Portraits of People on the Move on tour this fall!

The exhibit Portraits of People on the Move will accompany the performance of Supper, People on the Move at four different locations this fall. 
  • The Dance Complex, Boston, September 28 – 30
  • EDANCO International Festival of Contemporary Dance, Palacio do Bellas Artes, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, October 3 – 6 
  • The Ferst Center for the Arts, Georgia Tech University, Atlanta, November 3 – 7
  • Sandy Springs Museum, Sandy Springs, Maryland, presented by Raices Culturales LatinoamericanasNovember 15-18
Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of (mostly) Philadelphia-area immigrants from all over the world, through their own words, on the Supperdance.com blog, large wall panels, and portfolio books. It was first shown as an exhibition in 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. Unless noted, all interviews were done by Jennifer Baker. 

Portrait of Alejandra Taco


Photo by Kara Fili

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 friends parents went to school events while we didnt 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 uncles 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 drivers 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 parents 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 couldnt 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 administrations 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.


Portrait of Nabil Sater


Photo by Kara Fili

Nabil Sater is co-owner of The Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub in Cambridge, MA

In the late 1800’s there were problems in Lebanon and so my great-grandfather immigrated to Mexico and his brother immigrated to Columbia. My mother was actually born in Columbia but lived in Mexico because her parents were visiting her uncle at the time of her birth. My great-grandfather eventually became very ill so the family moved back to Lebanon.

When I was around 20 years old I decided to move to Mexico for about a year to visit the relatives I still had over there and to learn Spanish. I remember the day I left we had over 40 people come to our house to eat and celebrate and send me off with gifts to give to the family in Mexico. I’ll never forget the day I arrived in the Mexico City airport. I asked one of the workers to watch my bags while I used the restroom and when I came out… allof my bags were gone. I felt awful! My uncle had to take me shopping because I had nothing but the clothes on my back. It was quite the lesson to learn! Luckily I can laugh about it now.

I applied for a student visa in Mexico but they wouldn’t give me one so I got a visa from the United States and went to college in Texas. I came to this country with no English, no money, no friends, no relatives… I just landed here and began my journey.

I learned English and went to school before I started working in different industries. After living in several different cities around the U.S. I went to the Boston area in 1971 at the recommendation of a friend from Lebanon who I coincidentally bumped into on the street in Texas! You never know who you will run into and what kinds of life-changing conversations you’ll have… this has been my home ever since.

Once I got here, I took up different jobs – my first one was flipping hamburgers at a Jack in the Box—and I continued my schooling at  Northeastern University. Later, I got a job at Polaroid but eventually got laid off. I realized I was drawn to the independence of owning a business so I wanted to try my hand at that.

The Middle East was an existing restaurant in Cambridge, but the owners, who were also from Lebanon, wanted to sell it. I was interested and so I worked there for a year with no pay to learn the business and get to know the clientele. In 1974, I bought the restaurant. My former wife, Evelyn helped me a great deal and my brother moved to Boston from Europe where he had been living for a while to help me run the place too. During the civil war in Lebanon I brought my sister and my parents here as well which really made the restaurant what it is today – a family-run business serving Lebanese food with some Mexican and South American flare in flavor and atmosphere. We host music, dance and entertainment seven days a week for local artists and world-renown acts alike. I’ve never considered myself to be an artist but I’ve always wanted to provide a place for artists to do their work.

In my head and my heart, I belong to many different cultures, which has enriched my life and helped me to learn, resolve conflicts and connect with people. I love welcoming so many different kinds of people from different cultures and places and walks of life into my business. It also reminds me of being at my mother’s house back in Lebanon. People were always coming over! It was a gathering place, a place where people came to eat, have a good time and be together. And that’s what we do here. This may be our place of work, but it feels like home. And so does this country, specifically this community of Cambridge.

The support and generosity of people in this country has helped us get through hard times and achieve successes. Everything from sponsorship to help me get my visa to helping me get a job, a place to live, a meal when I was hungry. Even total strangers have been good to me. We try to pay it forward and do our part to make our community strong and vibrant. This is an amazing country. We love it, and we are grateful and proud to be Americans.

