Migrant Oral Histories
Oral History: Hector Salamanca Arroyo
Interviewee: Hector Salamanca Arroyo
Interviewer: Stephanie Wiens
March 23, 2015
Stephanie: I am just going to put this right there if that’s okay? And hopefully it works, I don’t really know.
Student 1: Alright lets do this. Hello.
Stephanie: So your name please?
Student 1: Hector Alejandro Salamanca [Roio (clarify spanish0].
Stephanie: And how old are you?
Student 1: I’m 21.
Stephanie: Okay, and what country are you originally from?
Student: I’m originally from Mexico. Uh Southern state of Puebla, city of Puebla.
Stephanie : Okay, um, how old were you when you migrated here?
Student 1: I came in 1997, so I was two and a half, turning three, turning three in the U. S.
Stephanie : Okay, um, do you remember anything from your life there, or was that too young for you?
Student 1: Um, I think I was too young to remember. I do remember some fragments of when we first came, specifically when we moved to the apartments. Um, the apartments where we, where we first moved and I remember seeing this like, the only furniture we had was a box TV, so that was interesting. (laughs) And, it was on the Spanish channel, yeah. One memory.
Stephanie : Oh, that’s awesome. Um, could you describe your family’s life in Mexico?
Student 1: Yeah, uh, so my dad was a taxi driver, fire fighter. He worked odd end jobs. At one point he was, he did, he was a bodyguard uh, for some rich family. And, then my mom was a lawyer. She graduated fromUniversity at [clarify (Spanish word) ], for short. And, she was practicing law. Um, you know, they weren’t making great money, but they were living.
Stephanie : Okay. Um, what were like the conditions in the country, just like in general, when you left?
Student 1: Um, when we left, it was right after my grandfather lost an election for mayor. And, at the time I think the Mexican economy was tanking. My dad had to sell, we had a, we had this, I remember, he had to sell a lot of possessions. And, he actually was the first one to come to the U. S.
He got, he went to New Jersey first and during that time, my mom was by herself and she was raising my brother and I. And, we were both two little kids, and in pictures that we still have, you can see that there’s no furniture because we had to sell all the furniture just to make ends meet.
And, the economy wasn’t doing so well. Even, my mom was a lawyer, but, you know, she wasn’t making great money because she was defending the poor. And, the people she was depending aren’t necessarily the people that have the money, so it wasn’t lucrative. And, yeah, the economy was tanking. No one was, like, like my family wasn’t prosperous at all, so we were really struggling at the time.
Stephanie : How long, um, was the difference of when your dad was here and you guys were still-
Student 1: I think the difference was about a year. I think he was here in ’95, ’96, yeah, ’95. Then, he decided that he was going to bring my brother and my mom and I to the U. S., along with my uncle. And, he, we, I believe we got, we got some money, we raised some money and we came on the tourist visa.
And, it was just us, my uncle, my mom, my brother and when we came, we came with I think $750 and just packed small stuff. I brought a bag of toys, which I still have. I still have the bag of toys (laughing), bag of toys. Uh, my mom brought some clothes and some dolls that she had growing up. And, yeah, the plan was just to stay here a little bit and then go back. And, clearly that didn’t happen. (laughter)
Stephanie : Did you go straight to New Jersey, or did you guys come here?
Student 1: No so, so what happened was, my dad, after his time in New Jersey, he came back to Mexico for a little bit, and then he left again. And, this time he came to Des Moines, Iowa, and once in Des Moines, Iowa, he decided that this was the place where we would move to. Uh, so what we did was he, he let my mom know and somehow we, we got on a plane. We stopped in Missouri, I think, and then from Missouri to Iowa. We made it, yeah.
Stephanie : What made him choose Des Moines?
Student 1: Uh, originally there was a meat packaging plant on the south side of Des Moines. It, it brought in a lot of immigrant workers, but my dad, they didn’t want to work that job, so he decided to find another job. And, the other point, the other reason why we chose Des Moines is because there wasn’t a large Latino population, so we could somewhat, you know …
If we, if we stayed somewhat hidden, we could get away with just living our lives and not having to fear deportation or having to fear ICE coming and getting us. That’s changed in the recent years, but at the time, that was the basis. It was like, we can hide within the white population, so we should be okay.
Stephanie : Okay. Um, when you guys got here, what did your parents end up doing?
