Undocumented College Student and Her Salmon Dream


Hold this image for a bit: a salmon returns to the stream where it was born, wriggling, it can't help itself, it's programmed to flap its body to somersault small waterfalls, and risk death from the protruding rocks and the claws of waiting bears.

Here's part of what 22 year-old Jacky Acosta read at the Dreamer Floricanto in Santa Ana last Friday.

"Imaginate si me quedo alla. A friend of mine said those words. Unlike me, he had the privilege of cultivating memories and lived a life in Mexico. I dream of the day I shall smell a dewy morning of Mexico. To feel the wet soil between my toes and see my unfamiliar home... I have this idea that I will eventually go back to Mexico, back to my birthplace, like a salmon does."

On the same day I talked to Jacky people just like her in Alabama were leaving, escaping, pushed out by a popular court ruling that upheld the state's tough immigration laws. Agencies, from schools on up, can demand to see immigration papers.

Jacky doesn't have a drivers' license. The fear of being deported curves her shoulders into a wide U. Her only connection to Mexico is the two months she was there after birth. She's lived the rest of her life as an American.

Jacky talked to me a few hours before she was to read on Friday night. I met her at Calacas in downtown Santa Ana, a sugar skull and Frida Kahlo cafe in the shadow of the marble-covered federal courthouse. I'd last been here when I covered O.C. Sheriff Mike Carona's corruption sentencing a couple of years ago.

Jacky doesn't write a lot. She started her blog on August 29th of this year, just two months after graduating from U.C. Irvine with a B.A. in psychology. She writes about love, the past, and the future. In one recent post she pays homage to Botticelli's Venus, the Black Venus painted by Mexico's Rufino Tamayo, and Xochiquetzal, the Aztec goddess of female sexual power, protector of young mothers, and symbol of human desire, pleasure, and excess.

Where are your parents from, I asked her. I think I read her lips saying "Leon, Guanajuato" before the words reached my eardrums. The gush of my own memories was instant, the decade and a half of visits to my mother's home state, the summer rains, eating the raw August corn, and the pilgrimages to the mountain-top statue of Christ at El Cerro del Cubilete.

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I've been to Guanajuato a lot, I told her, my mother's from Romita, a town about 40 minutes away from Leon. I tell her about the milpas, the rows of sorghum, jicama, and corn, and the spider web of streets and alleys in the city of Guanajuato. She smiled politely and shrugged her shoulders, as if saying, that's nice, I'm happy you have those memories. My dreams are of the Mexico of my parents and grandparents. She's visited Mexico in her dreams.

Does it bother you when people talk about Mexico, since you can't visit? No, she said, I like to hear the stories.

Jacky has given up on the Dream Act. She's gotten off the roller coaster. Legalization through the Dream Act is not going to be for her, maybe for someone else, she says. She's had to do that in order to move on in her life, accomplish the things she's set out to do. Being undocumented closes practically every door her college education opens. She wants to get a masters degree in education.


She paid for part of her U.C. tuition through her jewelry and accessories business called Plast*Eco. She takes the kinds of plastic bags banned in some cities and weaves them and crochets them -- with the help of her parents -- into handbags, clutches, wallets and hairclips. She has an eye for color.

The day after her public reading she posted that she helped out an undocumented student from the money she's earned through her business.

"Today, I sent my first scholarship donation.
Today I completed one of my long term goals.

...I am not done.
Today has just begun."

Poet and Journalist Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every Tuesday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

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