Migrant Oral Histories
Oral History: Hector Salamanca Arroyo
Interviewee: Hector Salamanca Arroyo
Interviewer: Stephanie Wiens
April 2, 2015
Student 1: All right, I’m ready.
Stephanie: Okay, um, so pretty much I just want to go a little deeper into things that you said before.
Student 1: Okay.
Stephanie: Um, so I guess we could start with, as we talked about last time, you’re undocumented.
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: and you’re also a very public face.
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: Like, how did you decide to become a public figure?
Student 1: Yeah, that’s a tough one. Um, so it Is it recording?
Student 1: Okay. So, (laughs) as I mentioned before, um, I’m a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, which allows me to not get deported for two years and, you know, have a work permit and Social Security card. Um, in doing so, the, the fact I can’t be deported for two years has influenced my decision to step out and be public about the issue but also that there isn’t any … I always deny … or at least in Des Moines can’t tell if Iowa … At least in Des Moines, at the time that I came out as undocumented, there hadn’t been someone to really make that kind of statement before and come out in such a public manner.
Um, I’ve heard the equation of when you come out as undocumented, it’s similar to coming out as if you were LGBTQ because of the social stigma
Student 1: that’s tied and the confusion that comes out of it regarding, you know, how people treat you and what not. So when I came out, I came out in a very public manner. The first time was at a rally right after DACA. Uh, and then, and I, it was on the news and thankfully it was like channel five. So it was on the weekend, so people didn’t really watch it. So I’m like, “Yes, I’ve gotten away with this.” Um, and my parents were kind of scared at that moment ’cause they’re like, “What if something happened to us … dah, dah, dah, dah …” and I started to panic but then they, they came to realization that what I was doing was a good thing and, you know, if this was the way they were gonna go, you know, regardless, it would be one of the better ways, you know, so they’d support me. And then when I, like, came out to, to my friends and to, you know, basically everyone else in the state of Iowa was through a Des Moines Register article about me. Um, I was listed as one of thirteen people to look out for back in 2013, and I thought I was just gonna be, like, this tiny segment found in, like, the back pages of the newspaper. Nope, nope. It was right, it was right in the middle of the front page of the newspaper.
Stephanie: That’s awesome.
Student 1: I was like, “Eh.” I didn’t think it was gonna be such a big deal. So, yeah, that, that, uh. Yeah, I came out in a very statewide manner. Um, and, you know, I mean, the, so far the, the reception has been positive in the way I came out. I haven’t had anyone, like, tell me dire- … I mean, in my friends’ circle … directly tell me, “Go back to your country,” and whatnot. Um, but, you know, the, when coming out, I did make the mistake of reading the, the little blurbs on the Des Moines Register online article
Student 1: it was, like, “Ahh, that hurts right in the heart man.” “Why? You don’t know me. You don’t know my life.”
Stephanie: Those people just have too much time on their hands.
Student 1: Yeah. So I was like, “Ahh, fine, fine then.” Um, so, yeah, that’s how I came out and that’s and after, afterwards, coming out, I realized that it was important to step up and, you know, challenge the status quo and make sure that you’re heard and try to establish a voice for a community that doesn’t necessarily have a voice, um, specifically in Des Moines and in, you know, just the broader state of Iowa.
Stephanie: Okay. Um, how were, like … I don’t really know how this works, but in your, like, public’s view
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: is your family connected with you?
Student 1: Um …
Stephanie: Like, do people know that you and your family are, like, together as a family? Or how does that affect them if they’re
Student 1: Yeah, so
Stephanie: undocumented too?
Student 1: The way it works is that both of my parents have different last names.
Student 1: So, like, my name is Salmanca Arroyo. Um, my father’s names a different last name. My mom’s name’s a different last name.
Student 1: So I’m the only one that bears those two names together.
Stephanie: Got it.