Student 1: Um, my dad worked as a cook and he mowed the lawn for a Des Moines country club. Then, my mom, for a while, she didn’t work because she was raising us, but after we got a little bit older, she began working as housekeeping at one of the hotels. And, she worked there for awhile.
I remember her having to walk one time from our trailer park to the hotel, and me and my, me and my dad and my brother were driving coincidentally, and we saw her walking. So, we stopped and picked her up. But, yeah, she would walk from the trailer park to the hotel. Then, my dad, when he was living here by himself, he would walk a lot. Um, yeah, he walked, I’d say, pretty much the entire city of Des Moines on foot.
Stephanie : Wow. (laughs) that makes me feel bad that I drove here.
Student 1: Yeah, he, he walked a lot.
Stephanie : Um, so how, you, um, you said that the economy was bad then in Mexico. How has it changed now? Like would your life still had been like that had you stayed, or has like living conditions gotten better there?
Student 1: Hmm, to tell the truth, I’m not sure. Like part of my family is doing quite well. Um, my mom’s side of the family is doing quite well, but then my dad’s side of the family they’re struggling. So, I don’t know, I don’t know how we would have grown up or how we would, how we would have navigated through the Mexican economy at the time.
Um, the chances of me being in college might have been a little bit lower, might have not … I don’t know, I might be dead. I might have died at an earlier age, perhaps.
I do remember the one time my dad had faxed or forwarded money, money-ordered some money to my mom and she went in to go pick it up and she was with me, I was with her, and she got robbed at gun point, or at knife point, one of the two. So, so yeah. I could have died there. [Crosstalk 06:30] I could have died a small baby in Mexico, picking up money.
Stephanie : That’s scary. Um, in what ways did your relationships with um, people in your family, or people in your community change when you’re like immediate family came here?
Student 1: Um, since there was only a couple of us, we were very close in it. Um, and what we would do, is that we’d always get together with other, with another immigrant family and we’d go to events. We’d have family events. In regards to the family in Mexico, in Mexico, we would send little trinkets to them.
We would send letters. Um, whenever someone was able to go back to Mexico, we would send something back. Um, that kind of stopped happening often after my grandmother died. And, after she died, you know, we couldn’t go to see her when she was dying. We couldn’t go see her grave or her funeral. And, the time I’ve been in the U. S., which is going to be 19 years, 19 years this April.
19 years this April, we will have been in the U. S. and in that time I’ve had my great grandfather die, my great grandmother die, a great uncle, uh, my grandma, a couple other cousins, and the sad thing is that these, these relatives died, and you can’t, you can’t see them ever again because if I was to go back, I wouldn’t be allowed to come back.
And, you know, these relatives died, like my great grandmother she died thinking that we’d be able, she’d be seeing us again in the future.
Stephanie : Mm-hmm.
Student 1: Um, and I remember the last time I talked to her. And, you know, she was getting, she had signs of early dementia, but she could still recognize my voice. And, she was talking to me and it hit me hard that this is the last, this will probably be the last time I will ever talk to her just because I’m not going to see her.
Uh, so yeah, for my grandmother, it hit my mom real hard. Um, and she wanted to go back to Mexico, but my dad told her, “If you go back, who’s going to raise?” My youngest brother now, he was born here. My youngest brother at the time, “Who’s going to raise your youngest, your youngest son? How is he going to grow up without a mom?”
So, my mom decided to stay. And, because she stayed, she wasn’t able to say good-bye to my grandmother. So, that’s, that’s a struggle to grow up with.
Stephanie : I’m sorry. Um, so you said your brother was born here. So, how does that change, I, like, am not sure how citizenship and stuff works, how does that change his, like is he a citizen of the United States then?
Student 1: Yeah, yeah, so-
Stephanie : Okay.
Student 1: The way it goes is that if you are born in the United States, it’s continental or one of its I guess territories, you’re considered a U. S. citizenship. You are a citizen by birth, so he is a U. S. citizen.
Stephanie : Okay.
Student 1: He has all the rights of a, of a, I guess of another U. S. citizen who happens to be white. Yeah, the white citizen, he has all the rights. He is a U. S. citizen. The way it affects us is that he’s considered in a mixed immigrant family.
Stephanie : Okay.
