Copyright ÂŠ 2011 Alaska Immigration Justice Project All rights reserved. ISBN: ISBN-13:
Portraits is dedicated to all the families who consented to share their journeys as immigrants. Their stories should be a constant reminder to each and every one of us that â€œFreedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose. To that high concept there can be no end save victory.â€? â€“ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Silvester, A Man With No Land
Meet the HM Family
An Invited Guest
A Journey of a Family
About the Authors and Artists
The families portrayed in these pages have demonstrated an incredible amount of courage in coming forward to share their stories. This courage is defining, as is the resilience that they and their families display every day as they live their lives and make our community all the better for that. The people and families depicted in these pages serve as inspiration to all of us, and instruct us as to how to create a community that values all of its members. Portraits is dedicated first and foremost to honoring the spirit, perseverance, and hope for a better future that these families embody. This project would not have been possible without the hard work of AIJP employees whose commitment to ensuring justice and human rights for all Alaskans knows no bounds. The amazing members of Leadership Anchorage program who participated in this project demonstrate that this program can rest on its success in producing true leaders who are dedicated to creating a diverse, welcoming community. Similarly, the students at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) who were instrumental in bringing this project to life prove that our community has a vibrant future that is in very capable hands. We would also like to thank the University of Alaska Anchorage for their support. In addition to initiating the project and sheparding it
through its early phases, Mara Kimmel in the Department of Political Science teamed up with Professor and artist Garry Kaulitz in the Department of Art to create a great team of university students to participate in the project. Similarly, the Center for Community Engagement and Learning was instrumental in ensuring the success of this project through its generous financial support. Finally, special thanks must be given to Lee Post, Leadership Anchorage Team Leader, for his stewardship and for making miracles happen behind the scenes in order to make this project a reality. Many meetings took place between the UAA artists, AIJP, and Leadership Anchorage program participants for the purpose of working out the logistics of this project â€“ from its goal, to how to conduct best interview practices with the courageous five families who volunteered to share their unheard stories in a public forum, to the details of executing the art and narrative in their final form. Many hours of planning and deliberation took place in which his dynamic personality and leadership helped to expedite the process. It was important for Mr. Post to see the project through without compromising human integrity and dignity. His persistence and ability to encourage people to utilize their strengths made all the difference in the world. A heartfelt thank you and to your family for your time and sacrifice.
The project is funded in part by a grant from the Center for Community Engagement and Learning at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
By Mara Kimmel Co-Founder and Board Member, Alaska Immigration Justice Project
The United States is a nation bound together by shared ideals and common values. At our best we honor Martin Luther King’s vision and judge each other not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. In Alaska, we celebrate an abundance of that character. In addition to the rich indigenous community that defines the character of our state, Alaska is increasingly home to people from all over the world. Governor Wally Hickel knew this when he described “the greatness of our immigrant heritage . . . where in Anchorage alone, nearly 100 languages are spoken in the homes of the children in our public schools.” Portraits documents and humanizes that immigrant heritage. The families depicted in these pages are real people living in Alaska’s largest city. Tragically, their lives are shrouded in fear and cloaked in shadows. This project gives voice to Alaskan families and puts a human face on the immigration debate as it unfolds in our community and our state. Here, where immigrants comprise more than ten percent of our population, we can do more to understand the circumstances that affect the daily lives of our neighbors. Every day, many of
our families face the specter of deportation and permanent separation because the American immigration system fails to provide realistic legal options for these families. Through art and narrative, Portraits documents the lives of these families, their contributions to our community, and the impact that the fear of deportation and separation has on children who are victims of an inhumane bureaucracy. Portraits aims for a thorough and honest airing of the stories of immigrants in our Alaskan communities. It is our hope to better inform public policy by telling the stories of five Alaskan families. Many of us may know the husbands, wives, and children whose lives are contained within these pages - but we fail to understand that they could not tell their full stories – until now. The project is a partnership between the Alaska Immigration Justice Project, the Alaska Humanities Forum Leadership Anchorage program, and the University of Alaska Anchorage. The project is funded in part by a grant from the Center for Community Engagement and Learning at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
By Moyce Polanco
Silvester is an average looking man in his midthirties and does not look any different from your average Caucasian neighbor. He is a family oriented married man with two children, holds two jobs, goes to school, and is a typical college graduate egressed from South West Texas University (SWTU). If you look at him, you might not even think he has immediate immigrant blood in him, but he does! Silvester is a second generation immigrant of Mexican descent whose family emigrated from their homeland about four decades ago. His parents and all his brothers currently live in the United States of America (USA). He was one of the few in his family birthed in American territory, according to his account of the facts as told to him by his parents, neighbors, and siblings. It was an ordinary afternoon in the mid 70s, 1974 to be exact and Silvesterâ€™s mother was due to deliver the fruit of her womb. However, she had neither medical insurance nor immigration papers; therefore, she could not deliver at a local hospital by the border in the town of Texas where she lived due to the fear of deportation
upon declaring her status. The option was to contact a trusted midwife known to the family to come to the house and put her skills to work. The midwife began to assist with the delivery in front of the father of the baby, older siblings, and some curious and concerned neighbors. Later that day, a blonde, fair skin, beautiful healthy child, whom they named Silvester, was born. It was unknown to the little infant and to his family that one day his own hometown and place of origin were going to be questioned, throwing him in immigration limbo. Because Silvesterâ€™s mother was not in legal status in the U.S., his parents decided not to show themselves before Vital Statistics to report and register the birth of their son. Instead, they waited three years before setting the record of his birth on the Vital Statistics office in the State of Texas. This delay was going to come at a huge price, inconvenience, and cause a lack of peace of mind due to the uncertainty of the account of his birth.