Interview by Kara Fili

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.

Portrait of Sergio Gomez Franco

“…we arranged to come to Asheville in order to help our youngest son pursue his dreams.”

BMC_147                                  Photo by Steve Mann

Interview and Spanish translation by Karen Lopez

I came to the U.S. for the first time with my father and arrived in Las Vegas, Nevada when I was 16 years old. I was not able to attend school because I had to work. I was here for 2 years and at the age of 18, I went back to Mexico to marry the woman who stole my heart.

My wife and I came to the U.S. and arrived in Las Vegas again where we lived for one year. My wife missed her family and her hometown so we moved back to Mexico. Years later, I came back to the U.S., leaving my wife and children behind due to financial reasons. I tried to obtain visas for my children but it wasn’t possible. I then had to move back to Mexico.

11 years later, our children were growing up. Two got married and our youngest son was still growing. My son had always wanted to learn English. At the age of 11, he was taught to speak English by one of my family members who was in college. My son liked the language a lot and he would tell me that he wanted to go to the U.S. and stay with the family I had there.

My son worked for a year and a half and saved money to buy a visa. I helped him to pay for some of it and he was able to obtain the document for a decade. We bought his flight ticket and he arrived in Asheville for the first time where he stayed with my family. He was 14 years old.

He loved it; he loved school and the style of living.  But he missed the family, so he would often call us and say how much he needed us to come and stay with him. I didn’t have a visa so my son came back to Guadalajara to work and help me save up to obtain a visa. While working, my son kept attending school and learning English. After a time, we managed to save enough money and my son wanted to come back to Asheville. He wanted to study and continue his higher education in the U.S.

My wife and I spoke, and we arranged to come to Asheville in order to help our youngest son pursue his dreams. My wife and I had a stable living in Mexico as I was working and she had obtained a degree in accounting. But we left everything behind for our son. By everything I mean material things, because God has blessed us in giving us what we need. We have met wonderful people that have helped us until this day, such as my boss who became a great friend and role model to me. And my son has been given the opportunity to attending AB Tech and dreams of continuing his education at UNC Charlotte.

Sergio Gómez Franco, originalmente de Guadalajara, Jalisco, México

Llegue a los Estados Unidos por primera vez con mi padre a Las Vegas, Nevada cuando tenía 16 años de edad. No pude ir a la escuela porque tenía que trabajar. Estuve aquí por dos años y me regrese a México para casarme con la mujer que me robo el corazón.

Mi esposa y yo nos venimos para los Estados Unidos y llegamos a Las Vegas otra vez en donde vivimos un año. Mi esposa extrañaba a su familia y a su pueblo y por eso regresamos a México.  Años después, regrese para los Estados Unidos, dejando a mi esposa y mis hijos atrás por cuestiones financieras. Trate te obtener visas para mis hijos pero nos fue posible y me tuve que regresar para México.

11 años después, nuestros hijos seguían creciendo. Dos se casaran y nuestro hijo más chico seguía creciendo. Mi hijo siempre quiso aprender inglés. A la edad de 11, uno de mis familiares que estaba en la universidad le enseno hablar inglés. A mi hijo le gustó mucho el lenguaje y me decía que quería ir a los Estados Unidos y quedarse con familia que teníamos ahí.

Mi hijo trabajo por un año y medio y junto dinero para comprarse una visa a los 14 años. Yo le ayude con una porción de dinero y el logro obtener el documento por 10 años. Compramos su boleto de avión y llego por primera vez a Asheville, Carolina del Norte en donde se quedó con mi familia.

Le encanto; le encanto la escuela y el estilo de vida. Pero el extrañaba a la familia. Seguido nos llamaba y nos decía cuanto necesitaba que viniéramos para estar con él. Yo no tenía una visa entonces mi hijo regreso a Guadalajara para trabajar y ayudarme a juntar dinero para obtenerla. Mi hijo trabajaba, seguía en la escuela, y estudiaba Inglés. Después de un tiempo, logramos juntar suficiente dinero para que mi hijo regresara a Asheville. El quería estudiar y seguir estudiando una carrera en Estados Unidos.