Student 1: Which means that for my mom, my dad, my brother, myself, we are, we’re technically undocumented, which means we don’t have the proper documentation to be in the United States. And if, let’s say my parents were to get deported, my little brother would grow up without his parents.
Like, he’d be able to come back and forth, but the cost of traveling back and forth, growing up without parents, you know, it leaves psychological issues with them growing up. So, that’s one issue.
But, yeah, he does have benefits that I don’t have. One that would be, once he reaches my age, and he’s looking to go to college, he does have access to FAFSA, to federal scholarships, federal, uh, state scholarships, loans, basically any program you can think of, uh, he does have access to that, which I don’t.
So, it simplifies his process. He grows up, at the same time he will have to grow up knowing that his parents might be here one day and the next day he comes home from school and they’re not there anymore.
Stephanie : I just got the chills. (laughs) Um, how has being undocumented and like you were saying with FAFSA and things like that, how has that affected um, like your everyday, like what you do just every day being a college student?
Student 1: So, for a college, for awhile, I didn’t think I was going to go to college just because without financial assistance, financial aid, it’s kind of, I mean, U. S. born Americans barely can afford college, so how is an undocumented immigrant going to afford it?
Um, thankfully at Drake, and this is why I chose Drake, because Drake was able to work with me and provide me, since it’s a private university, provided me scholarships that are based on the institution, rather than based on state or federal.
So, what happened was that, since I can live at home, and Drake pays half of my tuition, um, I can, I have to make up the difference of $12,000 each year. So, each year, and since I transferred in from a community college, each year I pay about $12,000, $13,000 out of pocket. Um, and the way I do that is like, monthly payments, but yeah.
$12,000, that’s a lot of money to come out of just randomly, but my family has been able to do it. I’ve been, I’ve, over the summer I worked a total, in a week, I was working 70, close to 70 hours. Um, I’d go in one job at 7:00 in the morning, and then I’d leave that job at 2:30. And, then from, in that 30 minutes I’d drive to my other job, and at that job I’d stay until 11:00.
And, then, I’d go to bed, and wake up and do it all over again. And, I did that this entire summer and I saved up quite amount of money. But, it is hard. It’s hard because like, the one good thing is I don’t have any student loan, I don’t have any debt. (laughs) So, at least I have that going for me.
Stephanie : That’s exciting.
Student 1: Yeah, it’s a benefit.
Stephanie : And, what’s your major?
Student 1: Uh, my major is law, politics and society.
Stephanie : Um, do you want to do something with that that has to do with immigration or just-
Student 1: Yes. The plan is to re-take the LSAT in the summer, um, apply to law school, get in, and then see if I can take the bar, take the bar and see if I can actually practice being a lawyer. Because there is the whole legal issue of, ‘oh, he’s undocumented. So, what does that mean? Can he practice the law if he breaks the law, if he did that?’
So, it’s a bunch of nonsense, but that’s how it’s been framed. So, yeah, I don’t know, the future is quite elastic. Um, currently I’m under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival Program. And, that’s an executive order, executive decision that the Obama administration created, and that allows me to be in the U. S. for a period of two years. And, I can renew the program as long it’s not eliminated by a president-
Stephanie : Okay.
Student 1: … By an administration. And, in those two years I do qualify for a social security card and depending on, and a work permit, depending on which state I reside in, I can get a driver’s license.
But, that disqualifies, that still disqualifies me from like U. S. citizenship, uh, legal residency. I still can’t apply for FAFSA, um, I still don’t get scholarships, all that stuff. I still don’t qualify for it.
The only thing I’m good for essentially is to work for the U. S. Government because like, I, I, the money I make, um, I still get taxes taken out of, I still get social security and Medicaid, Medicare, um, I get all of these, the welfare programs, money gets taken out so I can, so they can be supported. So, I’m helping fund these programs that I don’t qualify for.
Stephanie : (laughs) That doesn’t seem fair.
Student 1: Right. Definition of America.
Stephanie : It seems like something that should be changed.
Student 1: So, yeah, so yeah, I do fund these programs through my work. Um, yeah, and it isn’t, there is no past towards citizenship, there’s nothing going for me. Like, I’m basically stuck in this, in this hole, in this circle until, unless there’s like legislation that changes, or I get married. (laughing) Yeah, that’s the only two options for me.
Stephanie : So, what happens if you were to get married?