Student 1: Um, and then you have people ask. I don’t really look like my dad. I somewhat look, I look more like my mom, but my mom barely, she doesn’t really talk about us in a, like, in a work setting or
Student 1: or in, or a setting in that manner. The other thing is that since this issue targets a specific group, a specific community, a large majority of the larger population couldn’t, you know, care
Student 1: who I was or who I am or what I’m doing. Um, and that, that, you know, has been a blessing because it allows me to navigate different channels, and I don’t have to worry about something, you know, someone connecting point A to point B
Student 1: point B to point C and then leading back to my family.
Stephanie: Got it.
Student 1: So far I’ve been surprised. Yeah, so far no one has made that connection yet, and I’m thankful for it. And it’s allowed me to, you know, continue advocating, continue challenging, um, the injustices that are about without having someone target my family for it.
Stephanie: Okay. Um, could you explain a little bit what the white house champion of change is?
Student 1: Yeah. So, the white house champion of change is a program of the office of public engagement for the white house, and I was nominated for it, and apparently I won. I didn’t know I won.
Stephanie: Oh, you did. I saw it. I saw it online.
Student 1: Yeah, I didn’t know I’d won, and I didn’t know I was even nominated for it until I was at work one day at the boy’s and girl’s club, and I got called by our, one of our, I think it’s the CFO. No, not the CFO. One of our administrative individuals. She contacted me and was like, “Hey, Hector. There’s some guy calling from, he says he’s from the white house, saying you won an award, and he needs your information. I didn’t feel comfortable giving him your information, so I just told him that you’d be calling him.” So I’m like, “What?” So I called him, and he’s like, “Hey, Hector. Yeah, I’m so and so from the white house, and yeah, you’ve been nominated as a champion of change, and we’d like you to come to the white house. I mean, you’d have to pay to come, but we’d still like you, like you to show up at the white house.” I’m like, “Uh, okay.” And my parents, they thought it was a scam, but I went ahead and, like, filled out the required information. And you know, I did it A part of me was like, “Yeah, this is real.” And then another part of me was like, “Oh, man. What if this is, like, fake or something?” I show up to DC and nothing. So the entire time, you know, And this was actually the first time I had flown by plane, so that was an experience by itself. Um, so yeah. We flew into DC, and we stayed at a hostel, woke up the next day, and then went to the white house. And we were standing by the security gate, being like, “Um, we’re supposed to be on the list, but, I don’t know.” “Can you, like, figure this out, dude?” To the security guy, and … or the white house police, and they … they figured it out. They let us into the white house, into, you know, the perimeter.
Student 1: And it was such a surreal experience. You know, being at the white house. Receiving an award, and just being recognized.
Stephanie: That’s awesome.
Student 1: Yeah.
Stephanie: I like that. Um … okay, so I did some research online about you, just, like, background research.
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: And on the American Friend Service Committee.
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: It’s, um you’re quoted saying, “No human being is illegal.”
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: And I really like that, but could you, like, elaborate on what you mean or why you believe that?
Student 1: Yeah. So, when I was working at American Friend Service Committee, They’ve had this campaign for a while that states that no human being is illegal. You know, and that’s rooted in the way policy is oriented towards immigration, specifically undocumented immigration, and how some of the words get translated or get put into the public dialogue without people understanding what it means. Um, the words For us, we’re saying that no human being is illegal because you can’t, You can’t identify a person as a legal or illegal.
Student 1: You shouldn’t be pointing at that little segment attached to your name. “He shouldn’t be Hector Salmanca, illegal.” You should be, “Hector Salmanca, a human being.”
Student 1: An individual. And by calling someone illegal, you’re building a barrier between you and them. You’re basically constructing that barrier and telling them that, “Hey, you can’t … I’m not going to see you as a human being. I’m going to see you as someone who, because of certain situations, had to commit an act to survive.” And that’s where that whole focus is. For myself, um, The way my family has raised me is that words, words do hurt, but it’s up to you as to whether or not you want to let those words impact you in a negative way. Um, and my mom specifically, she has stated to us that. And she always says this to us when, when we’re like, “Oh, so and so is calling us a name, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.” She goes, “Well, there’s no, there’s no benefit for you getting angry, because the other person, they’re gonna keep living their life. You know, it’s just another thing that they do, um, so there’s no point for you to get mad and to lose sleep or to get frustrated or depressed about someone calling you a name, because it’s just, That’s what it is. It’s just a name. It’s up to you to give meaning to that word.” So, yeah.
