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art by Favianna Rodriguez

Art by Favianna Rodriguez

“ Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ” – Paulo Freire, Educator

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MARCH 30, 2014 / BY JESUS IÑIGUEZ Meet Mardonia Galeana
(in collaboration with S.I.R.E.N.)

As immigration reform looms in the national consciousness, much of the conversations are taking undocumented youth -DREAMers, as they are known- and tech-savvy immigrants as the focal point of why reform is necessary.

There are more than 11 million undocumented people currently living in the United States; approximately 1.8 million of which are undocumented youth who may qualify under the DREAM Act. All told, conversations about legalization are mostly centered around 2-3 million undocumented people residing in the United States.

The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are left out of the conversation. Parents, grandparents, non-tech “low-skilled” laborers, and many others who don’t have a formal higher education. Though their efforts are diminished by what our society defines as a “skilled contributor” to American society, these people have dreams, aspirations, goals, and strengths. And they work VERY hard.

Meet Mardonia Galeana.

Originally, we were working on the production of a video to recount the story of someone who falls out of this DREAMer narrative - Yosimar Reyes, an undocumented queer poet living in San Jose. Yosimar had written a very powerful piece about his grandmother, and we wanted to continue to explore the theme of these other undocumented people who get lost in the immigration reform conversation.

When we went to San Jose to work with Yosimar, we had the opportunity to meet Mardonia herself. And as we readied our equipment, she asked us what we were working on. We explained the sort of work that we were attempting to do with her grandson, and she began to speak about her own experiences, taken-aback by the notion that anybody would want to know about her life. As she spoke, it became apparent that, although Yosimar’s piece is a beautiful powerful one, Mardonia’s voice carries so much more weight. And she deserves to speak on her own behalf.

Mardonia is a Mexican migrant from the state of Guerrero. In 1991, when she was 59 years old, she crossed into the United States with four of her grandchildren to reunite with her husband, who was already living and working in San Jose.

In our interview, she discussed how dire things were becoming in Mexico, how cartel members started to make an appearance in Guerrero, how her family members and neighbors started to become targeted for violence and extortion from bandits and drug dealers, and how her small town slowly began to feel unsafe. After a series of incidents that convinced her that she could no longer live safely in her town, she took her four grandchildren and made her way up north to the U.S./Mexico border. There, she made the trip through the border by herself, guiding her four young grandchildren (Yosimar was only three at the time). That a 59-year-old woman could cross such a dangerous international border with four young children is nothing short of amazing.

Upon arriving here, she quickly found that job opportunities for a woman her age, compounded by the fact that she's undocumented, were non-existent. She described several incidents in which she approached different factory locations for a job, only to be quickly turned away. One morning, she saw a man collecting recyclables around her neighborhood. She quickly realized that she could collect glass bottles and aluminum cans and exchange them for cash. This then became her daily ritual, one that she continues to follow. Every single day, she goes out and looks for recyclables around her neighborhood. It’s how she’s able to contribute to her household and community, how she’s able to provide for her grandchildren and family back in Guerrero, and how she make ends meet.

She mused about immigration reform, hoping that if and when it finally passes, she could be a beneficiary. She dreams of returning to visit family that she hasn’t seen since she left Mexico. As for the future, she hopes to stay here to continue to work and provide for her grandchildren. Her goal is to help them all through college.

Many of our immigrant elders, in all of their wisdom and sacrifice, want nothing but the best for their children, grandchildren, and future generations. They are an integral part of our communities. They are the pillars that sustain and hold families together. They are living memories of where we come from, our connections to our sending countries, and a constant reminder of where we need to be. Although Mardonia, at 82 years of age, dreams of Mexico, she fiercely believes that this is now her home. She’s very proud of her grandchildren and everything that she’s been able to provide for them.

Mardonia’s story isn’t unique within the immigrant community, but her story is unique when we talk about undocumented immigrants in the mainstream media. Her story is one that is rarely spoken or written about. There are thousands of Mardonias out there, living and working towards a similar goal, yet they remain hidden, off the table when we speak about immigration reform.

We absolutely need to consider and maintain people like Mardonia in the United States and provide them a path towards citizenship. They’ve done their part, they’ve raised beautiful families, they are strong people who taught valor and strength to their children and grandchildren. Forgetting about them is forgetting our hearts.

Mardonia deserves immigration reform.

(“Legalities of Being”, video collaboration between Yosimar Reyes and DreamersAdrift.com)