Two more years went by and Silvester, now five, started going to school. He had a small birth certificate that his parents used for all personal dealings as necessary, including traveling back and forth the Mexican land. It was before 9/11, therefore, immigration rules were not as tough then as they are today and regulations were less restrictive. Silvester grew up playing with his peers, speaking English with his friends at school and in the neighborhood as well as speaking Spanish and English at home. He knew what he wanted to do after he left high school. He was accepted into South West Texas University where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration and Spanish. After obtaining his college degree, Silvester moved to Alaska to accompany his parents and assist them with a successful local family business and to put his new professional skills to test. In 2001, he met and married his soul mate. After two years of marriage, his wife bore their first child and another one four years later - both boys, third generation immigrants. He continued his pursuit of academic and individual advancement and all the while remaining a good law abiding citizen, never encountering any problem with the law. It was then after his achievements became noticeable that the rules of the game changed on him. As a result of the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in 2003 and the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) was abolished as part of the reorganization. In its stead, the service was split into three branches; the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The last two are the watchdogs of who has their immigration papers in order.
USCIS and ICEsâ€™ newly toughened policies to fight in-house terrorism have caused grief to all immigrants who want to enter or live in the U.S. due to the intense checks and verification of legitimacy before granting any kind of visa or permit. Oblivious to those changes, Silvester made plans to travel abroad and was now required to have a passport which he had never obtained before because it was not necessary for his trips to Mexico. So he applied for one. After waiting for countless months, he called the Department of State at the Seattle passport offices to inquire about the status of his application. He was shocked to hear that his case was under investigation. Apparently, there was a Mexican birth certificate for Silvester, and according to the U.S. government that proved that he was born in Mexico and not in the U.S. His shock turned to frustration after countless requests to be shown such a â€œdocumentâ€? were ignored by the U.S. government. Silvester alleges that he indeed is a citizen of the U.S. by birth, and provides as proof his Texas birth certificate and the bona fide testimony of his witnesses. He argues that his rights are being violated since he invoked the Freedom of Information Act to see such document and the U.S. government ignored his appeal to the law. He hired Alaska Immigration Justice Project to help with his case. He maintains his claim of veracity in the subject, and wants the matter resolved so he can go on with his life. His biggest concern is that he might potentially get wrongfully kicked out of the U.S. while the investigation is going on and thus splitting up his family. All of his family is here in the U.S., including his wife and children who are all U.S. citizens by birth. His removal from the U.S. would indeed deprive the community of a good, solid, community-involved citizen, and business professional. Silvester does not really think it will come to his removal from this country, but sometimes thoughts and concerns
about the possibility of this happening come to his mind. The “what ifs” mount up and time goes by with his case still unresolved. This is the only place he knows and calls his home with no doubt in his mind, but he can’t help but ask himself, “will there be others like me?” he wonders. “Will others go through what I am going through if things don’t change?” he ponders. He is still here living in uncertainty, being a man with no official birthplace or maybe two, and in the eyes of the U.S. government, he has no place he can call “home” beyond a reasonable doubt.
By Dianah Ojwanga Art by Stephanie Novak and William Koslof
The story of a family with determination and a love that cannot be broken
Mr. HM was born in the Kingdom of Tonga on September 30th 1970. When he was just a young boy his family moved back and forth from Tonga to the American Samoa, the United Statesâ€™ (U.S.) southern-most territory. At the age of nine, his family permanently relocated, settled, and started a new life in the American Samoa where he went to school and spent most of his teenage years and part of his adult life. After graduating high school, he went to the only community college in the island. While attending college, Mr. HM met and married the love of his life only eight months after. Because Mr. HM married an American Samoa citizen, he received a green card and was granted permanent residency in 1989. Both Mr. and Mrs. HM come from poor families; therefore, after getting married they had to stay close to their parents so that they could receive and offer family support. The coupleâ€™s parents made a living working in the
farm all day long. Mr. HM worked hard at a nearby factory to support his expanding family while Mrs. HM, a homemaker, stayed home to take care of their children. Caring for a smaller family was manageable for the couple, but as they had more children, six at the time, providing basic needs and making sure the family was properly taken care of became a very arduous task. After years of hard work and struggle, Mr. and Mrs. HM say that their main concern was their children, their reason for striving to become better persons. It is the strong love and bond that exists between them and their children, and a strong desire for a better and brighter future for their family that stirred the conversations and discussions about moving the family to the U.S. Mr. and Mrs. HM believed that moving their children to the U.S. would guarantee them better education as well as the vast opportunities available to anyone willing to
work hard. The couple wished for a future whereby their children would be strong and selfreliant, living the “American dream”. More importantly, they did not want their children to go through the same kind of life they had gone through; a life where the future was uncertain and everyday living was hand to mouth. However, making the decision to leave their familiar country and the extended family they loved was not an easy one, but the grand decision they were about to make was for their immediate family, their children, to be precise. For the HM family, the journey began in 1996 when Mrs. HM first visited the U.S. with the couple’s youngest son at the time and stayed with her brother in Anchorage, AK. Using her legal papers from the American Samoa, she secured a job and worked for several months earning enough money to buy a plane ticket for her husband to come and visit the U.S. Mr. HM left the children with his parents in the American Samoa and made his first trip to the U.S. not only to explore this great country, but also to assess the financial obligation associated with relocating his entire family. He had legal permission from the U.S. government to visit the country for six months which he honored and returned back to his country without overstaying. Before he left however, the couple agreed that Mrs. HM would remain in the U.S. and continue working. She would then send the money to her husband in the American Samoa to make all travel arrangements for the rest of the family. Determined to reunite with his wife and son soon and with a little bit of money saved, Mr. HM applied for travel documents at the U.S. Consulate in the American Samoa which he was granted without any problem. In 2000, the HM family was en route to the U.S., final destination Anchorage, Alaska. The family was excited about starting their new life in the U.S, but little did they know about the challenges and hardships that lay ahead. The couple had no idea that they should have met with an immigration officer
