Two years ago, when I was 23 years old, I traveled across 10 countries by bus, boat and foot to get from Brazil to the U.S.-Mexico border. At the time, I had the same goal as most migrants who arrive here: I wanted to get to the United States, in my case to join my mother and sister in Florida.
Two years later, I’m still here in Tijuana. Unexpectedly, I’m thriving, and I’m happy here in Mexico. I’ve got a job with an immigrant aid organization, and I’m applying for college.
When I began my journey, it seemed possible to get to the United States, with the Obama administration’s moratorium on deporting Haitians back to their home country. But the policy changed as I was making my way to the U.S. border, planning to ask for asylum, and when I arrived, that door was closed.
When I first got to Tijuana, I couldn’t wait to leave. The city seemed loud and chaotic, and I didn’t speak a word of Spanish. I moved into a church-run shelter and needed money, so I got a job washing dishes at a restaurant, and then a different job at a tire factory. I applied to Mexican authorities for a humanitarian visa, and then was able to get a four-year work visa.
Two years later, I am still here, however, and I have made a life for myself. Sure, I want to visit my family in Florida at some point, but my goal is to be happy and stable here in Mexico. I’m an organizer for a group that offers language classes and social services to immigrants. I even published a book about my travels and experiences.
I know most people migrating to the U.S. have their minds set on the “American Dream,” but I have come to realize there’s a “Mexican Dream,” too.
It’s possible to work here, to study and nurture talents. Those doors are still open in Mexico for ambitious immigrants, and the costs aren’t as great as they are in the U.S. There isn’t as much pressure here from the government, from immigration authorities, from society. Yes, there’s violence, prejudice and racism against migrants in Mexico, just like there is in the U.S.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not supporting the U.S. government’s current immigration policy, and Mexico certainly doesn’t have an open-door policy for all immigrants. But I have found that in Mexico there’s more of a way forward for migrants. We have options here.
The United States might be the richest country in the world, but that doesn’t mean life is automatically better there for migrants. Many Americans don’t understand a lot of things about us or about what life is like in countries that are their close neighbors.
Most migrants don’t want to leave their homes or families, but we do because of poverty and violence. We flee hunger, insecurity, a complete lack of educational opportunities. Mexicans, I have found, better understand this desperation. Whether or not they respect us, they get why Central Americans and Haitians have fled their countries.
Last week, I gave a talk at one of the shelters in Tijuana where hundreds of Central Americans have been staying since they began walking north in the fall. I explained to them my reasons for making a life here in Mexico and the process of getting started: applying for a visa, securing housing and finding a job.
The advice I gave to my Central American brothers and sisters was to have patience, but not passive patience. I urged them to continue to pursue getting to the United States if that was their goal, but not to wait at a shelter indefinitely. I suggested that they find jobs in Tijuana and move forward in life, and that they be open to making a life in Mexico rather than putting everything on hold in pursuit of a goal that may be unattainable.
Being a migrant is something to be proud of. While some view us as a problem, we need to see ourselves as we are: ambitious and determined people who left unbearable situations at home in pursuit of better lives. We need to be a team and support each other. Together we are stronger.
Ustin Pascal Dubouisson is the author of the book, “Sobrevivientes” and works for the Espacio Migrante nongovernmental organization in Tijuana. He’s originally from Port au Prince, Haiti.