Worked directly with Oscar-winning director Alejandro G. Iñárritu on his non-profit Reconocer, which focuses on providing educational opportunities for Dreamers via a full ride scholarship to UDEM, one of Mexico's most respected universities.
In my time working for him I developed the tagline, copy and narrative structure for Reconocer's website (which you can view in full here), as well as biographies for six scholarship recipients, found below.
This website is the culminating part of a comprehensive process that begins with immigrant associations in Arizona, California and Texas, who help promote the scholarship as well as identify and even recruit possible future recipients. The website's redesign and its revamped narrative has attracted millions of dollars from investors in Mexico, USA and Europe.
It was on a bus from Reynosa to Cadereyta when I finally realized that I had arrived in Mexico.
I’d just spent two months in an ICE detention center, where days went by as I thought about my future, with Donald Trump’s voice as constant background noise, since the TVs there were always tuned to Fox News.
But at least I knew the language. I remember there were many detainees that reminded me of my dad, both because of their physical frailty and because they didn’t have a grasp on their English. I tried to help them as most as I could, but there’s not much you can do when a government doesn’t want you in its country.
Perhaps because of this it wasn’t until my head was resting against the dusty window of the bus that would take me to my family in Cadereyta that it dawned on me that I was, 29 years later, in the country I was born in but never really had a chance to know. With hooded cops escorting us, I noticed that the street through which we drove was very different to Chicago, flanked by cardboard houses and smoldered by a heat I wasn’t used to. And it was there, amidst the dust, cops and an unknown, dusty landscape, that I began to rebuild my life.
And the first brick was the Reconocer scholarship. After going through a period of depression, I found this full ride scholarship. I decided to apply, and even though I couldn’t believe I actually got it, it was an opportunity I was determined not to waste. I’ve been studying International Relations for two years now, and everything I’ve experienced during this time has dramatically expanded my horizons. I’ve perfected my Spanish, I’ve discovered Mexico’s culture and I have a wider view of the things I can accomplish in life. Now I’m even looking into specializing in social sciences or international law. The dream I had for so long of becoming a cop has now faded into the back burner.
I miss my family and Chicago, which for me will always be home, but for the first time in a long time I feel I know which path to follow, and I can’t wait to graduate in two years and apply what I’ve learned in this country to do something with my life I never would’ve imagined possible.
I still remember that September 17th. I was 15, fresh into high school, and despite always being shy and mostly keeping to myself I decided to accept that boy’s invitation. It was a pretty innocent plan to be honest. Ditching school for a little while to play Mario World at his house. A harmless little mischief, where the only physical contact I had was with the video game controller.
But then my dad found out. He’d always had a temper, but that afternoon he beat me up so badly I thought I was going to die. However, the worst blow came a few days later when my parents took me out of school, supposedly because I was going to be labeled as “loose”.
There was always violence at my house, but I always found refuge in school; studying was always my greatest passion. Which is why when that was taken from me by my parents, I lost it. I stopped seeing friends, I lost my routine and independence and, worst of all, I lost my purpose in life. I became depressed, and since I didn’t have access to any kind of mental health care, my poor mental state only got worse.
Now that I reflect upon it, I think that’s why I decided to study psychology in the first place. And it’s definitely why I didn’t think twice about it when the opportunity to continue my studies came about thanks to the Reconocer scholarship. Crossing the border back into Mexico was the hardest thing I ever had to do, because it was a new country and a new stage in my life that I was facing on my own, but I did it anyway because I knew it was a unique opportunity to finally break the cycle that runs in my family, of not going after your dreams and settling with what little life gives you.
I’m really proud to be able to continue my studies, not only because I’m the first in my family to go to college, but also because I’m setting a precedent, a new standard so that all those that come after me do it too. So that future generations of my family can attest to the fact that knowledge and new experiences allow you to see life with a less narrow vision.
