them to be well-informed about Mexico,” said their professor, immigration scholar Jorge Bustamante, the Colegio’s founder and former president.