Mi esposa y yo platicamos e hicimos planes de venir a Asheville para ayudar a nuestro hijo seguir sus sueños.  En México, mi esposa y yo teníamos una vida estable porque yo trabajaba y ella tenía su carrera de contadora. Pero dejamos todo atrás por nuestro hijo. Cuando hablo de todo, hablo de cosas materiales, porque Dios nos ha bendecido en darnos lo que necesitamos. Hemos conocido gente maravillosa que nos ha ayudado hasta este día, como mi patrón quien se ha convertido en mi mejor amigo y un ejemplo a seguir. Y a mihijo le han dado la oportunidad de atender el colegio de AB Tech y soñar con continuar su educación en la universidad de UNC Charlotte.

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center presented the performance of Silvana Cardell’s Supper, People on the Move, accompanied by Jennifer Baker’s exhibit Portraits of People on the Move, in October of  2017 at Randy Shull and Hedy Fischer’s 22 London Rd. Studio in Asheville, NC. 5 new portraits — “People on the Move” in western North Carolina by photographer Steve Mann and UNC Asheville journalist Karen Lopez — were added to the exhibit.


Portrait of Veronica Lopez

“I was never able to have what I wanted and sometimes I didn’t even have what I needed. This was the reason that made me decide to start working when I was nine years old.”

BMC_096Photo by Steve Mann

Interview and Spanish translation by Karen Lopez

Throughout my childhood, I remained neglected by my family, because I was a child born outside of marriage. My mother started getting sick and had to get surgery, because a cancerous tumor was developing. I was the youngest of her children, so she had to leave me with my grandmother. During this time, my grandmother maltreated me. She would hit me for no reason and call me mean names. She would make me do a lot of unnecessary cleaning. When it came to dinner, she wouldn’t let me eat what everyone else was eating. And if she did, she would serve everyone else first, and if there was food left in the pan, that was my dinner.

After staying with my grandmother for a few months, I was taken to my aunt’s house. I thought things would be different and better there, but it wasn’t, one of my older cousins tried to rape me. I tried telling my aunt about the situation, but she didn’t believe me. She thought I was lying. Luckily by now, my mother had recuperated from her surgery and my aunt brought me back home, because she didn’t want to have a “lying” child in her house.

I was back at home now, but we remained financially unstable. My mom was solely raising me and my three other siblings. I was never able to have what I wanted and sometimes I didn’t even have what I needed. This was the reason that made me decide to start working when I was nine years old. I would help my brother sell his CDs at the street market on the weekends. During the week, I would wake up at 5 am to do my chores around the house and then walk to school because we didn’t have a car. On the way to school or back home, I would get assaulted and get money or my shoes stolen.

After I graduated from high school, I went to college and continued working. I came to have my own little business and sold jackets at the same market my brother did. I would work to have my own things and pay for my college tuition. But I married my childhood sweetheart at the age of 17, and dropped out of school. I didn’t go back to school because I had gone through one of the most traumatic phases in my life. I had lost my newborn baby who lived for only 13 days. My husband had been using drugs behind my back and for this reason, my daughter passed away. He then left for another state to work with his father, and never came back. He didn’t care what I was going through; I was in depression. I fled to Santa Monica, California to live with an aunt for the first time. My aunt suffered domestic violence at home, so I went back to Mexico. I didn’t want to see violence while I already faced a lot in my life with the loss of my daughter.

After a time, I started dating someone who had been traveling to the U.S. He would talk to me about how great America was and he convinced me to come back. I decided to immigrate to start a new life. I arrived in North Carolina in 1989, hoping to escape from my depression. Once I moved in with him and his family, things turned out differently. He and his family started to maltreat me. His sisters were like the evil stepsisters and I was Cinderella. They would make me do all the house chores, cooking, and cleaning. They would lock me in the house so I wouldn’t go out and make friends. I would sneak out of the window to go to school and learn English. They wanted to keep me isolated away from the world so I wouldn’t prosper.

