Immigration: A one-way Road from Mexico City to the American Dream

By Carrie Hatano
Boston University News Service

BOSTON – Peter Rodriguez speaks quickly. Words tumble out of his mouth in sudden bursts in synchronization with his hands, which flicker through the air like Fourth of July fireworks. His dark brown eyes focus on mine while we speak.

Born to an Italian-American mother and a Mexican father, Pedro Rodriguez Valenti was raised in Mexico City with his two brothers and three sisters. In 1998, when he was just 6 years old, his family moved to San Antonio, lured by the opportunities that awaited them in America.

In Mexico, Peter and his siblings went to a private German school, where they learned to speak Spanish, English, and German. Though he was young when he moved, he still has vivid memories of Mexico City.

“There, you’re a lot more aware of the poverty,” Peter says with no hint of an accent. “I still remember people’s faces that I saw on the side of the road. In Mexico, you can be really poor, poor, or rich.”

The cost of education and the poverty of the city caught up to the family, who eventually jammed all of their belongings into two pick-up trucks and drove to San Antonio. Peter’s mother was born in Massachusetts, which made her children U.S. citizens.

When they crossed the border in the summer of 1997, Peter was sitting on a cushion in the truck bed, sandwiched between furniture and soccer balls.

Texas’s population is becoming increasingly Mexican, with a 42.7 percent increase in its foreign-born population from 2000 to 2010, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center report based on census data.

Despite this trend, Peter’s family stood out when they first arrived.

“We were the pioneers of the Mexican migration in San Antonio,” Peter says with a playful laugh. “Now, in certain areas it’s massively Mexican.”

Peter’s caramel-brown skin, dark hair, and thick eyebrows made him stand out at school, he said.

Though he hasn’t been back to Mexico City since middle school, his family continued to drive back down for the summers after they moved.

“We’d ride bikes, build forts, have mud wars, sell fish on the streets.,” Peter says with a grin. “Sometimes we wouldn’t get back until a week after school started, and kids would say, ‘We thought you died in Mexico.’”

Peter is now a 20-year-old sophomore at Boston University. As a mechanical engineering major, he spends 27 hours a week in class. He somehow still manages to play on two soccer teams, work in Cambridge as a landscaper, and play in an alternative band with two of his friends.

Despite his intense workload, Peter says he realizes that education is a privilege, one he’s been grateful for since his move to the U.S. After having witnessed the poverty that exists in Mexico, Peter says that he is determined to make his good fortune count.

Peter is part of the 29.4 percent of Mexicans who make up the United State’s foreign-born population, according to the same Pew Hispanic Center report. This doesn’t include the 9 million illegal Hispanic immigrants who the report said entered the United States in 2010 alone—an issue that has become a major point of contention among policy makers in recent years

Peter says that there were illegal immigrants enrolled in his school in Texas, because they would rather have kids in school than roaming the streets with free time on their hands

He reasons that the problem may be the people who knowingly employ illegal immigrants, not the workers themselves. Illegal immigrants only come here because they know they can get jobs, he says.

He says that younger children shouldn’t just be sent back across the border. After all, he was young when his parents decided to move to Texas. He was just lucky enough to have an American mother.

Peter was just a kid when he made the trek across the border, but it was momentous enough to make an impression on him.

“I remember one thing,” he says, speaking slowly for the first time during the interview. “I looked up and the sun was so bright. The sun was always so bright in Texas.”

Coast Guard Cadet Confronts Immigration

By Quinn Boyes
Boston University News Service

James Diddell (Photo courtesy of James Diddell)

BOSTON — Cadet 2nd Class James Diddell, an officer-in-training and student of the United States Coast Guard, is well aware of the personal and political issues surrounding immigrants in America today.

“The Coast Guard works hand-in-hand with the INS,” Diddell explains over the phone from the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. “We do our best to ensure that everybody has an even playing ground and that those who come into this country illegally don’t have an advantage over those who come here legally, seeking a better life.”

Diddell, a shade under 6 feet tall with light blue eyes and short brown hair, has family history deeply rooted in American soil. His father works as a professional engineer, and his mother is a supplier of orthopedic limbs and braces to the physically disabled. The 21-year-old cadet, born and raised in Westfield, N.J., traces his lineage all the way back to the earliest European settlers.

“My dad’s side of the family came over on the Mayflower,” he says. “There were two of them. One of our relatives was an indentured servant, and the other one was fleeing religious persecution.”

His mother’s side of the family — half-Lebanese, half-Irish — immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900s.

The issue of immigration in America is much more complex than it once was, with roughly 10.8 million unauthorized immigrants living and working in the U.S., according to a study published last year by the Department of Homeland Security.

