Alejandra Taco is a DACA recipient from Ecuador
I was born with cerebral palsy and hip dysplasia. I cannot walk without the help of a walker, and need to use a wheelchair as my main form of mobility. I live in constant pain due to the hip dysplasia which is made worse by the spasticity caused by my cerebral palsy. I was three at the time of my first surgery. Unfortunately, that surgery and the ones that followed were unsuccessful, and my need for more specialized treatment was the main reason that my parents decided to move to the United States.
My parents, Juan and Amelia, left Ecuador first in 1990. My sister Karla was 7, I was 5, and our younger sister Andrea was 11 months old. After my parents left, we lived with our maternal grandmother, Josefina, for five years. Even though we talked to them over the phone every week, adjusting to life without our parents was extremely difficult. We saw how our friend’s parents went to school events while we didn’t have our parents there. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day also hit us especially hard, not being able to give our parents the cards we made for them in school. It must have been just as hard, if not harder, for our parents to leave us behind. I think they tried to make up for this by sending tons of toys and candy every Christmas. They would buy toys throughout the year and ship it in one big box in December.
At the beginning of 1995 my doctor in Ecuador decided that the best course of treatment would be to cut the head of my femurs. Horrified at this news, and hoping that I could get much better treatment in the U.S., my parents decided that we could no longer wait until the government granted us visas to come. My dad returned to Ecuador in 1995 determined to bring us back to the U.S. no matter what.
In March of 1995 he was able to get us visas to Canada and we got ready to leave Ecuador. Unlike my older sister who was 12 at the time and not happy about leaving her school and friends, I was looking forward to life in the U.S. I had not been a happy camper in school; none of the other kids played with me and I was treated much differently because of my disability. I guess teachers and others were not trained in how to teach children with disabilities, and I was the only one. My school experience was very alienating.
When it came time to leave we said goodbye to our family, gave away our toys to our classmates and cousins and got on a plane with my dad and my grandmother. We stayed in Toronto at an uncle’s house for a couple of days. One morning we drove to Niagara falls with my cousin and her boyfriend, seeming like a typical family on vacation, but we knew that in fact, that was the day we were going to Boston.
Once we got to Niagara falls, we drove up to the border checkpoint and my dad told the officer that my grandmother really wanted to see the falls from the other side and that if she let us go, we would see them and come right back. Miraculously, she agreed to let us go. Once we crossed the border a friend of my dad’s was waiting for us there. We switched cars and said goodbye to my cousin, her boyfriend, and Canada.
We arrived at our home in Belmont on the night of March 14th 1995. I remember thinking that it was nothing like Full House, the American sit-com I had watched in Ecuador. Instead it was extremely cold and there was snow on the ground. Karla was the first in the house, greeted by my mom who had been anxiously waiting for us to arrive. My younger sister, Andrea, remembers that she hugged my mom because she saw us hugging her, not because she recognized her. That’s how long it had been and how young she was when our parents left. While it was great to be reunited with our parents, life in the U.S. was not exactly how I had pictured it; it had ups and downs. My parents worked seven days a week those first few years so my sisters and I spent a lot of time together at home where Karla was in charge of us. School was better. I was given an aid that helped me that first year, I finally got a wheelchair that was my size, and I became fluent in English within two year. The kids were a lot kinder than in Ecuador, too.
We always knew that we were undocumented, and we were under strict orders to not say a word about it to anyone. We had to deal with not being able to get driver’s licenses. In 2000, my dad took Karla to Ecuador after she graduated from high school, and he was able to get her a student visa to go to Suffolk University. It was his plan to fix our status for the three of us. After 9/11, however, leaving the country was no longer easy, so when I graduated high school in 2002, I had to go to college undocumented. The same went for Andrea in 2007. Thankfully, through my parent’s hard work, they were able to pay for all of our tuition. But it was still very difficult for us to see our classmates get jobs, go on trips, study abroad. It was also very isolating having to hide our situation from everyone. After college things became even more uncertain since we could not find work because we had no work permit.
When 2012 came along things started looking up. My sister was a citizen by then, my mom had gotten her green card, and after a very long and emotionally draining process my dad finally got his green card as well. DACA was also announced that year, and it felt like a light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, we would have some sort of status, be able to get work permits and licenses and be able to travel within the U.S. Andrea and I applied for DACA at the end of 2012, and we were excited to get our permits and finally be able to live more freely.
While 2012 was a year of hope, 2013 was bittersweet. My dad passed away suddenly in January of 2013, twenty three years after coming to the U.S. and three months after getting his green card. A couple of months later we got our DACA permits which at least made our lives more politically stable as we were dealing with my dad’s death. When 2015 came around, we were horrified by then-candidate Trump’s statements about Mexican immigrants, but we did not think he would actually win. But the year 2016 became a nightmare. Trump repeatedly attacked DACA and while those around us told us not to worry, that he would never win, Andrea and I couldn’t help but feel afraid. When it was confirmed that Trump had won the election, we became even more fearful of what would happen to us, but still many around us told us not to worry. On September 5th, my sisters and I went to New York City to stand side by side with other DACA recipients, and U.S.citizens to protest the Trump administration’s decision to end DACA.
Ever since then Andrea and I have lived in fear of what our future holds. Will we be able to renew our DACA this time? Will we be stopped by immigration officers if we go to New Hampshire? Will we be deported? Will we have to leave the only home we know? Will I have to go back to a country that is not accessible, where I will be discriminated against because of my disability? Will I have to see my niece grow up through Facetime and photos on Facebook?
Living in a country that treats us like second class citizens, and not knowing what will happen to us tomorrow is starting to take its toll. But we learned from our dad that no matter how hard a situation is, you have to keep moving forward. You will always see us with a smile on our faces as we keep trying to live our lives as best we can. As they say, hope is the last thing that dies, and we remain hopeful for a better future.
This story was written with help from Andrea Taco, Alejandra’s sister.
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.