I started to work and I started to save money. I was able to buy my car and have my own things. Suddenly I felt sick one day, and when I went to the doctor I was informed that I was pregnant. But my partner didn’t want me to have the baby, he wanted me to abort. The next day, he lied to me saying we were going to the clinic to get an ultrasound. When I sat down, the girl next to me asked if I was getting an abortion too. I was so upset about the situation, I pretended to go to the bathroom and I walked out. Once I was home, I set all of his clothes in trash bags outside. I knew that I would never forgive what he had done. I had already lost a baby, I couldn’t have tolerated losing another.

My mind was focused on giving my baby the best of my ability. I worked overtime throughout my entire pregnancy to have and save money. Once my baby was born, I waited a few months and moved to Atlanta, Georgia. This is where I met Abiel Bonilla, who became someone of great importance in my life. He helped me raise and educate my daughter. Together we worked hard and bought a house to give her a good living. I’m no longer with this person.  I now remain solo, raising my children to the best of my ability with the help of my mother.

Verónica López, originaria de la Ciudad de México, México

En mi niñez fui rechazada por mi familia, porque era hija nacida fuera del matrimonio. Mi madre se enfermó y la tuvieron que operar, porque se le estaba desarrollando un tumor canceroso. Era la más pequeña de sus hijos y me tuvo que dejar con mi abuela. Durante este tiempo, mi abuela me mal trataba. Me pegaba de cualquier cosa y me maltrataba verbalmente. Me ponía a limpiar muchas cosas que no ocupaban limpieza. Y cuando llegaba la hora de comer, ella no me dejaba comer lo que todos comían. Y si me dejaba comer, primero le servía a todos y después me daba de comer lo que sobraba.

Después de haber estado unos meses con mi abuela, me llevaron a la casa de mi tía. Yo pensé que las cosas serían diferentes y mejores, pero no fue así. Uno d mis primos mayores me trato de violar. Le trate de decir a mi tía pero no me quiso creer y pensó que yo mentía. Ya para entonces, mi madre se había recuperado y mi tía me llevo de regreso a mi casa porque ella no quería a una niña “mentirosa” viviendo en su casa.

Ya estaba de regreso en casa pero aun seguíamos económicamente inestables. Sola, mi mama sostenía a mis tres hermanos y a mí. Nunca podía tener lo que yo quería y en veces no podía tener lo que necesitaba. Esta fue la razón por la cual yo decidí empezar a trabajar desde los 9 años. Le ayudaba a mi hermano vendiendo sus CD’s en el tianguis todos los fines de semana. Entre semana me despertaba a las 5 a.m. para hacer mis quehaceres en la casa y me iba a la escuela caminando porque no teníamos carro. Cuando iba a la escuela o venia de regreso a veces me asaltaban y me quitaban mi dinero o me robaban mis zapatos.

Después de que me gradué de la prepa, segui estudiando en la universidad y trabajando. Puse mi propio y pequeño negocio vendiendo chamaras en el mismo mercado que mi hermano. Trabajaba para comprarme mis propias cosas y pagar mi universidad. Pero a los 17 años me case con el amor de mi niñez y tuve que dejar la escuela. No regrese a la escuela porque me paso una de las tragedias más traumáticas y dolorosas en mi vida. Había perdido a mi bebe recién nacida quien solo vivió por 13 días. Mi esposo había estado usando drogas de tras de mis espaldas y por eso mi hija falleció. Mi esposo después se fue para otro estado a trabajar con su padre pero jamás regreso. Yo tenía depresión, pero a él no le importo lo que yo estaba pasando.

Me fui para Santa Mónica, California a vivir con una tía por primera vez pero mi tía sufría de violencia doméstica y mejor me regrese para México. Yo no quería ver violencia cuando ya había enfrentado mucho en mi vida con la perdida de mi hija.

Después de un tiempo, empecé a salir con un muchacho que vivía en los Estados Unidos y viajaba para México. El me decía como era tan hermoso Estados Unidos y me convenció a regresar. Decidí inmigrar para comenzar algo nuevo en mi vida. Llegue a Carolina del Norte en 1989, con la esperanza de que escaparía de mi depresión.