There is a theory in psychology that states that if you’ve only lived three things you can only imagine three futures, and if there’s something this scholarship has achieved is to broaden my worldview to imagine many futures, much more brighter than the roads I’ve walked through. I want to change the world, and perhaps with helping one person it’s enough, isn’t it?
My name is Juan Manuel, but many times I had to be Javier Peláez to make a living. Javier Peláez worked as a janitor in a mall, in 12-hour shifts, polishing the hallways of the second floor. But I never felt comfortable being in Javier’s skin. I felt I was wasting my talents and, what’s worse, I lived with the constant fear that a classmate would recognize me, call me by my real name, and that the slow unraveling of my lie would end up with my deportation.
And by being afraid, I was letting my mother down, for she always said to me ‘we’re not made to be afraid, we’re not here to suffer, to kneel down before people, that’s not why we came to the United States.’
My mother is the most important person to me, not only because of her love and support, but because it was thanks to her vision that I came back to Mexico. I was determined to build my life there, stubborn on my goal that I would --eventually-- accomplish the american dream, despite the fact that life told me otherwise. Despite that, no matter how hard I tried, my lack of legal papers prevented me from moving forward in life.
I came back to Mexico after seven years thanks to my mother’s insistence, and due to her vision I realized that in this country you could also dream big and prosper, and that my options didn’t end with the american dream.
In fact, thanks to obtaining the Reconocer scholarship, I’ve been pursuing a B.E. in Mechatronics for over three years. It’s been a challenging process, because in addition to my degree I set myself the goal of learning Japanese, so that I could go to an international exchange program in Asia. Now, after years of hard work, I’m proud to say I’ll graduate with a double major from one of Japan’s most prestigious universities; something that, in the long run, is bound to open a lot of doors for me.
The changes in my life since I’ve returned to Mexico have not been easy, because in addition to my academic workload there’s a lot of intrinsic emotional baggage involved when you move to a different country to restart your life. But something I truly value is the peace of mind I have, just by being myself, and that thanks to the scholarship I feel a complete freedom to plan my future. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that in the near future I’d like to use my degree in something related to protecting the environment, perhaps working for a company that develops renewable energies, and maybe after that do grad school in Japan. I’ve never felt tethered to any place in specific, for my only home has been my mother. I’m really not from anywhere, but I see that as something positive; it means I can make it everywhere.
I remember arriving at my Calculus II class covered in car oil. I didn’t have time to shower after work and, although I didn’t look presentable at all, missing class was not an option. For me it’s always been more important to pursue my education than to worry about what people will say. I’ve lived my life under the mantra of “not everyone who works hard makes it, but to make it you’ve gotta work hard.” It’s always been clear to me that to get ahead in life, I had to put in a lot of effort. There was just no other way.
Nonetheless, there came a time for me when putting in an effort became an uphill battle. One that I didn’t think I could win. I saw how my classmates, without my workload and with lower grades than mine, made strides in life simply because they had legal status. Then I got turned down for a scholarship to study medicine at Johns Hopkins. That was tough, because I was a finalist, but the deciding factor was that the selection committee felt it too risky to invest in an illegal student. But the hardest part was when my mom, who’d always supported me through thick and thin, told me to abandon my dream of becoming a doctor. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my decision to return to Mexico.
I came back without a set plan, just with the promise of my father --who’d stayed in Mexico after my parent’s divorce-- that he would support me. But very soon I realized that my dad only wanted me to help him finish paying off his truck.
I was at a low point, and I felt alone in the world. But then I remembered my mantra about hard work, and I started seeking academic opportunities. That’s when I found the Reconocer scholarship and I applied. Soon after, a foundation got me in touch with a doctor who, without knowing me, has been helping me financially for over a year so I can have a little extra. Two years later, I can finally see the goal line in my dream to have a career in medicine.
In this journey I’ve realized that sometimes all it takes is for you to get up and try again, and then life will slowly fit the pieces together. And I’ve also realized that I’ve been pretty lucky with the opportunities that have come my way, which is why in the future I’d like to start a scholarship for immigrants who want to study medicine, and help people achieve what I already have. Have people come from the US to Mexico to study. It’d be good for a change.
