Check out our September 2017 Newsletter. If you’re not already subscribed, make sure to click the “Subscribe” link in the top, left-hand corner!
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, was an executive action introduced by President Obama back in June 2012. DACA provided protection from deportation as well as a work authorization for minors that entered the United States before the age of 16, have no criminal record, and are either in college or graduated from high school.
DACA changed my life and that of 800,000 recipients significantly and opened a world of opportunities for me as a student pursuing higher education as well as bettering my life as a whole. Many of us have now been able to pursue careers, buy a car, and buy our own homes. With DACA, I was protected from deportation and I obtained a social security number and work authorization. I was eligible to get my driver’s license and to get a better paying job in the field I wanted to work in. It provided some relief from the constant anxiety and fear of my family or myself being deported.
On Tuesday, September 5, that protection and relief from deportation was stripped away after an announcement made by Jeff Sessions. As a recipient of DACA, I will be left out in the open at risk for deportation, with my dreams to pursue a career in the medical field stumped. I came to this country at 8-months-old through no fault of my own and because my parents yearned for me to have a better quality of life and opportunities that they knew I would not have living in Mexico. They have made many sacrifices for me to be here and to obtain a higher education, from struggling to make ends meet and working arduously to helping pay for my college education.
Even though I received a social security number, I am not eligible to apply for FAFSA or aid to pay for my college education. I have been able to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Johnson C. Smith University, do intestinal stem cell research at UNC Chapel Hill, and work with such an amazing organization, Vecinos Farmworker Health Program. Through Vecinos I feel I have been able to come back full circle. My family once received services from organizations similar to Vecinos and now I am helping break down barriers so families like mine are able to receive care. I truly aspire to continue serving those with limited access to healthcare, whether that be here in North Carolina or anywhere else in the country.
The United States is where I’ve been raised and the only country I’ve known. This is home for me and my family. Throughout all this turmoil of emotions and uncertainty I still have hope that there is immigration relief ahead for myself and many others in my situation. That all of our hard work to achieve our dreams will not be in vain and we will have the opportunity to go about our days living peacefully in this country we call home. Many people have come to know me as an outreach worker at Vecinos but I share my story because I feel it’s important for people to understand the struggles of immigrants in this country. As a community, we must come together to support, educate, and organize to apply pressure to our senators and representatives to support comprehensive dream act.
Check out our August 2017 Newsletter. If you’re not already subscribed, make sure to click the “Subscribe” link in the top, left-hand corner!
Life is always in a state of transition. We are never still, never stagnant. The biggest transitions are usually not easy. My transition away from my position as Executive Director of Vecinos came with all the expected challenges, the clichés of bittersweetness, but then also became surrounded by one of the most challenging patient cases we have ever had.
The past 2 months tested our team’s strength and broke our hearts. While my heart still hurts over our patient, a 29 year old man diagnosed with late stage metastatic cancer, I also have felt amazed at seeing what Vecinos is capable of, as individuals and as a team. It was incredible to see our team, pushed to our limits, continue to show up to work every day with our hearts, going above and beyond the norm, above and beyond what is even seemingly possible for a patient. Our Vecinos team is a family, and at times, we become family to our patients as well. I am so grateful for this family and humbled to have worked for an organization that consistently goes above and beyond for individuals and for humanity, seeing each being’s needs as the most important, valuing each patient fully.
I have so many beautiful memories from the past 6 years. There were many times when I saw the task before me and thought, “never could I have imagined that I would be able to do something like this.” Working for Vecinos often pushes us to new levels. There were moments when I thought, “What kind of job is this? Who does this kind of thing? This was not in my job description.” Like when climbing over a large metal gate in the pitch dark, late November, freezing cold, with no flashlight, no moon, no cell phone service, definitely no map, just our PA, Jamie Ellingwood and me, hiking our way up to a small trailer full of Christmas tree workers in Little Canada to offer our services. Who does that? And yet, it’s one of my most favorite memories of my time at Vecinos—the two of us walking up a gravel road, leaving the mobile unit on the other side of the gate, unsure if we were going the right direction, or if we were even on a road, looking up at the clear, starry night sky, laughing at our unpreparedness, making light of our situation, our non-traditional work environment. How do you even begin to explain that to someone who asks, “What do you do for work?” Or waking up at 3 am to drive to Scaly Mountain—in one of the most intense thunderstorms I have ever seen—to pick up a group of patients for the NC-MOM dental clinic, arriving at 5 am to be at the front of the line, and then interpreting for those patients and many others all day long, only to get up and do it all again the next day. I wouldn’t trade those strange work hours, mental exhaustion at interpreting for long hours, and late cold nights for anything.
There were so many patients who filled my heart with love. There were patients who filled my belly with food, some of them the same who awaited our food boxes on Thursdays, their kids jumping into my arms when I arrived at the door. Often my favorite outreach evenings were just spending time our families, sharing in their lives and learning about their stories. Every night of outreach, every home visit, every conversation, reveals a new story. Every patient has a unique and complex history, and it seems like almost every person wants to share his or her story–if offered the space and time to do so.
Working with Vecinos challenged me every day to be a better person, to live with integrity, to question my choices as a consumer and see the possible effects of my purchases. I have learned to show up for work every day not just with an open mind, but with an open heart and to see how we are all connected, since the tomato I buy at the grocery store today may have been picked by a hand I shook yesterday on the mobile clinic. Every choice I make connects me to the lives of others. Every person’s story that I hear becomes a part of my own. I am grateful for these stories.
Working with Vecinos showed me the difference between charity and solidarity, the difference between speaking for someone who doesn’t have a voice and creating space for the voiceless to be heard. I have seen how our system treats poor people, people of color, those with limited English proficiency, and marginalized groups in general. While I continuously felt frustration and often anger with our system, I also met a lot of beautiful, welcoming people in this community, people who were ready to learn about and understand the work of Vecinos and the lives of our patients. I met many lovely people who showed up, willing to give, volunteer, support, and love our farmworkers and all people. I am grateful for this community.
Working with the team at Vecinos challenged me to be a better person. This job attracts people with grit. My colleagues and coworkers at Vecinos have inspired me with their intellect, wisdom, compassion, humor, and passion for serving the underserved, the invisible, the people who feed us. I am grateful for the amazing people that Vecinos has pulled into my world and comforted knowing that they will be out there, working for good, working for change, whether it is with Vecinos or somewhere else.
As my time with Vecinos ends, the overwhelming emotion I feel is gratitude. I am grateful for the men and women who plant and harvest our food. I am honored to have known so many of the people who travel around our country doing this work, invisible to most of their communities, honored to have heard their stories and become a part of their lives. I feel blessed to have shaken the hands of so many whose hands pick tomato after tomato, berry after berry. I am grateful to have been a part of the Vecinos family—our immediate family of staff and patients, and our extended family in this community and state.
Our patient with cancer passed away last week.
To Agustin: thank you for letting us into your world and into your story. Thank you for allowing us to become your family. Thank you for letting us care for you and for spending the last few weeks of your life with us. Thank you for the reminder that even as the heart breaks under the weight of pain, it can be filled with love. We gave so much, and still, I am reminded that in giving, we have received more than you’ll ever know. Rest in peace, dear, sweet Agustin.