Stephanie: I like that. Um, okay. So, last time you kinda touched on how … I think you switched from a public school to a private school …
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: And that’s when you started to feel, like, different.
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: Um, could you just elaborate a little bit more.
Student 1: Yeah. Um, the public school I went to was predominantly in a I’d say lower class Yeah. It’s in a working class neighborhood, and then the demographics of the school were low in working class. Essentially, working class Americans, you know, working class whites, and immigrants. immigrants from different companies, and just the people who American society sees as the lowest people on the totem pole. So I grew up, I went to school, in that setting, and that setting, if you had issues with a person, it wasn’t because of their race, it was because of that you had issues with that person.
Student 1: I mean, and race was relevant in my middle school, but it wasn’t to the extent to, it wasn’t to the extent of high school, because of the amount of individuals from different backgrounds, from, you know, the same social class, there wasn’t that underlying factor of, “I’m Mexican, and that’s an issue.” At- At my middle school, there was a large population of latinos, and a large population of black students, and whites were the minority. You didn’t feel that threat to your well being at this, uh, middle school. At my high school, you know, the whole system changed for me. Not only was it a Catholic private school, but it was catering to a specific group of the population, which was, you know, predominantly upper-middle class. You know, individuals who hadn’t interacted with a person of color for most of their lifetime, so that was an interesting experience.
Stephanie: Okay, so it also said that you did not find out that you were undocumented until high school. How did you, like, find out, and how did you feel when you found out?
Student 1: Okay, so when I was going through high school, my grades weren’t … They weren’t stellar, so my parents were able to tell me that I couldn’t drive because of my grades, or I couldn’t do these certain things because of my grades, and you know, I accepted that. I was told about my immigration status when It’s always iffy. I’m pretty sure it was The summer before my senior year. You know, the summer before you’re supposed to be getting ready to graduate, getting ready to go to college, all that jazz. Uh, and the way my dad told me is he just pulled me aside and was like, “Hey, let’s go talk in the car.” And then he’s just like, “Guess what?” I’m like, “What?” And then he, like, um proceeded to tell us, tell me, my like, family history, as to how we came to the US, and then he ended it with, uh, “Yup, you’re … You’re undocumented. You don’t got papers.” And I’m like, “What? But, What do you mean I don’t have papers? I know I have a passport. I know I have, like, some kind of visa.” And he goes, “Yeah, well, those papers expired when you were in elementary school.” So, yeah. We came with a tourist visa, and the papers expired when I was in elementary school. I believe in 2003, that’s when they actually expired, so yeah. So from 2003 to 2000 and the summer of 2010, I had this idea that I was undocumented, I knew I wasn’t US born.
Student 1: I at least knew or at least I thought I knew that I had some kind of legal status, um, preferably a legal residency, which was not the case. But, well, yeah. So that was that, I wasn’t necessarily shocked, because a part of me, like, knew that this was probably going to be my reality, uh, but I didn’t know as to what extent being undocumented or being labeled as an illegal immigrant would impact my future. Um, because when my dad told me, it was just like, “Okay. This Just means I can’t drive. But I didn’t realize that meant I couldn’t um, I couldn’t, uh, get a job, I couldn’t get scholarships to go to, like, out of state, Iowa or UNI. I couldn’t get federal or state financial aid, I couldn’t do much, like I could pay taxes. You always pay taxes in one way or another, but you know, I couldn’t interact in society as a normal 18 year old would’ve at that time. I couldn’t even go to the movies to watch a rated R movie, because if they asked me for ID, I didn’t have anything other than my Dowling … My Dowling High School ID, which doesn’t say an age. So yeah, that was The consequences. They extend farther than one thinks at such a young age.
