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Journey To Citizenship

(Mitchell Aragon / Tusk Magazine)

“I am forever grateful for not having to cross through the desert. I hear horrible and scary stories of what happens,” says Janette Gonzalez, who came to the United States from Mexico when she was a toddler.

Her eyes tear up as she thinks about how lucky she was to have made it to the U.S. safely.

“There’s babies, grandmas, little kids, and people going through that horrible experience to hopefully have a better life,” she says.

Gonzalez spent the first two years of her life growing up in Mexicali, Baja California before her family came to the U.S. in 1998. Living on the border was very dangerous, with constant drug trafficking and poverty all around.

Her father worked two jobs making a mere $10 a day, while her mother only made three. They did not have enough money to buy food and diapers for Gonzalez, who at the time didn’t even have a crib to sleep in.

Luckily, Gonzalez and her family had visas allowing them to visit the states for a while. Her father left 10 days earlier, then Gonzalez and her mother followed, crossing the border in a car with her uncle.  

“We wanted a better life and left everything behind to come to the U.S. with just $400, two pillows, and two blankets,” says Joana, Gonzalez’s mother.

During her first few years in America, Gonzalez lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Ontario, California. She shared one room with her parents and aunt while struggling to adjust to her new home.

“My parents tried to make my life as ‘normal’ as possible,” Gonzalez says. “They put me in sports, Girl Scouts, and my mom even spoke to me in English with the little bit of English she knew.”

High school proved just as frustrating for Gonzalez, as she was unable to get a first job or a driver’s license, milestones more easily attained by her native peers. She also faced barriers when it came time to apply for college, which left her feeling discouraged.

Her disappointment changed to optimism when she heard news that President Obama signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012. The policy provided undocumented immigrants from ages 15 to 31 protection from deportation for a renewable two-year period. It also authorized work, allowing Gonzalez to get a job and attend college.

“Timing is everything and that was a miracle,” she says.

Gonzalez was soon admitted into CSUF as a DACA recipient. She proceeded to graduate in May last year, but that wasn’t her only accomplishment. After 20 long years, the 22-year-old alum finally became a permanent U.S. resident.

Gonzalez gained her permanent residency through a family member. Her godfather, who became a U.S. citizen in the late 1980s, petitioned for Gonzalez’s mother to become a U.S. resident. Since her parents are married, Gonzalez and her dad were included in the petition.

Although Gonzalez is grateful for her U.S. residency, she has not forgotten about the arduous and expensive process it took to get there. The past 20 years had been one of the most stressful, anxious, scary, yet hopeful years of her life. She could not have gotten through any of it without the love and support from her family and friends.

“Throughout the five years I have known her, I’ve seen her grow into an independent woman with her hard work and dedication,” says Gonzalez’s best friend and fellow CSUF alum Natalie Pascua. “I admire her because the idea of being an immigrant never made her underestimate her abilities.”

Now that Gonzalez is a permanent resident, she must wait four more years until she can become a U.S. citizen. In the meantime, Gonzalez continues to go to school in pursuit of a career as a radiation therapist. She is hopeful for what the future may bring and will keep fighting for undocumented immigrants.

“All the struggles I’ve gone through, the hardships, all the tears I’ve cried, and all the fear I have felt have made me a stronger and wiser young woman,” Gonzalez says. “I wouldn’t have changed one thing. I am proud to say I was born in Mexico.”

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