UndocuAmerica: ‘Deport Me’
A story of hard work, familial love, and one man’s journey to becoming one of the first two DACAmented teachers in the country.
I was just a kid when I realized what being undocumented meant. At age eight I started going to work with my dad so I could help him rebuild the entire outside of other people’s homes, all the while not having a real home of our own. I would help my dad research what to charge and work out all the math. For example, I would discover that for one given job, contractors would charge $20,000. But my dad had been screwed over so many times that he would only charge $15,000. Clients would see his strength in Spanish, his lack of English and documented status, and give him about $10,000. And that is who my father believed he was: half the man I thought he was, half the value of any other.
I witnessed as my mother would leave for an entire weekend, 72 hours, to take care of someone else’s family. She was lured with the promise of being paid over $300 for the weekend, but she would come back with only $100 in her pocket. One-hundred dollars that she saw as a blessing. One-hundred dollars that I saw as an attack on our family.
All those rich families saw little value in everything my mom did. They would take her away only to use her and spit her out. The money they paid was barely enough to put food on the table. It didn’t cover the worry my mom had because she couldn’t be home to take care of us when we were sick, help us with homework, comfort us when we returned to an empty house. One-hundred dollars for a whole weekend away from her family - like she was worthless. But don’t you understand? She was priceless to me!
Well, spending my weekends without my mom as she cared for other people’s children; and spending those weekends working for my dad for free so he wouldn’t lose money for the privilege of building a home for someone else’s family; and witnessing this over and over and over again, I began to think that I wasn’t worth much either. Despite the fact that I had been recognized at school as “Gifted and Talented.” Despite the fact that I was a math wiz; learned English, a completely unknown language, in less than a year; and that I was an engaged student. Despite the fact I was the precocious worship leader at my church. I let those weekends of feeling worthless affect me.
I began making jokes rather than making plans for my future. Playing games rather than paying attention. Chasing girls rather than chasing my dreams. And, like all self-fulfilling prophecies, I got to the point where my grades reflected what society said my parents and I were worth: half-priced human beings.
But luckily, I had a teacher named Ms. Kovacic who worked hard to remind me of my value and helped convince me that what this society was telling me and my family was wrong. With her support, and that of many others, I got myself out of that pit of self-deprecation - past the insecurities, past the hate, past the negativity, past that half version of me - into a good college and into a position where I am now an educator who teaches math. And like my mentors, I teach young children their value - because all children are valuable, just as you and I are valuable.
As a teacher, I can’t help myself. Let me take you to school for a few moments. Hope you're good with that? Let’s start off with a little math lesson. My father is one man, one of the hardest workers I know. My mother is one woman, one of the strongest and most compassionate individuals in my life. My sister is one daughter, a brat, but a lovable one, and an American citizen. I’m one son, half of this country and half of Chile. And we are four whole, beautiful gifts, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. Not the half priced individuals that society has attempted to make us.
Moving to applied math and economics: If this country continues to deport the undocumented community, it is missing out on courageous, strong, intelligent, family loving, hard-working people of great value. And that is not only our loss; it is your loss to miss out on us - not to mention the billions in taxes we bring in every year, which is billions more than large corporations are paying.
Lastly, moving beyond math to ethics: Paying an undocumented person half the value for their life’s work; extracting all you can get to build your homes and take care of your families; and then deporting them, as if they had not brought value, is not just mathematically flawed, it is also an American math story problem gone wrong. It is criminal to treat us as subservient and less desirable.
I am living in this country undocumented, teaching your children, supporting them, engaging their minds in math and in their dreams. I’m 100% here and 100% committed to this country in which I was raised, this country that constantly seeks to spit me out. Lose me and you lose my value - not just the money I pay in taxes and the money I pay into social security that I will never benefit from - but you lose my ability, to inspire, connect and engage. You lose my ability to bring an impact and you lose the knowledge I bring to my students, who are your children. This country would be foolish to lose me.
Deport me. But in the end, it’s your loss.
Alejandro Fuentes-Mena is a Motus Theater UndocuAmerica Monologist. He was born in Valparaiso, Chile and grew up in San Diego, California after the age of four. He received a B.A. in Psychology from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. Through Teach for America, Alejandro was one of the first two DACAmented teachers in the entire nation and is now completing his seventh year of teaching in the far northeast of Denver.
You can listen to Alejandro read his own story on the Motus Monologues Podcast, here.
Or, hear culinary innovator José Andrés read Alejandro’s story, with musical response by Ozomatli, on the Shoebox Stories Podcast, here.
This autobiographical story was written by Alejandro Fuentes-Mena in collaboration with Kirsten Wilson as part of Motus Theater’s UndocuAmerica Series: Stories From Our Undocumented Neighbors.