By Adelmi Ysita
Boyle Heights Beat
The smell of traditional Mexican tacos and mixed-emotions filled the air of the small Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory where the Boyle Heights Beat held its community on Tuesday, April 25. Shortly after 5:30 moderator Zola Cervantes, a Beat reporter, commenced the meeting by introducing four guest speakers and talking about her story on deportation.
In a first person narrative, Cervantes wrote about how her father was taken from her at the age of 11 by deportation, something not uncommon in the immigrant community but powerful enough to change the course of her life forever. She shared her story –which was produced for NPR in collaboration with Youth Radio– in the hopes of inspiring others to share theirs as well.
The four speakers who shared the stage with Cervantes were Roberto Núñez, a therapist with Alma Family Services; Lupita Leyva, a librarian from Robert Louis Stevenson branch library; Jennifer Vázquez Macías, staff attorney with the USC Gould Immigration Clinic and Dulce Sánchez, the clinic’s Program Manager. The evening’s topic surrounded Cervantes’s unique perspective on deportation, and she invited others to share their stories as well and ask questions of the speakers.
When Cervantes asked if anyone in the audience knew someone who had been deported, half a dozen people raised their hands. “Would anyone like to share their story?” she then asked, but no hands were raised.
It’s “normal to feel, anxious, [or] nervous,” when confronted with the reality of deportation and its different impacts, explained therapist Núñez. “But there are resources available to you” he continued. Núñez talked about the importance of seeking help for someone who has gone through a the experience of having a close family member or friend deported. “Sometimes it is better to be silent and just let them know that you are there for them,” Núñez explained.
Lupita Leyva from Stevenson library talked about citizenship classes offered at libraries in Boyle Heights and throughout the cities, free of cost and open to everyone. She said there has been an increased interest in these in light of the Trump administration’s increased threat of deportations and other anti immigrant stances. Leyva also spoke about the library’s role as a safe space in the community.
When the floor was opened to questions, journalist Henrik Rehbinder, a contributor for the Boyle Heights Beat, said he has seen young people who have had someone close to them deported respond with anger and confusion. He then addressed Cervantes and asked “How did you deal with this?”
After some thought, Cervantes expressed how even to this day she is still confused. “I thought my dad wouldn’t have to experience this because he was a full time resident”, Cervantes said. “Before doing this story, I believed I had accepted it, but after, I knew that wasn’t the truth.”
Núñez added his own input and said that a young child grows up with a family member and does not expect them to be deported. “As a young person, it may be difficult to process because they never think they’ll be separated,” he stated.
Another question was taken from the audience, a man asking for clarity on the number of students who have dropped out of school due to a fear of being deported. “[It is] critical to hold space to talk about that stress before they turn into trauma,” the audience member stated. “Trauma is the prolonged effect of stress”.
Núñez said he did not know the exact number of dropout students, but that he knew that parents have stopped dropping their kids off at school out of fear of getting deported.
Zola Cervantes was praised for being a brave soul and sharing her story with the audience, in print, and on a radio piece. Her story was published to encourage others to share their own and to allow people living in fear to hear different perspectives.
For many who attended, that Tuesday evening ended with a new insight on the realities of deportation.
Listen to Zola’s story here:
Adelmi Ysita is a junior at Bravo Magnet High School.
All photos by Alex Medina, a junior at Bravo Magnet High School.