Después de haberme mudado con él y su familia, las cosas resultaron ser diferentes. Su familia y el me empezaron a mal tratar. Sus hermanas de él eran como las dos hermanastras malas y yo la cenicienta. Ellas me ponían hacer los quehaceres de toda la casa, cocinaba, y limpiaba. Me dejaban encerrada en la casa para que no saliera y tuviera amigas. Yo me escaba por la ventana para poder ir a la escuela y aprender Inglés. Ellas me querían tener aislada del mundo para que yo no prosperara.

Empecé a trabajar y ahorrar dinero. Me pude comprar mi carro y pude tener mis propias cosas. De un de repente me sentí mal, fui al doctor, y me dijeron que estaba embarazada. Pero mi pareja no quiso que yo tuviera a mi bebe. El quería que yo abortara. Al siguiente día el me llevo a una clínica y me mintió diciendo que me llevaría a un ultrasonido. Cuando me senté, la muchacha que estaba sentada aun lado de mi me pregunto si yo también iba a tener un aborto. Yo estaba tan enojada de la situación, pretendí ir al baño y me salí de la clínica. En cuanto llegue a mi casa, puse toda la ropa de el en bolsas de basura y las saque para fuera. Yo sabía que nunca lo iba a perdonar por lo que me había hecho. Yo ya había perdido a una bebe y no iba a tolerar la perdida de otro bebe.

Enfoque mi mente en darle lo mejor que pudiera a mi bebe. Trabaje tiempo extra durante todo mi embarazo para tener y ahorrar dinero. En cuanto nació mi bebe, me espere unos meses y me fui a vivir para Atlanta, Georgia. Aquí fue en donde conocí a Abiel Bonilla, quien se convierto en una persona muy importante en mi vida. El me ayudo a criar y a educar a mi hija. Juntos trabajamos y compramos una casa para darle a ella un buen bien estar. Ahora ya no estoy con esa persona y sola estoy criando a mis tres hijos con la ayuda de mi madre.

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center presented the performance of Silvana Cardell’s Supper, People on the Move, accompanied by Jennifer Baker’s exhibit Portraits of People on the Move, in October of  2017 at Randy Shull and Hedy Fischer’s 22 London Rd. Studio in Asheville, NC. 5 new portraits — “People on the Move” in western North Carolina by photographer Steve Mann and UNC Asheville journalist Karen Lopez — were added to the exhibit.



Portrait of Marlene Rangel

“If it wasn’t for DACA, I know that I wouldn’t be in college.”

BMC_118Photo by Steve Mann

Interview by Karen Lopez, Spanish translation by Marlene Rangel

I was eight years old when I left my home.  I remember my parents waking me up to leave, but I didn’t know where we were going. We had to walk for a long time and then cross a river. That’s when it hit me and I realized we were actually going somewhere far. We rode a cold train, and then flew on a plane. I remember wanting to sleep, but my parents wouldn’t let me because they were afraid that I would get hyperthermia and not wake up again. They would hug me close to keep me warm, but I remained cold and hungry.

Once in the U.S. I started school, but I didn’t know how to speak English. My dad would come to school with me for the first weeks so I could get used to it. It was so hard to adjust and get used to everything especially because I had classes with mostly English speakers. I did have one classmate who was Hispanic. He and I became very good friends, because we both spoke Spanish and understood each other well.

I finished the school year, and passed to the next grade level. I then took summer school and that helped me catch up on my English. I had to learn English because I wanted to get along with my classmates and make friends. As the years passed, my English improved and I adjusted to the American culture.

Everything had fallen into place and I was comfortable feeling a part of the American society. It wasn’t until my junior year of high school, where things changed and reality hit me. I came to find out that I could not go to college because I was undocumented. This whole time I knew that I wasn’t from here, but I didn’t know that I couldn’t go to college for that same reason. This was really hard for me because I wanted to go to college. I wanted to be a nurse and it was heartbreaking to find out that my dream wasn’t going to be easy to achieve.

