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Group helps deported Mexicans deal with bureaucracy, culture shock

By
Patrick Timmons
Rossy Antúnez, Guadalupe Chavez and Jill Anderson meet in Pocho House in downtown Mexico City, a cultural center run by Other Dreams and Action. The collective helps people deported or returned from the United States. Photo by Patrick Timmons/UPI
Rossy Antúnez, Guadalupe Chavez and Jill Anderson meet in Pocho House in downtown Mexico City, a cultural center run by Other Dreams and Action. The collective helps people deported or returned from the United States. Photo by Patrick Timmons/UPI

MEXICO CITY, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Undocumented in the United States, many migrants are deported only to become undocumented in Mexico, facing a challenging bureaucracy and culture shock, often alone.

The Pocho House collective in downtown Mexico City offers them a safe space.

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"We have about 20 people in the organization who come here regularly," said Jill Anderson, co-founder of Other Dreams and Action, the collective that runs Pocho House, "and there are also 160 people in our virtual network across all of Mexico."

It's a busy time for the 3-year-old ODA. The Central American caravan arrived in Mexico City on Monday and immediately the group joined with the city's human rights office to offer the migrants support in a "humanitarian bridge." Not only will the group donate backpacks and feminine hygiene products to the caravan, it is also offering the migrants their perspective on what it is like to live undocumented in the United States.

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"We have visited our Central American brothers and sisters every day to tell them about our experiences in the United States as people who were undocumented, deported, or returned and who now live as Mexicans in this city," said Maggie Loredo, ODA's co-founder and co-director. The non-profit was established to attend to the needs of Mexicans like herself who, for one reason or another, were forced out of the United States.

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Loredo, 28, was born in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. When she was 2, her mother migrated with her siblings to Dallas to join her father. The family moved to Georgia when she was 9.

Loredo did not have documents to live in the United States with authorization. When she turned 18, she was forced to return to Mexico, she says, because access to higher education in Georgia was out of her reach as an undocumented student. She moved back to San Luis Potosí 10 years ago.

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Return to Mexico

Loredo talks about what it was like to return alone to Mexico.

"I didn't know anybody but my grandfather and my aunts who were all living in the same house," Loredo said, "I didn't really know them."

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Loredo spent eight years in San Luis Potosí to complete her university studies in business administration and tourism.

Negotiating Mexico's bureaucracy is one of the most difficult challenges for Mexicans who have lived most of their lives in the United States. Often the return to Mexico means leaving behind an undocumented life in the United States only to be undocumented in Mexico.

"It took five years for San Luis Potosí to validate my educational credentials from the United States, so I wasn't able to go to college immediately as I had planned," Loredo said.

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"I thought I was the only person like this until I saw a Facebook post from a friend about calls to participate in Jill Anderson's book project, Los Otros Dreamers" (The Other Dreamers), Loredo said. "I submitted my story and I was selected as one of the 27 voices in that book, and that's how I met Jill and how I met other people who had returned, been deported, or other Dreamers."

Loredo now holds a U.S. business visa and after an eight-year absence has been able to return to visit with other members of the collective who have applied successfully for U.S. visas after deportation or return. Her brother and his wife are still in the United States as DACA recipients, so her visa has allowed for limited opportunities for family reunification. Her parents moved back to San Luis Potosí a few years ago.

"People in the U.S. don't really realize what happens to people when we get deported or are forced to return," Loredo said. On Friday she and three other ODA members will travel to California to speak to affiliate groups in San Diego and Berkeley.

"This can also happen to them," Loredo said, "so they need to acknowledge that we are on the other side and that we need to work together."

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Pocho House

One of the ways to work together, ODA says, is at Pocho House.

"Pocho House as a space is fundamental to this type of work," Memo Contreras said. "It gives us temporary psychological respite. It is a space where we can feel free. Where we can speak English, or Spanish, or whatever language. The people who come here are all in the same situation. We all have the same cultural shock. This space is fundamental to how we support one another."

A pocho is a Mexican with an American background. Mexicans often use the word pejoratively to identify somebody who combines English and Spanish when they speak. At the Wednesday meeting, the ODA staff members moved fluidly between the two languages.

In Mexico, on the street, pochos often face discrimination for mixing English and Spanish.

"Racism in Mexico exists," Contreras said, "and one form of racism is that, looking down on pochos speaking English and Spanish. Outside you feel like you don't belong here. At Pocho House we have a different way of seeing things, of hanging out with each other. Outside you feel like you don't belong to the society but when you are here, you feel like you belong. That's why this space exists. When you come here, you feel safe."

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Contreras was born in Mexico City but lived in the United States from 2006 to 2018 in Florida, Colorado, Boston and Chicago. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deported him earlier this year to Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. Directly after deportation he made his way to Mexico City, where he discovered Pocho House.

"Trauma is at the heart of this," Anderson said because "being detained by ICE is traumatic. Being separated from your family, that's traumatic. At Pocho House we are learning to reconstruct our lives and move forward while dealing with trauma. It's a daily challenge for our staff members and for our group. How can we respond to trauma and support each other?"

Thanksgiving

As the weekly meeting closes, the ODA team starts to discuss preparations to celebrate Thanksgiving. U.S. holidays bring a sense of anticipation and excitement at Pocho House.

Anderson said that she is going to cook two turkeys, but that she needs help basting them with a volunteer.

"Do you all like cranberry sauce?" Anderson asks. "I'm not sure where to get cranberry sauce in Mexico."

Anderson's also wondering where to find pumpkin pie filling and mix, something Loredo might be able to bring back from the United States after her upcoming visit.

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"U.S. holidays are very important because we remember how we used to be in those places and those dates with our family," Loredo said.

"After Fourth of July, Thanksgiving is the second holiday important to us and it becomes very special to be able to relive that moment in a different context and in a different place but with people who know what this experience of deportation and return is like."

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