Divided Families

Divided Families: American at Heart,990


NOTE: Video and a Soundslides presentation are available. This story is intended to run alongside the story Divided Families: Left Behind.

Cronkite News Service

IXTAPAN DE LA SAL, Mexico _ Hector and Marcos are about as American as two young men can be.

They wear jeans and T-shirts. They are rarely without their cell phones. They like American music and American movies.

But after spending most of their lives in the United States, the two brothers were deported last year along with their mother. They now live in a tiny, dim house thousands of miles from the place they grew up and from the country they consider home.

They miss their friends back home in Rimrock, Ariz., where they lived in a house that seems luxuriant in memory. They miss ice cream, shopping, running water, space and privacy.

They miss their brother, Humberto, 16, who was not taken the morning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials came to their home with deportation papers. They worry that he isn’t old enough to properly care for their grandmother, with whom he still lives in Rimrock.

They are struggling to speak only Spanish, to make new friends, to adjust to a country that is theirs by birth but feels as unfamiliar as a foreign land.

This article withholds the family’s last name to protect the identity of the relative who remains in the United States.

Fewer Opportunities

Marcos is 24 and Hector is 20. They are strapping young men who used to go to community college and earn good money working construction.

Hector wanted to become a doctor, and Marcos wanted to work with cars. They are learning to temper their expectations.

They both now work at a hotel in nearby Mexico City making about $15 a day – about a tenth of what they used to make.

They say the jobs are good by Mexican standards, but their chances of advancing are limited because they don’t speak Spanish well enough and because they are considered too American.

The possibility of going back to school, of furthering their education, is “very low,” Hector said,  because of the cost and the language.

Besides, they have their little brother and their grandmother to think about. They try to send money to them whenever possible.

Because the family did not accept voluntary deportation, but waited to be forced out by authorities, the brothers and their mother cannot legally re-enter the United States for 10 years.

Still, the brothers, at least, are convinced that they will return. Hector is engaged to a girl from Arizona, and he hopes to one day marry her.

Marcus shrugs off the question of how he’s going to get back. It just takes money, he says.

Trying to Adjust

Marcos was 6 and Hector 4 when their parents left this town of nearly 35,000 two hours southwest of Mexico City and made their way to the United States.

Now they are back, sharing a three-room house with their aunt and three cousins.

The aunt and cousins sleep in one bedroom; Marcos, Hector, his mother, Filogonia, two younger brothers and a younger sister sleep in the other. The younger siblings were born in the United States and are legal residents, but their mother brought them back to Mexico to live with her.

A kitchen and a makeshift wash room connect the bedrooms. The family must heat water on the stove and carry it to another room where they bathe from buckets.

The walls are bright green and the floors a brilliant blue. Photographs of the family, a painting of The Last Supper, crucifixes and Madonnas line the walls.

Two large beds take up most of the space in the bedroom that Marcos and Hector share with their mother and siblings. Deodorant, makeup, lotion, perfume and other toiletries are strewn atop the dresser. Personal space doesn’t exist.

The transition has been most difficult for the older brothers, but 11-year-old Gustavo and 10-year-old Alex also struggled to learn the language and to fit in.

The children still talk to each other in English, although 5-year-old Michelle has picked up Spanish quickly.

Gustavo said speaking Spanish in school makes it harder for him to learn. But that’s not what bothers him the most.

“The friends and food are better over there,” he said simply.

Still, Gustavo is starting to adjust. He loves soccer, and he spends a lot of time kicking the ball around with other youngsters his age.

Alex mourns the bicycle he had to leave behind.

Filogonia, 47, knows that in time, her children will adjust. But she doesn’t think she ever will.

“Everything was fine,” she said of life in Arizona. “But here, now, no.”

She misses Humberto, the son who was left behind in Arizona, but at the same time, she’s glad that he’s there.

“Things are much easier there,” she said in Spanish. “There are more opportunities; the United States has everything. There are good studies in the United States. Here, there aren’t any.”

She said she was just 6 when she was sent to work in a tortilla shop. She had to quit school in the eighth grade.

“I don’t have many good memories of my childhood; my childhood wasn’t fun and games,” she said. “I want a better life for my kids. There is no such life here.”

Out of Place

Hector says that he, too, is glad that Humberto is still in Arizona, but he worries just the same.

“I’m glad he stayed behind, but I’m also worried he’s not having the support a kid needs at that age,” he said. “The only role models he has now are his friends, and I don’t know what kind of people they are.”

He wants to go back to check that things are OK. He wants to see his friends _ the ones he grew up with, the ones he considers family.

“I sometimes feel out of place,” Hector said. “I do not have a home here; my home is in Arizona.”


PHOTOS: Click thumbnails to see full-resolution images and download

Filogonia, 47, sits with four of her five children, all of whom share this room since being deported to Mexico. The youngest ones are U.S. citizens. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Ashley Lowery)

Marcos, 24, shaves in the single room his entire family shares in Ixtapan de la Sal, Mexico. He was raised in Arizona. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Ashley Lowery)

Hector (left) and his brother Marcos both work at the Marriott resort in Ixtapan de la Sal, about two hours outside of Mexico City. They make about $15 a day, about a tenth of what they made working construction in Arizona. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Ashley Lowery)

Gustavo (center) and his brother Alex share a bedroom with their mother Filogonia (left) and three other siblings. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Aja Viafora)

Gustavo, 11, and Alex, 10, were born in the U.S. but returned to Mexico after their mother was deported. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Aja Viafora)