Juan and his brother never thought they would get to see their mother again.
Taking a deep breath, Juan stopped and looked for words to say.
“Being separated from my mom … I forgot who she was,” Juan said.
Running from an abusive and alcoholic husband, Juan’s mother took him and his infant brother and ran toward the U.S. border, determined to give her sons opportunities at a better life.
“She had enough one night and well … she was ready to go,” Juan said.
Juan remembered making it halfway across the desert until the Coyotes, a group picking up refugees, helped them across the border.
“I remember getting as low as I could in the truck,” Juan said. “People were piling on top of me.”
A couple years later, Juan’s mother went back to visit Mexico and was denied re-entry because the birthdate on her visa was incorrect. Juan said that was the last time he saw his mother for 10 years.
“My family couldn’t afford to fix my mother’s visa … so she had to stay,” Juan said.
Soon after, Juan and his brother were adopted by the first woman to help his mother find a job in the U.S., someone his mother trusted.
“She was willing for someone else to have the title of our mom so we could have a better life and education,” Juan said.
Growing up, Juan was expected to use English in school. Slowly, he began to lose grip on his Hispanic origin.
“I had a hard time keeping in touch with my mom because I could barely speak any Spanish,” Juan said. “Imagine not being able to talk to the one person you need.”
Juan said without DACA he would not be attending NKU.
He said DACA is a “secure blanket” for him to be a student regardless of his legal status.
“Without DACA, I want to crawl back in the shadows and hide,” Juan said. “One wrong move and that could be it for me.”
Juan and his brother were reunited with their mother for the first time in the fall of 2016.
“It was amazing to see who I am,” Juan said. “I had the chance to go back before something bad happens.”
He doesn’t have a strong relationship with his father, so he didn’t spend much time visiting him. He said his father has created a new family in Mexico.
“He didn’t care anything for us when we were little,” Juan said. “I feel now that we [Juan and his brother] are older we aren’t as big of a burden to him anymore.”
Juan said his mother continues to be his biggest motivator to keep pursuing his education and hopefully start a family himself. He said he hopes to stay in Cincinnati to work and repay his mother.
“She almost gave up her life for me,” Juan said. “I want her to see that everything she did was worth it.”