within the first six months of their entry into the country to avoid falling into the category of immigrants who have overstayed their visit. Had they known that their American Samoa status did not exempt them from immigration scrutiny, they would have done everything within their reach to make things right. Like any new family in a new town, the family tried to settle quickly, first, by enrolling their children in school and second, by looking for employment. Both husband and wife were lucky to find work very quickly; Mr. HM got a job with Alaska Sales and Services and Mrs. HM got a management position with K-Mart department store. The couple worked hard, paid their taxes, and led a normal life as they integrated into society and became an integral part of our community and an addition to what makes Anchorage so unique; it’s diversity. They also strived to be the best role models and providers that they could be to their children. In 2005, the couple welcomed their youngest son and only American-born child. Wages were substantial and for the first time in their lives, Mr. and Mrs. HM could afford to provide the good life they had always imagined for their children. Things seemed to be falling into place for the HM family including the reality of the American dream. There is an old adage that “every good thing must come to an end,” and for the HM family, the end was so abrupt. According to Mrs. HM, they felt at home here in Anchorage and didn’t foresee a problem in the near future. After all, they were hardworking, upright, and scrupulous individuals. It all began in 2006 when Mr. HM lost his job of almost 4 years due to circumstances beyond his control. Mr. HM says that after losing his job hebecame very afraid to look for another job. When I asked him why he was so afraid of looking for another job, Mr. HM confessed that it was because he did not have a green card Mr. and Mrs. HM had already been through a situation where their employers were constantly asking for proof of permanent residency and Mr.
HM did not want to have to face another employer for that reason. He says that his visa had allowed him to work when he first entered the country, but his lack of knowledge about immigration procedures resulted in his falling out of status. Mr. HM, now very remorseful says he wished there had been someone there to counsel and tell him what steps to take to safeguard the immigration status of his family ten years ago. He had not a clue when he first entered the U.S. because once again as already noted, he had not predicted any problems. He had concentrated on getting their children enrolled in a school and securing a job so that he could do what every parent does; take care of his or her family. With Mr. HM now unemployed, the family income was significantly reduced as Mrs. HM remained the only breadwinner in the home, but they stuck together and remained strong for each other. The couple’s oldest daughter, a 21 year old honor student had to drop out of college when her parents could not afford to pay for her tuition. After some encouragement from her parents, she opted to join the military and serve a country she truly loves. She is currently stationed in England and has become an important anchor for her family during the crisis and a major source of financial assistance. After graduating from high school, the couple’s second daughter also sought employment in order to assist the family financially. Meanwhile, Mrs. HM‘s position with K-Mart was terminated during the K-Mart - Sears, Roebuck & Co. merger. Fortunately, she was retained as an employee with Sears and also maintained a managerial position which she held for almost six years. Holding back her tears, Mrs. HM recalls some of her worst experiences which began nearly two years ago. It was a typical morning at Sears with very few customers and business as usual when a group of people who looked like shoppers walked in. The only thing that raised any suspicion was the fact that they were not looking
at merchandise. Someone had pointed them to where Mrs. HM was busy working. They went directly to her and without making a fuss or drawing any unnecessary attention, they asked her to follow them. But no sooner had they reached the outside of the premises than they handcuffed and chained her legs. She had not committed a crime but it didn’t take her too long to realize who they were and what was happening. As she tells her story, she says it all happened so quickly it almost seemed like a dream. In a matter of minutes, she was shoved into a car which took her to a cell in Eagle River. The immigration officers went through her purse and found her husband’s identification card, and that’s how they discovered she was married. She was generally not accustomed to carrying her husband’s identification card, but on that particular day she happened to have had it in her possession. As if things were not bad enough, an immigration officer called Mr. HM and told him about his wife’s fate, and also asked him to turn himself in if he was in the same immigration status as his wife. Following Mrs. HM’s arrest, an immigration officer took fingerprints as well mug shots of the now terrified woman who recollects that she felt like a “criminal” She says that she was put in the same room with people who had committed much worse crimes. Her legs were tied to six other people’s legs using a big chain and they were all made to walk together. Mrs. HM says that some of the things she endured during her arrest were unfathomable to her; she was stripped naked and searched from head to toe. Mrs. HM says she felt like an animal being led into a slaughter house; “it was very humiliating”, an ordeal she says she wishes no mother ever has to go through. Mrs. HM’s case went before a judge who informed her that her bail would be set at $6000. She needed to come up with the money or risk staying in jail indefinitely. She became worried about her children since her husband had also been summoned to the immigration
