The elementary school I attended sits on top of a hill overlooking a canyon, less than five miles from the US-Mexico international border. I grew up so close to the Mexican border I could see Tijuana from the front of my house. It is common in this region to know that many students live in Tijuana and cross the border every day to attend class. As we became older, these students were easily identifiable as the group that congregated by the bus stop immediately after school was over to get to take the bus to the border and cross back home. This was also during a time when it was “easy” to cross the border, when you did not need to furnish proof of your citizenship to border patrol agents but were judged by your ability to state you were a US citizen confidently. Whenever we would cross back into the US, my mother would prepare us for the border patrol agent’s questioning so that we would pass and enter without problems. “What do you say when he asks you your citizenship?” she would ask repeatedly waiting until it would be our turn to cross. But those days are long gone and crossing back and forth has become such a large ordeal that excursions into Mexico are determined by one’s desire to wait hours to cross back and endure intense interrogations and secondary inspections. For those that live in Tijuana and cross everyday to go to work or go to school, this ordeal is exhausting and not voluntary.
Living and growing up in the 80s with Mexico as your backyard was a starkly different experience from other communities during this time. As kids, during our recess time at school we would peer into the canyon below our playground and play a game of trying to spot the pollos hiding in the bushes—no, not chickens but undocumented immigrants who have just crossed the border. While kids across the nation grew up playing tag, we had our version of this game. In the playground you could hear kids yelling, “La Migra, La Migra, corre!” as everyone would take off running from the person who was “it”—the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer. These games seemed innocent as children, but reflecting on these times knowing that this had been during an aggressive campaign of immigration raids in the 80’s coupled with the fact that we are returning to the same scenario is disturbing.
We were not raised respecting the Border Patrol agents that would cruise our streets, but to fear them. We were raised thinking that even though we may be US citizens, because we were little brown children we were subject to scrutiny to appear more American and appease the agents so that we would not be taken away. La Migra was synonymous with the scary beings like La Llorona and El Cucuy who could easily take us away from our families—ten cuidado o la migra te va llevar!
The fact that history is repeating itself in a far more escalated fashion, speaks of the nature in which children now are being raised. La Migra is no longer a threat given by parents to scare them into behaving, but a genuine caution and source of fear for our children. This Halloween La Migra has become scarier than the Cucuy and La Llorona, because ICE’s increased aggressive actions that show no limits or respect for the law have evolved into the real monster to fear. Recognizing that the things hiding in the dark are no longer the greatest things for our children to fear but the things that patrol our streets in the daylight needs to change immediately. Recognizing that the places we thought were safe for our children, like hospitals, has ceased to exist needs to change immediately. The ghouls and goblins that will be roaming the streets on Halloween along with the scary creatures that hide in the dark should be the only things that kids fear.