Stephanie: Mm-hmm. Um, so, your parents told you that you had bad grades so you couldn’t drive.
Student 1: Yeah.
Stephanie: Uh, and so does that mean that they don’t have their licenses either?
Student 1: Um, Technically they do, and technically they don’t. Uh So when it comes to, like, my family history, my parents have done certain Things I guess would be the correct word. Yeah. They’ve done certain things to get by, um, and one of those was, I don’t know how, but they somehow got legitimate drivers’ license from the DOT
Student 1: And, um, They were driving with them, and I guess that was okay, and then those licenses expired, and now, yeah. Now they’re driving with these expired licenses.
Stephanie: Okay. How does transportation work for you?
Student 1: For me? So, I drive myself, and You know, since I have a valid driver’s license, I drive myself, and I drive my brother, when I can, to school.
Student 1: But when it comes to my parents, they actually do what every other undocumented immigrant has to do. You know, drive their cars and hope nothing happens to them. Um, which isn’t that big a fear, because if you’re able and if you know the language, and you’re able to communicate effectively with, you know, the police officer that pulls you over, you should just get away with a ticket.
Student 1: But if you have other circumstances attached to that, you know, it makes it a little bit more difficult to navigate that legal system. Um but yeah. My biggest concern is that one day, I’ll get home. You know, I’ll see the door wide open, both cars there, I’ll get home and I’ll be like, “Where’s everyone at?” And then I get that phone call being like, “Hey, guess what? You know, ICE came to our house and got us.” Because when ICE comes, they don’t tell you.
Student 1: They just already popped in, break down the door, yell, “ICE!” And then they round you up. Um, so, That’s, like, my biggest concern, and I’ve heard stories, and I’ve known people. I met the wife of the pastor who got deported, and he got deported right after bringing someone to work. He was a pastor, he was, you know, doing a good deed, taking someone to work, had just dropped him off, was getting ready to go to a dentist’s appointment when they got him. And when they got him, he had told them, he had told one specific ICE officer to tell his wife that he was getting detained, and that ICE officer didn’t, didn’t do that. So his wife at the time was taking a shower, so she didn’t hear, and when she got out of the shower, she was alarmed that she hadn’t heard back from him, and she started, like, you know, she started panicking, and she later found out, she later got called by him that, yeah, he had been detained and was set to be deported. He was in the process of deportation, and ultimately was deported back to his home country.
Stephanie: That’s scary. Yeah, I don’t like that. Um okay, so then I want to kind of do a section on, like, the traditions that you guys had when you were back at home. Or, like, back in Mexico as a family, and then here. And we talked a little bit about birthdays, and Cinco de Mayo.
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: Um, are there any other traditions that your family either brought here or ones that just stopped when you guys moved here?
Student 1: I think one of the biggest ones was that I used to be Like, I know my mom, my mom tells us stories that, when she was growing up, she would go out on Sundays. It would be like a family thing, and like in Mexico, all my family gets together and just celebrates, just hangs out. You know, we have cousins, aunts, uncles. And when we first came to the US, it was just the 5 of us and that was it, so we didn’t have those. So we had to build, like, a family, extended family, with friends and family, so that we kept that part of life, I guess, but it’s been difficult, because, you know, how do you go on about coming together as a family when half of your family, or a large portion of the family, is still, you know, back in the home country, and you can’t. You don’t have the luxury of going back and visiting with them and chatting with them.
Student 1: So, yeah. Yeah.
Stephanie: Okay. Um, so I know we touched on this, too, a little bit, but what are the differences of, like, your upbringing and your brother’s upbringing? Just because he has that, um, status of citizenship here?
Student 1: Okay, so my brother, because of his being born in the US, you know, does have your citizenship, and his upbringing is a lot different than mine. I’m the oldest, and in being the oldest, I have to bear some responsibilities that my other brothers don’t, specifically what would happen. What’s the contingency plan if something were to happen to our parents? My youngest brother doesn’t have to worry about that, but for him, it’d be different, I had the luxury of growing up and not knowing about my status.
