Brandy Fuentes, 2021 SAF intern
New Frame LLC
“Where are you from?” I hate that question. I hate the question because I don’t know how to answer. Do I start by telling them I was born in Mexico? Or, do I start by telling them that I came to the United States when I was two months old and I grew up in Elkin, NC? To be completely honest, I don’t know where I’m from.
I don’t know what it’s like to live in Mexico, but I am Mexican. I know what it's like to grow up in rural North Carolina, but I am not socially validated here. My birth certificate doesn’t say North Carolina, so it makes it difficult to claim residency or citizenship to the community I call home. I can’t vote. I can’t apply for federal aid. I can’t have the jobs I often dream of. However, I do have to pay taxes. I do have to abide by the law. I have to fulfill the responsibilities that accompany citizenship. The only thing I am 100% certain of is that I am from a hardworking, honest, ambitious, and Modelo-loving immigrant family.
My family’s immigrant journey began with my grandfather, who was a farmworker in the Bracero program. He was the first to experience ‘El Norte,’ the utopian society that every Mexican dreams about, but never seems to meet expectations in real life. My mom remembers her dad discouraging her from ever coming to the U.S. She never understood why until she experienced it herself. Years after my grandfather's return to Mexico, my brother was born into a humble family. They were impoverished, even though they never saw it that way. My dad wanted more for his family and decided to search for a better future in the United States. He left Mexico in search of opportunity. His immigrant journey began in the produce fields of California as a laborer. He describes farmworker camps as what he imagined to be the beginnings of concentration camps. My dad often retells his stories of inhumane treatment and the stories always seem to end with “es feo ser inmigrante.”
Fast forward to 2009: our family was made up of both my parents, my brother, Erick, me, the middle child, and my little sister, Missy. During this chapter of our immigrant journey, we were living in Elkin, NC. My mom worked in a candle factory and my dad worked two jobs – a lumber processing company and installing Dish satellites in homes, which meant I rarely got to see them, except when I would ride along with him. Now that I look back at it, it was his way of spending time with us. Sometimes it was my brother, sometimes it was my sister, but most of the time it was me, a daddy’s girl. We lived in a rural area that was known for tobacco and Christmas tree farms. A lot of my dad’s clients were newly arrived farmworkers who were contracted for farm labor. When I rode along with my dad, I often had the opportunity to interact with them and their children. I was able to see farmworkers' living conditions: run down mobile homes, over human capacity, no privacy. It broke my heart to know that my grandfather and dad once lived in those conditions or even worse. Immigrant parents will never fully disclose their suffering and sacrifice, but es feo ser inmigrante.
This summer, I have the honor to be serving as SAF’s legislative intern at New Frame LLC in Raleigh. I’m excited to learn about the inner workings of our legislative process through my own eyes as a woman of color. I want to empower the voices of farmworkers and marginalized communities and be a part of the foundation for change. Es feo ser inmigrante, but it does not always have to be that way.