office and was facing worse charges for overstaying his visa and for working beyond the allotted time. But before Mr. HM went to the immigration office, he decided to go to Sears and ask for his wife’s paycheck in advance. However, the amount was nowhere near the $6000 bail money they needed to post in order to get Mrs. HM out of jail. Mr. HM then resorted to borrowing from their family and friends but that amount was equally low to secure his wife’s freedom. Worried sick about her children, Mrs. HM decided to beg the judge to reduce bail. Asked how much money she thought she could raise, Mrs. HM said she could only afford $1000. The judge told her that if she could pay $1500 , she would be released to go home and be with her children. After posting bail however, she was placed under probation and was required to appear before an immigration officer every six months. Worse still, she was placed under deportation proceedings. The family had to seek legal counsel and find a good attorney. With the help of the Alaska Immigration Justice Project, the case against Mrs. HM was dropped. The HM family lawyer is currently working on getting her immigration papers fully validated. Even though this should be great news for Mrs. HM, her husband was not all that lucky and still faces deportation. Mr. and Mrs. HM say they are afraid of being separated again. The couple says that they’ve been together for more than two decades and nothing is going to come between them. Now that they are both unemployed, the couple says they enjoy spending more time together as a family while awaiting their fate. They cannot have enough wonderful things to say about their children, such as how smart, brave, and strong they are. Mr. and Mrs. HM also say that they’ve spent years of their lives teaching their children good family values and how to stay away from trouble, and now they are afraid that separating the family could be more detrimental to their children’s’ state of mind. They have teenage
boys and their youngest son is only six years old; therefore, they want to make sure the children have a stable home and a strong foundation. Mr. and Mrs. HM add that even though their children may be able to stay in America without any problem, the couple is very afraid of leaving them without a role model to guide them in the right direction. They understand that the children will one day be grown and out of the home, but as parents, they would like to confidently say that they’ve done their part in instilling in their children the most important lesson in life; the value of hard work. They are also afraid that if the family is separated, it may be a long time before they are united by which time says Mr. HM, “it may be too late.” Consequently, Mr. HM says that he can never forgive himself if anything were to happen to any of his children and he was not there to protect them. He says that whatever the verdict from immigration may be, he is determined to keep his family together, even if that means plucking his children from the life they’ve known and moving them back to the American Samoa. He does not like the idea of disrupting their school life, but once again, he is concern about the children’s future. In conclusion, Mr. HM offers some advice to families that may find themselves in a similar situation. He says that “there is a lot of help out there, but people are very afraid of immigration officers, an act that prevents them from asking questions or seeking assistance when they should.” Mr. and Mrs. HM also say that as much as they wish they were employed so that they could continue to contribute to society, they are content just being together and are enjoying every moment of it. As a family, they are tired of living in fear, the fear that at any moment someone will knock on their door and tell their father to leave the country he’s grown to love, separating him from his own flesh and blood. The family’s final hope is that someday the law will change so that no one, legal or illegal, has to go through the pain or live in fear as they have.
By John Aronno Art by Jennifer Gray
By Megan Holliday
THE FIRST LIFE He was a Hungarian living in Yugoslavia - an ethnic minority in a foreign country on the verge of war. He had a wife, two sons, and worked as a nurse in a local hospital. Life was always a challenge. “Very hard, most Americans don‟t understand. When you are a minority, any kind, you need to deal with your status every day. If you want to go and get a good job and keep it you have to give away something you won‟t want to – your language, your culture.” “The [government] says everything is okay with force” “[Being a minority] you are always the underdog.”
The war began between Serbia and Croatia. Everyone became nervous and didn’t know what to expect. There was food and medical shortage, bombings, as well as other dangers. This was not his war. As a cultural minority, he did not have an investment in the fighting going on. Even so, he was prevented from speaking his mind. He was kept from speaking his native language for fear of losing work in the middle of this national turmoil. “You can‟t say what you want. You need to wake up every day and go play a role. If you want to have your job, you have to play this role and with two kids, you can‟t lose this job.” “In the hospital, I can‟t talk Hungarian there. What does this mean? I lose my identity a little bit. What is your identity? Your language, your culture, everything you are. And if you need to give something from your identity you lose it a little bit.”
He had a strategy to survive everything – keep his mouth shut and work hard. He remained in Serbia far beyond the war. He did not leave to be free from persecution. Only after the war – after a divorce and after his two sons grew up - did he think to leave the place he had for years struggled for liberation. “I‟m not this immigrant who [lost my] home, no. I left my home because someone had taken my home earlier.” By losing little bits of his cultural identity, he felt ready to accept an invitation of his aunt who lived far away in Anchorage, Alaska. She offered him a new start in a new place – a place that offered freedom.
“We had a different idea of marriage. She expected me to get a job as a nurse…everything will be okay. But our ideas not work and after one year we broke.” “She go in to immigration that she no more my benefactor. So my problems start from this point on this day with immigration. So this started the papers for my deportation.” He found a good lawyer to help him through the process of documentation. He still had no job and was living in one corner of a room in a friend’s apartment. He needed to kill time and do something worthwhile. He’d go to Catholic Social Services (CSS) to get food and to volunteer in a useful way.
TRANSITION Coming to America offered its fair share of challenges. He came to stay with his aunt who thought he could easily find a job as a nurse in Anchorage. “I had no dream of USA, only clichés. I like American literature and this fed my knowledge most. I got [my idea] from music and movies and when I came here it‟s different than I think.” He had no knowledge of English, no papers. Finding work became impossible. Disagreements with his aunt put him on the street. Within a short amount of time he found himself a man without a country and without a home. Life, as we all know, has many tricks up its sleeve, and soon he found a woman to share life with. She hoped he would find a job and be a provider. He hoped she would support him through life’s struggle. Both of their hopes would be disappointed.
While at CSS, he heard about a woman who was in need of help with childcare. She had 3 adopted children all with special needs. “At the same time I have these issues with immigration and might be deported. Horrible fear.”