Student 1: He doesn’t have that luxury. He knows about his. Yeah, he knows, or has an idea, of the immigration system, and my brother and my family’s legality in that system, so for him it’s always more of, you know, what would happen if he did come home one day with me from school, and, you know, he saw, you know, these ICE officers who operate on the federal level come in with their bullet proof vests, guns to their sides, badge out, bringing my parents out of the house. That’d be very traumatic. So for him, he doesn’t necessarily express it, but it feels as if he fears that as well. He fears of what would happen to our family if that situation happened. For him, you know, part of our plan is that if something were to happen to our parents, he would most likely go back with them to Mexico.
Student 1: And grow up there and just, when he’s of age, just come back to the US and stay with us and go to college and all that, and all that, and still a big shift, you know.
Student 1: Growing up in the US as a 10 year old, and then going back to Mexico, a country you know of And you know you were born in and you have ancestral ties to, and then growing up there and coming back to the US. It’d be a major shift.
Stephanie: That makes sense. Uh, could you tell me a little bit more about your, like, activism on campus?
Student 1: Mm-hmm. So on campus, So we are currently sitting in La Casa Cultural, the cultural house, which is located across from Cowels Library and across from Drake campus. Um, this house is now open to myself and to other students because of the student organization that we founded, called La Force of Latina, this organization is rooted in history. We just borrowed the name of an older organization, but also in our presence in Drake’s campus currently. Last fall, we did a petition to have Drake University student senate recognize undocumented students, and those with DACA. Uh, specifically, how Drake University does admission policy with them. Um, and how they did admission policy with myself, and we want to see that extended to everyone, regardless of connections to the university. Because of that, we notice that there is this void of focus on Latino issues on campus, and based on how race and ethnicity’s structured on campus, it seemed as if its only focus. Like, the university can only handle a conversation between, you know, white and black, but not necessarily anything in the middle. So that, we were seeking to change that paradigm, change that focus, and expand the university, and challenge the university to focus on the issues of not just one ethnicity, but all the ethnicities. And in doing so, we restarted, and renamed, uh, yeah, restarted and begun a new organization called La Force of Latina, which does take back a name used by previous organization that had the similar, had a similar mission statement as us, and our goal was to bring attention to, you know, rate of retention and improvement on Drake’s campus. Um, policy changes regarding the petition, the reopening of la casa cultural and making it a place where students who identify as Latino or who are members of LFL or who are allies can come and use the house in a manner in which it was intended to be used. And, you know, We’ve been making progress in having the university recognize and having different other departments recognize the student organization as a, um solid organization that is pushing to make change. Um, one of our most recent events is we had, We brought 66 students from De Moines public school system to Drake without direct oversight from a facility or from a faculty member or from an administrator, and, you know, we did all the planning, all the organizing, all the agenda setting. And the only component that we had actual help with was the financing, and that came from the office of community engagement, who, you know, were glad to help us out, and were glad to provide those resources, but they also recognized that we were a pretty structured organization and that we could handle this by our self. And, also We had an admissions counselor speak at our event as well, and that went great because This was done on our behalf. We did the outreach, we did the organizing, and we had very little input from the administration of Drake University. So we’re pretty proud of that, that a student organization was able to organize and was able to plan an event and have it down to the T with no mishaps, and yeah. Specifically a new organization, so we’re very proud of that.
Stephanie: That’s awesome. Um, let’s see. What are you hoping happens with all of this work that you’ve done once you graduate in May?