Student 1: Um, if I were to get married, I’m not a lawyer, but I believe, I’ve been told, um, that what happens is you get married and your spouse can apply for you have to pay thousands and thousands of dollars, so just so you can say you are a legal resident of the United States. Um, so yeah.
Stephanie : Okay, um, backtracking a little bit to 19 years ago, when you guys got here, um, how was your family treated when you got here?
Student 1: Um, I don’t really know. I’ve never really asked them that. Well, actually I have asked them that, and situation vary. Like, my dad, he, both of my parents come from like educated backgrounds, so for them to be working these kinds of jobs was, I don’t know, humiliating to some extent.
And, um, but they had to deal with it, you know, the insults, the, the racism. They had to deal with it because they had to take care of a family. So, there was, most of the time we’ve been here, it’s mostly the rhetoric comes from politicians and not necessarily from individuals.
But, the individual racism is present. Uh, yeah (laughs) I’ve had people tell me, “Go back to Mexico,” and I’m like, “I would if I could.” So, the way my family has told me to deal with racism and the obstacles of being Latino in the U. S. is just try to shrug it off, shrug it off, shrug it off, yeah, um, or joke about it, or find another way to deal with it because in actuality you can’t really do much.
You know, if someone calls me a name, I can get mad, but my mom always says that, “What’s the point of you getting mad? You’re the only one getting mad. The other person it doesn’t affect them. They’re not getting mad.” So, they want you to get mad. And, if you do get mad, then you’ll just spend, you’re just making them, they’re doing better. So, most of the time we don’t really get mad if someone insults us.
When I was in high school, that was different. My dad would always tell me, “If someone makes fun of you, you have the opportunity to fight back,” so I did get in fights in high school because of people being racist. And, that didn’t actually happen until I went to a private Catholic school where the population was predominantly upper middle class and white. And, that’s when I was really hit with the fact that I’m Mexican and I’m Latino.
Stephanie : Okay.
Student 1: Well, when I was going through Des Moines public school systems, it was a more diverse school system. Me, being Mexican, it, it really wasn’t a point of contention. No one really pointed out. The transition to a private Catholic school, that’s when it came out and that’s where I got in the fights.
Stephanie : Okay, um, how about at Drake? Do you feel like racism is a big part of the Drake community? Like, that sounds bad, but (laughing)-
Student 1: I feel like Drake is interesting because Drake is committed to diversity, but if you look around the campus, it’s not a very diverse campus. The house we’re currently in, [Spanish 17:54], was bought for the old [Spanish 17:58] Latina student organization, but there hasn’t been that support to keep its upkeep or to provide, or to let’s say create better housing for this house, um, create better funding.
It was up to the new LFL, the organization that I lead this year, to basically find ways to open this space up again for Latino students in collaboration with Drake, a Drake administrator. So, it’s been, I don’t know, it’s difficult.
Drake has a storied history in dealing with diversity and how its student population deals with diversity because I’ve heard, I’ve heard stories from other students that have had racial encounters with Drake students and they’re usually negative encounters.
Personally, I, there, you don’t see that outright racism anymore, but you do see the micro-aggressions, the racial stereotypes, the racial jokes, and people can just brush that off by saying, “I’m just joking.” And, most of the time that works. But, my whole, I hope that Drake is, recognizes that you can’t just say you’re committed to diversity and not implement policies that increase the diverse nature of the university.
So, yeah, I don’t know, I’m at Drake. Like, my whole thing about diversity is that it’s good that we have more people, like, it’s more, it’s good that we will have more people of different backgrounds on campus, but if you’re not building resources for them to stay on campus or not showing them that the university cares, then what’s the point?
Clearly this policy of diversity hasn’t benefited the university if throughout the years less and less students of color come to your university.
Stephanie : That makes sense. (laughs) Um, your family that uh, stayed in Mexico, so like your grandma and everybody else that was still there, did they um, receive any negative backlash to you guys coming here? I’m not sure if you ever really talked to them about it.
Student 1: Yeah, the only thing I, I know about my family in Mexico in regards to what they felt about our leaving was that it kind of seemed um, I don’t know, I mean, they saw it as a necessity, but at the same time, they’re like, “Why wouldn’t you just stay?” But, I can’t really speak to that part (tapping on table). You should probably ask them (laughs). Probably ask them.
Stephanie : Um, what are the, some of the like similarities or differences that you noticed in culture between here and Mexico?