He went to visit the woman who had 3 children. The first child was a 10 year old girl adopted from Romania. The second child was a 6 year old girl adopted from China. The third child was a 2 year old girl who had been adopted from China just one month before his visit. “She (the third child) is like a monkey; no emotions, blank face, no language. [She had] big marks, eh, on her wrists from the restraining in the orphanage in China. She was bald from a surgery…and for hygiene from the orphanage.”
“I ask [the woman] if I can treat her like my child. She said, „Absolutely, do what‟s best for [the third child].‟ So we played, I cooked for her, and we started some kind of communication without language.” All three of the children had been through extreme hardship. They had come from brutal orphanages, and had behavioral and developmental deficiencies due to lack of human contact as infants. He found himself drawn into this family so desperately in need of support. The girls needed someone patient enough to love them through their challenges, and the woman needed a partner while he needed a purpose…a family. “At the same time [as I am working with the third child], shortly, we start a romance with [the woman]. So I move in her house…become a member…more than just a caregiver.” “I try this time to be more than just caregiver. Little bit, little bit [the third child] coming closer than anybody else. This relation coming stronger than with biological children. I have two, so I know what I say.” “I coming from nowhere, she coming from nowhere and we met here…nowhere. Without language, without any base.” In the most random of places, Anchorage, AK, a Hungarian man and a Chinese toddler meet and find strength neither expected to find. This began his second life in America. This family became his and his reason to persevere through the challenges of immigration and documentation. IMMIGRATION
His journey to obtaining documented status began upon his arrival in the U.S. He came to visit an aunt who expected him to find a work visa. Within six months of his arrival, he married a local woman and they began the paperwork to legitimize his status here. When the marriage dissolved, she reported him as “illegal” and the deportation process began. He met the woman and three children in the midst of uncertainty regarding his future in this country. He had an attorney who was working with him on filing paperwork to extend his stay, but all avenues were turning up dead ends. “At first I had no one to tell me what to do. Then, I meet Robin from Alaska Immigration Justice Project; tell her my story and she says, „We can use one thing – mental abuse. If you have mental abuse from your first (American) wife.‟ Well, yes, I have, but giving proof about your feelings is different than giving proof of [physical abuse].” His story wasn’t enough. Another solution was to marry the woman with the children. “I can‟t ask her to marry because I‟m in trouble with immigration! I have feelings for her, but this situation is too bad. Second, I have no one dime, one penny, how I can ask woman with three children to marry me with no money.” The issue was brought to her (the woman’s) attention and without hesitation, she accepted! Maybe the circumstances weren’t ideal, but he had become part of the family. The girls looked up to him as a father, and he treated them as if they were his own daughters. He and the woman were very much in love; life had become unimaginable without each other.
Their lives had begun in the most opposite of circumstances. She was raised in the South, United States; he, in Eastern Europe. It seemed an impossible and unlikely match, but their bonds to the children strengthened their bonds to each other. Following their marriage, the struggle continued. Paperwork took months to file; an immigration judge is only in Anchorage every 6 months and any change in paperwork or deadline for legitimacy changed in that time. Some paperwork was mixed up upon filing and needed to be resubmitted, and some forms differed slightly and had to be refilled. If papers were filed and no judge was in town, they’d have to be refilled before the judge came back. There also seemed to be an extreme lack of communication between immigration office and the court system…it felt like everyone was saying something different. Finally, after 4 years of filing and refilling, court appointments and appeals, the marriage was finally legitimized by the courts in 2010 and he is expecting a Green Card in the near future. Welcome to America! SECOND LIFE The stress, confusion and uncertainty of being undocumented is now over and life with a family continues. His life goes on as a father and he faces the reality of the daily challenges of being a father to three girls, all who need extra attention. His relationship with the third child continued to grow as she began, slowly but surely, to trust him. “For [the third child] I am not just stepfather, I am center of everything…No more of
this empty face, [she says] she can do it, I say, „Okay! Do it. She needs somebody who‟s strong for her.‟” “At first I talk with [the third child] in Hungarian, she understand Hungarian. She‟s Chinese and in Alaska and she understand Hungarian! And I‟m yelling with her in Hungarian in the store, people saying, „What the hell is this language? What is this Caucasian boy and Chinese girl…strange!‟” The third child is now in Preschool, and while she doesn’t speak Hungarian anymore, she still understands when he speaks to her in his native tongue. She will continue to have difficulty with speech, but with help from educators and a dad who supports her, she is much better off than she was before he entered their world. “[The third child] is a good girl. She is very smart. I tell you every times and I tell you now, if I die tomorrow I do something good. She is the reason I‟m here.” “I talk with my son yesterday and say that this is my second life. It‟s very rare for this to happen. [Normally] you are born, you marry with kids and you die. Or marry several times like me, but to start something totally new – new language, mentality is totally different.” He has been with his second life family for over four years now and their life has become his. He works in the medical field, not as a nurse as he once was. He earns a paycheck and keeps busy knowing that this job is not his life, but it helps him contribute to his family. He wants to be a member of the community he finds himself in today. He takes his daughters on outings, helps them with their schoolwork, and gives them every opportunity he is capable of.
His English improves every day and he enjoys reading and writing in English. Every day offers new discoveries, new challenges and he takes pleasure in meeting each new day as it comes. DREAMS OF TOMORROW His first ideas of what life in America would be like have faded away and changed. Today his ambitions are much more simple.