Student 1: So, what I’m hoping is that LFL will continue to grow as an organization that will advocate on behalf of its members and other students interested in attending Drake but are kinda hesitant regarding the way race is presented at Drake University. Um, Our goal is that, hopefully in the next couple of years, we’ll have a nicer place of establishment. Um, we’ll have, If we still have this house, this house will be open to all members and it’ll be done in a system where someone will be residing in the house, like have office hours or something. We’ll also have a budget. Which we couldn’t not have. Hopefully we’ll have a budget, and hopefully this budget will be on par with some of the older and larger organizations on campus, because I feel as if Drake says it’s committed to diversity, says it’s committed to inclusion, but when it comes to action, it doesn’t necessarily follow through. So I’d like to see, you know, our organization, have a much larger budget that allows it to adequately address these issues and, you know, run campaigns, and at that. So, yeah. Hopefully in the future, we’re current, we’re building the foundation for this organization to prosper. And we’re hoping that the subsequent executive boards and committees that follow us are able to follow our vision and continue to build the organization from the inside out, continue the one on one dialogues and the one on one interactions that are important to building an organization.
Student 1: Yeah. So that, yeah.
Student 1: Vision of hope.
Stephanie: (laughs) Um, what are your thoughts on the dream act? I know that you’re a dreamer, is that what it’s called?
Student 1: Yeah.
Student 1: Technically I’m a dreamer, yup. Um, so yeah. The dream act, so the dream act wouldn’t, you know, it’s not the answer to everything, but at least would’ve done some, you know, some good things for others, for those who are in a situation such as myself. So, one of the reasons why my parents waited so, so long to tell me was that they were hoping that the dream act would pass, and the dream act was, I believe originally introduced back in 2001, So the dream act, in one way or another, has been in congress for the past 14 years. Yeah, for the past 14 years. Uh, with each congressional session, you know, having some sort of success and then some sort of failure along the way, the latest litigation of the dream act, I remember it, was back in 2010. Yeah, back in 2010, in the fall. Um, and that one was, I think 5 votes short from avoiding the, It was 5 short. It was 5 votes short from not being able to be discussed, so that was, you know, that was irritating. It’s like, “5 more votes and this would’ve been voted on.” Um, and out of that, those 5 votes, I believe 2 or 3 of them were Democrats, so it’s like, “Uh, you can’t trust anyone.” No one’s on my side. So, yeah. If the dream act would’ve really relieved, allowed my family’s worries, It would’ve helped me and my future, but nope.
Stephanie: What is the dream act exactly?
Student 1: So the dream act would’ve stipulated that if you’re a dreamer who came to the US at a certain age, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, you’d be able to go to college.
Student 1: Or join the military, and in doing so, you’d be eligible to receive your citizenship.
Student 1: So it’d be … it’d be an expedited process, so it wouldn’t take you 10-20 years, it’d take you like, maybe 2, maybe 3 years.
Student 1: So it’d make it a lot easier for you to be a US citizenship, a US citizen. And it was basically modeled on the concept that these children shouldn’t be held accountable for, you know, the actions of their parents, or they shouldn’t be held accountable for the situations in which they grew up in, and So that was the original concept.
Stephanie: Okay. I don’t understand why people would vote no on that.
Student 1: Apparently, yeah. The sins of the father are transmitted to the son.
Stephanie: Um, okay. So is there anything else that you think is important, or that you think I missed asking you?
Student 1: Mm … No, I don’t think so.
Student 1: Think you got everything.
Stephanie: Sounds good. Thank you so much.
Student 1: Yeah.
Stephanie: Um, and then pretty much same thing. So I’m just gonna transcribe all of this.
Student 1: Okay.
Stephanie: And then I have to have my rough draft for the website due on Wednesday.
Student 1: Mm-hmm
Stephanie: And before I like, um, put anything online, I’m gonna send it to you and we can go through it.
Student 1: Okay.
Stephanie: But it’ll be before the end of the semester so
Student 1: It’s going by real fast.
Stephanie: Oh my gosh, I’m like, “Okay. I’m done, pretty much.”
Student 1: I just want to roll over and sleep. Yeah, I’m running on 3 hours of sleep right now.
Stephanie: Oh, that’s no fun. Well, thank you again for meeting with me, and I will … I’ll email you once I get this all transcribed. Have a good weekend. Thanks.