When I told my mom I wanted to go back to Mexico she thought I was crazy. “What are you going to do over there? Why do you think we came here?” she said. But that didn’t stop me; I was tired of being in a comfort zone I knew I’d never be able to get out of, because paying for college was impossible for me. And while the country I was born in didn’t seem to offer so many opportunities, I knew I had it in me to fight for that first world life we so avidly sought when we moved to the US.
I came back to Mexico in January 2017 when I was notified I’d been granted the Reconocer scholarship. I remember that even as the plane touched down in Monterrey, and I had all my luggage curbside outside the international terminal, I still clung to my return ticket. The fact that an organization was giving me a full ride scholarship for college was something that sounded too good to be true, and I couldn’t shake off that nagging feeling that I was being deceived. Maybe that’s why when I finally met up with the UDEM delegation and everything became more real, I cried. I was overwhelmed with emotion, and for the first time in a long time, I felt that the future had something good in store for me.
And luckily, that feeling was not wrong. I’m getting closer and closer to graduation and to my degree in Innovation and Business Creation, something which I think I will follow up with a masters in France. Moreover, I’ve made a personal commitment that, after graduating, every business that I start will back a social cause.
My process of adapting to Mexico has been tough and I’ve had to make sacrifices --like quitting music to focus in school-- but it’s definitely been worth it. It’s an experience that’s changed my outlook on life and that’s opened up a world of possibilities for me, in a very literal way. Thanks to the Reconocer scholarship I was able to do a semester abroad in France, and being there I had the chance to learn about different cultures. It was by getting to know the nuances of Lyon and adapting to its culture that something inside me sort of unlocked, and thanks to this exchange program I realized that there was more to life beyond what is north of the Rio Bravo.
The more I know the world, the less materialist I become, because I’ve realized that if I have my basic needs covered, then that’s enough. I don’t need more than two jeans, five t-shirts, a bed and hot water. And I think the world needs to evolve; start prioritizing our environmental footprint over money. Realize that we’re all more connected than we think, and that something that’s affecting a person on the other side of the world will eventually affect us too.
I miss the beach. Despite being very young when I left Mexico, to this day I have that longing to return to the Oaxaca coast.
I’ve never been very social, and the constant change of cities and cultures hasn’t helped much. Even though I’ve been back in Mexico for over a year, I still haven’t fully adapted to the country where I was born. That’s why I love the water. Oceans have a resemblance and a beauty independent of location, language, culture and prejudices. And beyond all that, they have a predictability you can rely on.
And predictability is precisely what I’ve never had in my life. In Kinston, for instance, I put in the effort because it was the only way to fight for my future, but my possibilities, my immigration status, and even my permanence in the United States with my family were always hanging by a thread. I remember in my last year of high school there were a lot of universities that accepted me and even offered partial scholarships, but because of my status and my financial limitations, higher education was out of my possibilities.
It’s not an excuse, but I imagine it was these circumstances that pushed me towards drugs. I started off with Xanax, which I stole from the backstore cabinets at the drugstore where I’d managed to get a job. After a few months of doing pills, I graduated to meth, which I consumed nonstop in the last months I was in North Carolina.
But one day I looked in the mirror and I didn’t feel proud at all of the reflection that returned my gaze. And it was in that precise moment that I decided to deviate from the path I was on. I left North Carolina without really wanting to, but I knew that the Reconocer scholarship offered me a better future: the chance to get a degree in Business Creation at UDEM. The hardest thing was saying goodbye to Samuel, my brother and best friend, because he was so resentful at me for leaving that he didn’t even see me off at the airport.
My journey getting here, to a renowned university and a stable life, hasn’t been easy. But I wouldn’t change it for anything, because it’s forged in me an infallible character. You won’t see me stress out about finals or a summer internship. Now I’ve become immune to the hundreds of trivial problems that happen every day. And I think that with that with that steely armor I’ll get far.