“My dream this time, at this point what I read, what I see what I like…just one moment at a time. My dream now is to travel. I don‟t want any more. I‟m fine.” “I don‟t know what‟s going to happen tomorrow, I don‟t know what‟s going to happen next year…I don‟t care about anything or the future because every time different things come. This moment, I want to enjoy this day, I
want to enjoy the kids – they aren‟t my kids, they‟ll never be my kids, I‟m just me, and that‟s okay.” “I have nothing. It‟s good for me. I‟m just me, but I know who I am. How long will things be this way? I don‟t know, maybe forever. But I enjoy the time I have as long as I have it.” Joys for today come from the simplest things - a new movie, finding a new wine to taste, a cigarette outside after a long day. He’s not a complicated man, no, he is a simple man who realizes how fragile life and time are. He will enjoy this place, this moment, this family, this glass of wine, this cigarette as long as he is allowed. One thing he knows for sure…he is free. He is free to think how he likes, speak the language he likes, and live his life how he sees fit. Today he chooses here and now. Tomorrow? Who knows? But this is certain – he is in control.
By Lara Shogren Art by Josh Worley
This is a story about a family who lives in a small quiet neighborhood in South Anchorage. At first glance, there is nothing unusual about this family. It is a family of five, soon-to-be six, with a mother and a father who both work full time to provide a home and a good life for their three children. They own their home and attend church and sporting events together. They believe that a family is a unit that must stay together, and that without each other their family and their hearts would never be whole. While this seems like an easy concept for most families in Anchorage and even in the State of Alaska to believe in, this family has had to fight, run, and struggle in order to remain together. Both the mother and the father were born and raised in El Salvador where they lived with constant fear of gangs, kidnappings, and robberies. They came to the United States (U.S.) in search of a life of opportunity; the ability to work hard and provide for themselves as well as provide a good education for their children. In 1994, the mother of this family (we will call her Y) moved from El Salvador, crossed the
borders of Mexico, and entered the United States undocumented. She was summoned to Alaska by her father who was already living and working in the fishing industry in Kodiak. Soon after her arrival to Alaska, Y met E (the father of the family in our tale) who was also an undocumented worker living in Kodiak. The couple quickly fell in love, got married, and shortly after, became parents to a little boy weâ€™ll call T. In 1996, our little fairytale family was forced back to their home country. Upon their return to El Salvador, they were targeted by the local gangs and mobsters. It is a common misconception that when people return to El Salvador from the U.S., they must have money and resources, making E and Y perfect prey for robberies and kidnappings. The family remained in El Salvador for five years during which time they had two more children; a boy, B, closely followed by a little girl, H. Their life in El Salvador was not a good life. As parents, E and Y never slept easily. They knew that they were being stalked by people who
wanted to hurt them, people who wanted to take their kids. Gangsters tried to force them to join the local gangs, and when they chose not to, the gangs threatened to kill them. In January and February 2001, El Salvador was struck by two major earth quakes which resulted in 944 deaths and over 5,500 injuries. The country was unprepared to deal with this natural disaster. Landslides and the improper disposal of human remains polluted the clean drinking water and caused mass chaos throughout the country. The American government responded to this crisis by granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to any El
Salvador citizen who could make it to the U.S. TPS is a temporary immigration status granted to eligible nationals of designated countries. This status allows immigrants to obtain lawful employment, pay taxes, and live in the U.S. without the fear of being detained or deported by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This status is only granted for 18 months after which time the U.S. President must grant his approval to keep that country designated as a TPS. In February 2001, E left El Salvador and crossed over to the U.S. through the Mexican border. Once E made it safely to the U.S., he sent
word to Y to start her journey and join him. Y left her 3 children behind, including her 3 month old baby girl because she was afraid that she would never see them again. She made a three week, 1,450-mile journey mostly by foot, and hitchhiked when she could. She had to hide from thieves and bad men who wanted to steal from and hurt her. She also had to hide from the U.S. Border Patrol out of fear that they would send her back to El Salvador. Y finally made it across the border and arrived safely into U.S. She reunited with her husband and they settled in Washington D.C. After they were granted TPS, they worked multiple jobs to earn money so that they could bring their children to the U.S. The eldest son T was a U.S. citizen, having been born in Kodiak. His return to America was as simple as purchasing a one way ticket to Washington and paying the airlines an extra fee for an unescorted minor. The younger children’s passages proved more difficult. Over the next four years, Y and E toiled to save over $16,000.00 to have their two El Salvador-born children escorted into the U.S. The children were brought into the country one at a time. First to come was their son B, who tells stories of swimming across rivers and being locked in cars and closets during the trip. H, Y and E’s baby girl crossed the borders when she was only four. Thankfully, she doesn’t remember the journey, and she doesn’t care to talk about it either. Once reunited, the entire family left Washington, D.C. and moved to Anchorage, Alaska where they joined E’s sister who was also living in the U.S. under TPS and Y’s parents who are U.S. citizens. Soon after, Y was able to find employment with a house cleaning agency. Just three years after working for the house cleaning company, she decided to start her own business. She has been able to support both her family and her sister-in-law’s family by serving 32 clients. While life in Anchorage is undoubtedly easier and better than life in El Salvador, the
family is still experiencing hardships due to their TPS and the fact that the two younger children are undocumented. Part of the law states that the individual being granted TPS must leave their country of origin by their own will. Since B and H were both minors when they fled El Salvador, they did not technically do so of their own will. Therefore, neither child has a social security number or U.S. identification. This has caused problems for the children, especially B, an 8th grade student at a local middle school. Y told her children to lie and hide the fact that they are undocumented. She urged her children to tell their friends and teachers that they were born in Alaska just like their classmates. B didn’t heed this advice, but instead he told some kids around school about his