My parents have remained my motivation to keep myself in school. I know that if my parents would have had the opportunity to go to college, then my dad wouldn’t be working in construction and our style of living would have been different. My dad has always told me that if he would have had the opportunity to go to college, his dream would have been to become a mechanic.

In 2012, Obama passed the executive order, DACA (The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). This 2-year permit granted young undocumented individuals a temporary license and social security number with the condition that all applicants fulfill certain requirements. If it wasn’t for DACA, I know that I wouldn’t be in college. This made it easier for me to be accepted in community college and afford it. Perhaps I would have eventually gone to college, but it would have been harder to afford.

After graduating high school in 2013, I continued my education. As a DACA student, I couldn’t get into the nursing program or obtain a practice license. Knowing this, I still maintained myself in school hoping that one day the community college would change its policies for DACA students to be allowed practice licenses. I now know that anything is possible. I have the opportunity to be what I want and do what I want. I have to take that opportunity and not waste it.

Marlene Rangel, técnica médica, originaria de la ciudad de México, México

Tenía ocho años cuando salí de mi casa. Recuerdo que mis padres me despertaron para irme, pero no sabía a dónde íbamos. Tuvimos que caminar por un largo tiempo y luego cruzar un río. Fue entonces cuando me di cuenta de que en realidad nos íbamos a algún lado lejos. Nos montamos en un tren frío, y luego en un avión. Recuerdo que quería dormir, pero mis padres no me dejaron porque tenían miedo de que yo tuviera hipotermia y no me despertara nuevamente. Ellos me abrazaban para darme calor, pero no era suficiente para mi aun permanecía fría y con mucha hambre.

Cuando llegué a los Estados Unidos comencé la escuela, pero no sabía cómo hablar inglés. Mi padre vendría a la escuela conmigo durante las primeras semanas para que yo pudiera acostumbrarme. Fue muy difícil adaptarme y acostumbrarme a todo, especialmente porque tenía clases con niños que hablaban un idioma diferente al mío. Con el paso del tiempo me encontré con un amigo Hispano lo cual supe que tenia una oportunidad para no sentirme sola. Él y yo nos hicimos muy buenos amigos durante muchos meses.

Terminé el año escolar y pasé al siguiente nivel de grado. Luego empecé la escuela de verano y eso me ayudó aprender inglés mas. Tenía que aprender inglés porque quería llevarme bien con mis compañeros de clase y hacer amigos. Con el paso de los años, mi inglés mejoró y me adapté a la cultura estadounidense.

Todo había caído en su lugar y me sentía cómoda sintiéndome parte de la sociedad estadounidense. No fue hasta mi tercer año de la secundaria, donde las cosas cambiaron y la realidad me golpeó. Descubrí que no podía ir a la universidad porque no tenía documentos. Todo este tiempo supe que no era de aquí, pero no sabía que no podía ir a la universidad por la misma razón. Esto fue realmente difícil para mí porque quería ir a la universidad y tenia las calificaciones perfectas para atender un colegio de cuatro años. Quería ser enfermera y fue desgarrador descubrir que mi sueño no sería fácil de lograr.

Mis padres han seguido siendo mi motivación para mantenerme en la escuela. Sé que, si mis padres hubieran tenido la oportunidad de ir a la universidad, entonces mi padre no trabajaría en la construcción y nuestro estilo de vida hubiera sido diferente. Mi padre siempre me ha dicho que, si hubiera tenido la oportunidad de ir a la universidad, su sueño habría sido convertirse en mecánico.

En 2012, Obama aprobó la orden ejecutiva, DACA (The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). Este permiso de 2 años otorgó a las personas jóvenes indocumentadas una licencia temporal y un número de seguro social con la condición de que todos los solicitantes cumplan con ciertos requisitos. Si no fuera por DACA, sé que no estaría en la universidad. Esto hizo que fuera más fácil para que yo fuera aceptada en una universidad comunitaria.