Student 1: Hmm, I think one of the most interesting ones is the Cinco de Mayo celebration, uh, is because in Mexico … So, Cinco de Mayo originates from Puebla, we are, which I’m from, because that’s where the battle was fought, the Cinco de Mayo Battle was fought at Puebla. And, in Mexico, as of current times, it’s only celebrated in Puebla.
Stephanie : Okay.
Student 1: So, yeah, most other Mexicans across Mexico don’t celebrate it. I mean, there’s history behind that, that I won’t go into, but yeah, that’s basically it. The basic behind that. No one else in Mexico really celebrates Cinco de Mayo other than those that are living in Puebla.
Now, for the U. S., it’s interesting to see how many, how many people take Cinco de Mayo as a day of celebration of Mexican heritage, and then use that as a way to party. Not just party, but to party hard.
And, in the partying, they also partake in dressing up in racial, you know, racial representations of what a Mexican looks like, such as wearing a poncho, wearing or a sarape, or wearing a mustache, or wearing a sombrero. Now, it’s like, that’s not what the holiday is about, so why are you dressing up?
And, that’s interesting how here in the U. S., people, specifically white Americans are able to just put on a costume and say, and they represent another ethnicity. It’s, it’s an interesting comparison as to how someone who is Latino can’t just put on a white people’s costume and march around on a random holiday.
Um, but, yeah, it is interesting that the difference in culture how Cinco de Mayo is celebrated here versus how it’s celebrated in Puebla.
Stephanie : That’s really interesting. I started celebrating Cinco de Mayo when I was like, younger, in like third grade, we would have Cinco de Mayo, like, parties in class. And, I didn’t learn about the battle until last semester. Just, I had no idea.
Student 1: Yeah, and yeah, history, yeah, isn’t taught well in the U. S. apparently.
Stephanie : Um, have you talked to your parents on if they think that um, the idea of the U. S. was the same as the reality, like of their idea before they came was the same as the reality?
Student 1: Hmm, I haven’t talked much with my dad. For that issue, I’ve talked to my mom and my mom like, she recognizes the fault of this country. I mean, when she first thought about coming to the U. S., she’d heard, you know, ‘it’s the land of opportunity, home of the free, land of the brave, yadda, yadda, yadda. Anyone can make it here.’
And, now as she’s been here for such a long time, she recognizes that’s not entirely true. The way that the system is set up, it favors some individuals over others based on class, based on ethnicity, based on you know, gender, orientation.
Um, so for her, it’s been, I don’t know, if she could do it again, she would come, but she’d be coming with the expectation that this isn’t the fabled land of milk and honey, rather just another country that’s struggling with itself.
Stephanie : That’s good. Um, I’m trying to think. Do you have any like cultural traditions that you guys brought here that you still partake in?
Student 1: Hmm, I think one of them would be we have a shrine to the Virgin Mary in our house. Um, we have saints that they identify with, specifically, in my family. Um, let’s see, another one, (laughs) one would be how we do birthday cakes and how we celebrate [Translate in Spanish/ ask again what it is called] birthdays. Usually we have a birthday cake that’s made specifically cake.
And, what we do is we like sing, you know, the Happy Birthday song, and then afterwards we go, “[Spanish get the name again],” which means, “Take a bite, take a bite.” And when the person is taking a bite, you smash their face into the cake. (laughter)
Yeah, which isn’t really sanitary, but it’s very, it’s very rewarding when you’re able to smash, you know, some little kids face into the cake, like, “Ooh, Happy Birthday. Take it,” because then you know that when it’s your birthday your face is going to smashed into the cake as well.
Stephanie : Oh.
Student 1: Yeah.
Stephanie : What stuff, is there like any background to why you guys do that?
Student 1: No, in speaking with other Latinos from Mexico, it’s something, I guess, it happens um, something well done. Another tradition that we brought back is that for some reason my mom and my grandma, too, when she was in the U. S. for a little bit, from my dad’s side, um, the way they handle medicine, too.
We, (laughs) my mom always says that, “The cure to everything is water, just drink more water. If you drink more water you’ll be fine.” That, um, we have a thing where, if you’re sick you can grab an egg, pour alcohol in the egg, and then rub yourself over with that egg. And, it’s supposed to, you know, cure all the bad stuff out of you. Um, yeah, that would be one that we took from Mexico.