childhood living in El Salvador and his journey to get to the U.S. Unfortunately, this led to B getting bullied by his classmates. He has had empty glass bottles thrown at him, chairs pulled out from underneath him, and have also been severely beaten by three of his white male peers. Both Y and E went to the school to ask for protection for their son. The school officials assured them that they would do anything they could to protect their students. These promises have done nothing to end the bullying. To this day, B is still verbally and physically assaulted about his diverse background. Another unplanned hardship is the cost of health care for a family of five. Due to the family’s citizenship status, only their oldest son, T qualifies for health care assistance because he was born in Kodiak. Y is currently pregnant, and none of her prenatal health care is covered by Denali Kid Care. She must pay for these expenses out of pocket. Once her baby is born, the child will be covered, but the hospital bills and many expenses of the delivery will all have to be paid in full by Y and E. One of the most difficult moments for the family was an unpleasant experience with the Anchorage Police Department (APD). It happened on a sunny summer night back in 2008. Y, E, and Y’s sister-in-law were driving home after assisting one of her clients with a special cleaning job. Y was pulled over by a police officer for speeding, but she wasn’t the fasted person on the road. In fact, at the time that she was being pulled over, two other cars were passing her. The police officer asked to see her identification and those of all her passengers. They were all able to provide their State of Alaska driver’s licenses. The police officer then began questioning Y about a small 19-inch TV that was in the back seat of her car. Since Y is not fluent in English, she had a hard time understanding why the police officer was asking about this. The police officer asked everyone to climb out of the car, to which they complied. Y requested several times that a
Spanish interpreter be contacted, but the police officer refused. Finally, out of desperation Y used her cell phone to call her son. The police officer would not let her talk to her son, but instead confiscated her cell phone. Finally, he told her that they would not be going anywhere until he talked to the person who gave her the TV. Y had to give her client’s telephone number to the officer who proceeded to phone the client at 2:00 in the morning. The client, who happened to be the wife of a lawyer admitted to having donated the TV to Y. She also put her husband on the phone. The client’s husband was able to negotiate the release of Y’s family and Y’s cell phone. Y was released without being cited for breaking any traffic laws. This is just one example of how Y and her family feel they are being racially profiled and targeted in Anchorage. Y’s family loves the U.S., and they love living in Anchorage. They want to expand her house cleaning business so that they can buy a larger house that her growing family will fit in. Part of the reason that Y came to the U.S. was to be able to provide a higher education to her children; however, both her middle and youngest child are not eligible to attend college or any private institution due to their undocumented status. Y’s family literally swam through alligator infested waters, crossed desserts, and battled gangs to stay together.
By Arthur Sosa Board Member Alaska Immigration Justice Project Leadership Anchorage Alumni, 2009/2010
As demonstrated in the preceding pages, anti-immigrant policies torment non-citizens and their families because the fear of deportation is ever-present. Many Alaskan women and men have left behind loved ones in their native countries in hopes of pursuing the dream of a safer, better life. Chasing this dream means unfathomable sacrifices â€“ often years and decades go by before people can visit their homelands to see their mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers again. In the meantime, people begin new lives here, creating new families and becoming part of the fabric of their adopted home. But the backdrop to these new lives is always the fear â€“ fear that raids and detentions will tear mothers and fathers away from their American-born children. Portraits gives a human voice to the experiences of these immigrants and their families.
The Alaska Immigration Justice Project (AIJP) is a non-profit agency dedicated to protecting the human rights of all Alaskans. AIJP provides low-cost immigration legal assistance to immigrants and refugees in all immigration applications including citizenship, permanent resident status, work permits, asylum, familybased petitions and immigration petitions for immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human tracking. AIJP also houses the Language Interpreter Center, a public/private partnership dedicated to providing quality interpretation and translation services for agencies and businesses statewide. Alaska Immigration Justice Project 431 West 7th Ave. Anchorage, AK 99501 (907) 279-2457
The Mission of the Alaska Humanities Forum (AHF) is to use the wisdom and methods of the humanities to enrich the civic, intellectual, and cultural life of all Alaskans. As one of the programs sponsored by the AHF, Leadership Anchorage (LA) is designed to introduce the "emerging leaders" of nonprofit, neighborhood, and ethnic organizations to accomplished professionals and civic leaders in Anchorage and Alaska. LAâ€™s goal is to make sure these emerging voices are heard and are at the table in the mix of Anchorage decision-making. The program seeks to ensure that the leadership of our city represents all of its citizens. Graduates of LA enrich our community with individuals who know how to operate in a diverse world and think carefully about the ethical and personal demands of leadership. The Alaska Humanities Forum Leadership Anchorage 421 W. 1st Ave., Ste. 300 Anchorage, AK 99501 (907) 272-5341 www.akhf.org
The Center for Community Engagement and Learning at the University of Alaska Anchorage was created to connect academic programs with community needs to use scholarship and action for
the mutual benefit of the University and the State, its communities, and its diverse peoples. The Center for Community Engagement and Learning, University of Alaska Anchorage 3211 Providence Drive Anchorage, AK 99508 http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/engage/index.cfm
John Aronno, Author John Aronno is a community activist, blogger at Alaska Commons, recipient of the 2010 Alaska Press Association's Suzan Nightengale Award for Best Columnist in a small paper for his work with UAA's the Northern Light, former radio talk show host of Studio 1080 on Alaska's Voice: KUDO 1080am, guest host on the Shannyn Moore Show on KOAN 1020am, contributor to the Anchorage Press, the Alaska Dispatch, and Bent Alaska. In a previous life, John was a touring musician as the front man of the bands Thought Crime and Sleep in Fame, and is currently a Political Science Major at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He resides with his wife, Heather Aronno, in Anchorage, Alaska, where there is a very good chance that he is in his backyard playing fetch with his dogs. Jennifer Gray, Artist Jennifer Gray is a senior at UAA and will be graduating in the class of 2011 with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Drawing and Graphic Design. She works with her husband, Myk Gray, as a team freelancing in graphic design and other artistic outputs. After graduation Jennifer will pursue a professional art career in fine art, along with her interest in graphic novels. For more information visit her website at www.jennink.com Megan Holliday, Author Megan Holliday grew up in Anchorage and while she never expected to return after college, she is thrilled to experience Alaska in so many new ways! Megan graduated from Texas A&M University with a B.A. in Psychology and is currently the Director of Children’s Ministry at Trinity Presbyterian Church. She is on the Friends of the Campbell Creek Science Center Board, a member of Commonwealth North and an Advocate for Compassion International. She has been a volunteer and an official business partner to Huffman Elementary School for 4 years. Currently, she is partnering with Huffman Elementary and the Huffman/O’Malley Community Council to improve Huffman Park and restore it to its “Safe Route to School” status with the help of a grant from the Anchorage Parks Foundation. When she’s not out finding new projects to work on, Megan enjoys spending time with her husband Tim and their dog Corbie.
