By Jose Santiago
Shortly after I was born, my parents divorced.
My dad had another family, and he left my mom alone.
I used to think that living without a father was my greatest challenge, but in 2012, when I was 11 years old, my mother was deported to Mexico.
I faced a new set of obstacles.
On December 7, 2012, days before my sister’s eighteenth birthday, around 10 p.m. I was playing video games with my brother in our bedroom.
My mom was in her room getting ready to go to sleep when I heard banging on the front door, then footsteps coming up the stairs.
I thought it must be my sister, but when I looked up from my console I saw two uniformed men standing in front of my mom.
They grabbed her hands and pulled her against the hallway wall.
But soon after that, I ran into my sister’s arms.
The officers walked my mom into a big, white car. She sat in the backseat, tears streaming down her cheeks.
She told me everything would be fine.
But I didn’t believe it.
The night my mother was arrested, I didn’t sleep.
The following morning my sister explained that our mom was being taken away, and she would no longer live with us.
At five o’clock that afternoon I took the bus to the Homeland Security Office to say my last goodbye.
I entered a cold, dark room.
They escorted my mom to the table where I sat.
They gave us ten minutes.
The longest ten minutes of my life.
My mom told me never to give up on my dreams.
To believe in myself.
And above all, to go to college. And graduate.
Then they sent her back to Mexico City.
To this day, I wish that brief visit had lasted longer.
We both cried.
I promised my mom I would become a successful man and make her proud.
I’m not going to lie: I had a hard time adjusting to living independently.
But I learned to cook, clean, do laundry, focus on my schoolwork, avoid trouble, keep to myself.
I call my mom weekly.
I wish she could have been with me on my 12th through 17th birthdays.
But she couldn’t.
I wish she could have seen me graduate from Lennox Middle School in Inglewood.
But she couldn’t.
For the past five years the hardest thing has been waking in my sister’s apartment and not hearing my mom’s voice.
Not seeing her face or telling her goodbye before I leave for school.
I barely see my sister since she heads early every morning to one of her two daily jobs.
During these years, I have focused on my academics.
I avoided the Lennox gang that called my name many mornings and wanted me to join them in their illegal pursuits.
Instead I have taken Honors Pre-Calculus and am currently taking physics.
I often stay awake late into the night studying.
Sometimes I finish my homework on my morning bus ride from the Mid-City section of LA to Venice High School.
I have applied to the University of California and Cal State Universities.
I will hear from them in April.
For now, I continue to study and work toward my dream of becoming a civil engineer, to prove to myself how hard work and resilience can overcome any obstacle.
And I continue along the path to make my mom proud.
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