Después de graduarme de la escuela secundaria en 2013, continué mi educación. Como estudiante de DACA, no pude ingresarme al programa de enfermería o obtener una licencia de práctica. Sabiendo esto, todavía me mantenía en la escuela con la esperanza de que algún día la universidad comunitaria cambiara sus políticas para que los estudiantes de DACA pudieran obtener licencias de práctica. Ahora sé que todo es posible. Tengo la oportunidad de ser lo que quiero y realizar mis sueños y ser una enfermera. Tengo que aprovechar esa oportunidad y no perder la esperanza de algún día curar a mi comunidad.

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center presented the performance of Silvana Cardell’s Supper, People on the Move, accompanied by Jennifer Baker’s exhibit Portraits of People on the Move, in October of  2017 at Randy Shull and Hedy Fischer’s 22 London Rd. Studio in Asheville, NC. 5 new portraits — “People on the Move” in western North Carolina by photographer Steve Mann and UNC Asheville journalist Karen Lopez — were added to the exhibit.


Portrait of Diego Vargas

“I just focused my mind on the future and what I wanted to achieve.”

BMC_043 1Photo by Steve Mann

Interview and Spanish translation by Karen Lopez

My father left my mother when I was a baby. He left her with three children to raise on her own, so we weren’t financially stable. My family and ancestors in our town had always been poor and humble. Food, clothes, money, and everything had always been scarce. People worked and continue working to only make enough for the day’s sustainment.

My mother wanted to give us a better living and future. So she took care of us for a few years until I was old enough to be independent. I was eight years old when she left for the U.S., leaving my brother and I with our grandparents. But my family would lie to my mom saying that they were taking good care of us. My mother would send us money, but they wouldn’t give it to us or buy us anything with it. They would maltreat us, and discriminate against us because we were different; we were children of a man they did not like. My brother ended up becoming the father figure in my life. He was the one who cared for me and raised me, to the best of his ability.

I was 11 years old when my 13-year-old brother and I had to drop out of school. We didn’t have the resources and money to keep ourselves in school, because our grandparents wouldn’t help us. We didn’t have money to pay for the public school’s fees, transportation, uniforms, and school supplies. Our childhood was rough. We had to leave school to work to make enough money to eat. I would work for my grandfather by raising and taking care of his cows. After a year, my brother and I had saved enough money and we fled to Tijuana, Mexico where we had an aunt to receive us. We had heard about Tijuana having many job opportunities and how it was a frontier city next to America.

It was hard for us to flee, because we were underage and didn’t have an adult with us. I can’t remember if we paid security to let us go, but I remember telling them that we were heading to Tijuana, and my brother was the oldest and the one in charge.

Once we arrived in Tijuana, we contacted my mother in the U.S. and explained everything that had happened to us and why we had fled. My mother was in such despair after hearing the news. She decided to leave everything she had in the U.S. to reunite with us. My brother and I continued to work in order to make a living, so we never went back to school.

I had always desired for us to have a house of our own, for my mother to live better, and for me to have my own things too. I was now 17 years old, so I decided to immigrate to the U.S. I remember having a lot of thoughts in my head before leaving home. I had heard many things about people dying or getting kidnapped at the frontier. I prayed for the best and asked for my mother’s blessings. I didn’t know if I would be back or if something bad would happen on the way there. I just focused my mind on the future and what I wanted to achieve. In my head I thought, ‘I want to go to the U.S. I have to go to the U.S., no matter what it takes.’

I remember my mom cooking a delicious authentic farewell dinner, pork with green salsa. My mother blessed me and told me not forget about her or the family, and for me to not change and always remain humble.

Once in the U.S., I arrived in North Carolina after a month of travel. I had uncles and cousins who already lived there and they helped me obtain a job at a restaurant. I have been working ever since and now work in construction. My mind continues to be set in giving my mother and my future family a suitable living.

Diego Vargas, originalmente de Piedra Verde, Michoacán de Ocampo, México

Mi padre dejo a mi madre cuando yo era un bebe. El la dejo con tres hijos para criar sola y por eso no teníamos dinero. Toda mi familia y mis ancestros en nuestro pueblo siempre habían sido pobres y humildes. Nunca teníamos dinero para la comida, para ropa, ni nada. La gente de mi pueblo solo trabajaba y continua trabajando para apenas ganarse lo del sostenimiento del día.