Immigration is a hot-button topic for legislators at the state and federal levels. In recent years, it has become a subject that is discussed and debated during presidential elections, with both President Barack Obama and Senator John McCain pledging to take a hard line against illegal immigration during their campaigns for office in 2008.

Diddell supports the rights of those seeking a better life for themselves or their families, but he also stresses the importance of following the proper channels. When it comes to people trying to circumvent the law and enter the country illegally, he is matter-of-fact: “I don’t think we should be making their lives easier.”

In 2010, Arizona passed a statute that allowed police officers to detain suspected illegal immigrants if they were unable to produce valid forms of identification to prove their citizenship status. Critics of the decree claimed that it encouraged racial profiling and discriminatory tactics against minorities living in Arizona. In July of that year, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that blocked the provisions of the law.

Diddell generally supports any state government’s right to enforce immigration policy as it sees fit. With regards to the Arizona law, he is not as concerned with its constitutionality as others. “There’s a fine line between having someone carrying their driver’s license and putting a gold star on their shoulders,” he argues, making a comparison to the policies enacted by Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.

Diddell understands the important contribution that immigrants have made to the country whose borders he is now pledged to protect.

“We’re a nation built upon immigration,” he says. “The statue of liberty has inscribed on it: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…’ and I agree with that. If people do it the right way — seeking political asylum, a better life — then I completely support that.”

A First-Generation New Yorker, A De Niro Intonation

By Angelo Verzoni
Boston University News Service

Ronak Patel (Photo courtesy of Lindsay Hall)

BOSTON – Ronak Patel slouches on a sofa, wearing American Eagle jeans and a Banana Republic jacket. He adjusts his black, thick-rimmed glasses and clears his throat. “It’s pronounced lawn-guy-land,” he says. He is from Bohemia, N.Y., on the South Shore of Long Island.

Patel’s parents were born in India and immigrated to the United States in the mid-1980s. His mother, Hansa Patel, came to New York in 1985 to live with her brother, who had moved there from India 10 years earlier. Short on money, his father, Harshad Patel, came to New York a year later on a loan. “He always tells me, ‘I came to America without a dollar in my pocket,’” Patel says, smiling.

Living with his wife, brother-in-law and sister-in-law on Long Island and without any money or a car, Patel’s father worked at a gas station, where he had to walk five miles there and back every day.

Patel’s sister, Puja, was born in 1989. He was born in 1992. And in 1998, when he was 6 years old, good fortune struck the Patel family. Patel’s father played the New York Lottery on a whim, Patel says. They split the $25 million prize with three other winners. It amounted to about $6 million before taxes, he says.

Winning the lottery brought the Patels a new house, a new car and a convenience store to call their own.

Patel is a junior in the School of Management at Boston University. He has sable hair, cut short and gelled, thick stubble, brown eyes and chestnut skin. He speaks with a New York accent, butchering the word “ask” as if he is quoting a Beastie Boys song. He is a fan of rap music and the New York Knicks.

“I’m kind of a hybrid,” he says, laughing. “Growing up with immigrant parents is different.” They do not fully understand American culture, he says. “The way they grew up in India is totally different from growing up here. They did change their mentality, but not completely.”

Patel keeps in touch with his Indian roots, visting India every so often and following some cultural traditions. He is not very religious and neither are his parents, he says.

When asked if he faced any racism growing up, he shrugs. He recalls a time nine years ago. He was 11 years old, and he and his teenage cousins were taken out of a line at the airport to be searched. He bitterly chalks the incident up to racism and post-9/11 paranoia.

Upwards of 11 million illegal immigrants live within the U.S.’s borders, according to a 2011 study published by the Pew Research Center, and the pressing issue has become what to do with them. Patel bears a romantic inclination to deport all illegal immigrants. But it could not be done, and a substantial workforce would be lost, he admits.

The fact that his family came here legally may bias him against illegal immigrants, he acknowledges. “It’s a tough process,” he says about immigrating to the U.S. legally. “But it’s a fair process. My parents went through it… my whole family went through it.” Amnesty, which would pardon illegal immigrants for their political offenses and grant them citizenship, has been proposed by certain groups and President Obama, who has long been a proponent of a bill that would grant illegal immigrants citizenship, but not before registering and paying taxes and a penalty for their crimes.

Amnesty just does not feel right, Patel says.

After catching wind of the politics being discussed, Chris Towner, a white B.U. student from Chicago and a friend of Patel’s, rushes to the scene to plug his two cents. “We give them amnesty,” he says about illegal immigrants, “and we tighten our borders.” It is the only plausible answer to the problem, Towner says.