Stephanie Novak, Artist Stephanie Novak is a Student at the University of Alaska Anchorage currently pursuing two degrees: a Bachelors of Arts in Anthropology, and a Bachelors of Fine Arts with emphases in printmaking and drawing. Born in Oakland, California, she moved to Anchorage at the age of 5, under the impression that she was going to live in an igloo, eat snow, and mush huskies. The unfortunate reality was that these activities had fallen out of fashion prior to her arrival, except for the eating snow part. She is the mother of a wonderful boy named Darian, who is testament that the procrastination apple does not fall far from the tree. She has won Best of Watercolor for 2010 and 2011 Student Juried Shows, and has been selected by professors for several invitational shows, all at the Student Union Gallery. Stephanie is currently president of UAA’s Print Club; some of her drawings adorn UAA’s Art Department website as student example, and she has been published in UAA’s Understory 2010. Her portfolio: www.snnovak.daportfolio.com. Dianah Ojwanga, Author Dianah was born in Kenya many years ago or so it seems to a mother who was a businesswoman turned farmer, and a father who worked as a sales executive. She has two great brothers and four wonderful sisters. She first dreamed about coming to America at the age of 13. At 23, the opportunity finally came. As a Presentation Editor working for Kenya’s most prestigious privately-owned television station at the time, she had a great job and a thriving career ahead of her. However, Dianah quit her job and started a small fundraising campaign to collect funds and embark on a journey to America. On arrival, she settled in Beckley, a small town in the State of West Virginia. Dianah attended Mountain State University, a small private institution where she graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies, with a concentration in Communication Studies. She moved to Alaska nearly five years ago to seek employment and save up money to go to law school. Unfortunately, Dianah’s dreams of going to law school were thwarted by circumstances beyond her control. She enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) to pursue a master’s degree. After 2 years of fulltime studies and part-time employment as the Dean’s Office Student Assistant at the College of Education (COE), Dianah completed her thesis in December, 2010 and graduated with a Master of Public Administration (MPA) with two emphasis areas; Public Management and Health Administration. Dianah’s aspirations of becoming a lawyer someday soon still remain strong. Lee Post, Editor Lee Post grew up in Palmer and is a proud resident of Spenard. He has spent his career working with youth, starting off as a social worker, then the past ten years as a Juvenile Probation Officer. Lee is also a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, who had a comic strip, “Your Square Life” published in the Anchorage Press for six years, and since that ended, has published several children’s books and had his work shown in several galleries in Anchorage and Wasilla. His illustrations and latest work can be seen at yoursquarelife.blogspot.com.
Moyce Polanco, Author Moyce Polanco was born the middle of 11 children to Pablo Polanco and Elsa González de Polanco in Dominican Republic. He has lived in Alaska since the age of 17. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science at the University of Alaska Anchorage while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. Moyce married Sara and they have three beautiful daughters; Sara, Raquel, and Esther. He is the senior pastor of a local Hispanic Christian church and also works at the Anchorage School District in the Information Technology Department. Moyce loves learning new things, experiencing new technology, teaching, reading, swimming, helping people, gardening, doing home improvements, watching movies with his family and “running away” to romantic escapades with his wife. He enjoys being a husband, a father, a pastor, a brother, and a friend. Lara Shogren, Author Lara Shogren is a Wells Fargo store manager for its newly remodeled Sears Mall location. She is a 10year veteran of the company and lifelong Alaskan. She began her financial services career as a parttime teller while attending UAA and was promoted to store manager in 2007. Shogren graduated from UAA in 2003 with a Bachelor’s degree in History. Shogren has learned many valuable leadership lessons in her 10 years of leadership. “Great leaders empower their teams,” Shogren says.“I teach my team that they can achieve anything through hard work and dedication,” says Shogren. “It’s okay to make mistakes – it’s how you handle adversity that makes you a great leader.” Shogren volunteers in the community as head aquatics coach for Special Olympics Alaska. Recently she has donated her time to Junior Achievement, and Alaska Immigration Justice Project. She is quite the world traveler she takes three trips a year. Some of the “most-interesting” places she’s been to are: Belize, La Paz and Guatemala, but her favorite place on earth is her families cabin located on Lake Susitna, Alaska. Josh Worley, Artist Joshua Worley is just trying to serve God the best he can, and raise awareness of issues that he cares about.
Published on May 11, 2011
The Alaska Immigration Justice Project’s “Portraits” gives voice to Alaskan families forced to live in the shadows of our community. “Portra...