Mi madre nos quiera dar una mejor manera de vivir y un futuro mejor. Ella nos cuidó por unos cuantos años hasta que tuvimos la edad suficiente para ser un poco independientes. Yo tenía 8 años cuando ella se fue para los Estados Unidos y nos dejó con nuestros abuelos. Pero mi familia le mentía a mi madre diciéndole que estábamos bien. Mi madre nos mandaba dinero pero la familia nunca nos lo daba ni nos compraban nada. Casi no nos daban de comer, no teníamos ropa, ni que calzar. Nos maltrataban y nos discriminaban porque éramos diferentes; éramos hijos de un hombre que no querían. Mi hermano termino siendo como un padre para mí porque él me cuidaba y me crio a su mejor manera.

Yo tenía 11 años y mi hermano tenía 13 años cuando tuvimos que dejar la escuela. No teníamos los recursos ni el dinero para seguir asistiendo porque nuestros abuelos no nos ayudaban. No teníamos dinero para pagar las fianzas de la escuela pública, transportación, uniformes, ni útiles escolares. Nuestra niñez fue muy dura. Tuvimos que dejar la escuela para trabajar y tener suficiente dinero para comer.

Trabajaba para mi abuelo criando y cuidando sus vacas. Después de un año mi hermano y yo habíamos ahorrado suficiente dinero para escaparnos hacia Tijuana, México en donde teníamos a una tía para recibirnos. Habíamos escuchado que Tijuana era una ciudad fronteriza con Estados Unidos y que había muchas oportunidades de trabajo.

Fue difícil escapar para nosotros porque éramos menores de edad y no teníamos a ningún adulto con nosotros. No recuerdo si le pagamos a seguridad para dejarnos ir, pero si recuerdo que les decía que íbamos para Tijuana y el mayor era mi hermano y el único encargado.

En cuanto llegamos a Tijuana, contactamos a mi madre en Estados Unidos y le explicamos todo lo que nos había pasado y porque nos habíamos escapado. Mi madre se angustio después de haber escuchado la noticia. Ella decidió dejar todo lo que tenía en Estados Unidos para reunirse con nosotros. Mi hermano y yo tuvimos que seguir trabajando para sobre vivir, y por eso ya no pudimos regresar a la escuela.

Siempre había deseado tener casa propia, tener a mi mama viviendo mejor, y tener mis propias cosas. Ya tenía los 17 años y entonces decidí inmigrar a los Estados Unidos. Recuerdo que tenía muchos pensamientos en mi cabeza antes de irme de casa. Había escuchado muchas cosas sobre la gente que se moría o los secuestraban en la frontera. Yo ore para que me fuera bien y a mi madre le pedí sus bendiciones. Yo no sabía si iba a regresar o si algo me podía pasar en el camino. Yo solo enfoque mi mente en el futuro y en lo que yo quería obtener. En mi mente yo decía, ‘Yo quiero ir para Estados Unidos. Y no importa lo que pase ni lo que me cueste yo quiero ir a los Estados Unidos.’

Recuerdo que mi madre cocino una deliciosa y autentica cena de despedida; carne de puerco en salsa verde. Mi madre me dio su bendición y me dijo que no me olvidara de ella ni de la familia, y que siempre me mantuviera una persona humilde.

Tarde un mes en la frontera para cruzar a los Estados Unidos y llegando me trajeron para Carolina del Norte. Yo tenía primos y tíos que ya vivían ahí y me ayudaron a encontrar un trabajo en un restaurante. Desde entonces yo siempre eh trabajado y ahora trabajo en construcción. Mi mente continua firme en darles una vida estable a mi mamay mi futura familia.

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center presented the performance of Silvana Cardell’s Supper, People on the Move, accompanied by Jennifer Baker’s exhibit Portraits of People on the Move, in October of  2017 at Randy Shull and Hedy Fischer’s 22 London Rd. Studio in Asheville, NC. 5 new portraits — “People on the Move” in western North Carolina by photographer Steve Mann and UNC Asheville journalist Karen Lopez — were added to the exhibit.