By Cee Cee Huffman
Misael did not sleep on Nov. 8, 2016. He spent his Nov. 9 drive to his early college high school crying.
“Not for me,” he said. “I thought of all of the innocent people that were going to go through so much suffering through this one thing. How many families were going to be tore up, how many hearts would be shattered, how many lives would be lost.”
He said everyone at school was shocked that Donald Trump had won the presidential election. They were afraid. They were sad. Misael’s teacher could see that he was panicked. She offered to take him to the bus station right then and there.
“I’ll drive you to Moore Square right now and buy you a ticket, so you can go back to Mexico right now,” she said.
He couldn’t understand why she would say that to him.
“Because you’re acting like everything’s lost already,” she said. “If you think that everything’s lost already, might as well go back right now.”
He said that was the cold, hard slap in the face that he needed to keep going.
Misael came to America on a plane when he was 6 years old with his dad and sister. His dad had finally won parental custody, and they were going to live here with Misael’s aunt and grandparents so his dad could have help raising them.
“They assume that we’re here to take their jobs, we’re here to take their money, and we really aren’t,” Misael said. “You come here and you try to make a decent living for yourself. If you mess up, you go back.”
When President Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Misael and his sister signed up. They explained where they were, who they were, gave them their fingerprints and had their pictures taken. They received social security numbers so they were able to work and, most importantly, they were put at the back of the line for deportation.
Misael’s not quite American, but he’s not quite Mexican, either.
His dad got married during Misael’s last semester of high school. His sister was 16, so she now had legal status. Misael was 18 and without legal status, but he kept pushing forward.
He got the opportunity to work for the county school system for nine months translating documents from Spanish to English for teachers. He was the youngest full-time employee the county ever had while still finishing high school.
He became anxious when that was over. He said Mexican families share bills, groceries — everything. He got a job at an immigration attorney’s office as an interpreter. It was chaos. There was no one to clean, vacuum or take out the trash. Misael went in extra early every morning to do all of that himself, without being asked.
“You have to take pride in where you work,” Misael said. “We’re a lawyer’s office. You can’t have a mess.”
He started working Saturdays and Sundays. He was going to jails, talking to clients and explaining the bail process. He saw firsthand all of the holes in the American immigration system.
“You’re basically fighting the government with absolutely no weapons,” he said.
Misael started working for his buddy installing windows and doors. He had never done hard labor like that before.
“I’m a heavy guy,” he said. “So to get up on those 40-foot ladders – I remember it was the middle of January, 20 degrees, and I was sweating like it was mid-July.”
He was the only one who spoke English, so Misael got access to all of his buddy’s accounts. Misael was his right-hand man, but his friend would disappear for days or even weeks at a time. Misael couldn’t take that stress.
He learned how to drive trucks. He hauled logs for a while before moving on to paper.
Misael does anything he can, and he does it better than anyone else.
An unexpected wake-up call
He was lying in bed, relaxing after his long day as a temporary truck driver for a paper company. He’d been getting up at 2 a.m. every day to start his route. His day finally ended at 6 p.m.
He was just about to fall asleep when there was a knock at the door. He jumped out of bed and made himself presentable. It was two policemen.
“Which is weird, because I respect my town’s policemen,” Misael said. “Historically they haven’t been very humble, but they had never messed with me.”
The two gentlemen came into his house without invitation.
“I don’t need any explanations,” the officer said. “I’m just looking for a cellphone.”
Misael didn’t have the cellphone the officers were looking for — the cellphone they said they had tracked to his house, the cellphone a woman had lost at the Food Lion earlier that day. They told him it would be a shame if they had to go check the tapes and come back.
He was scared. He lives in a 287(g) community, meaning that the very same police standing in his house could deport him or his family if they felt they had any reason at all.
Misael said no one in his house had been to the Food Lion that day. Maybe they could ask the neighbor. The officers walked out, but Misael wanted to talk to his neighbor himself. His neighbor told him they were searching the whole block.
“Then why did he tell me it was in my house?” Misael asked. “Why didn’t he tell me the same thing he told you?”
The officers probably saw that Misael was flustered when he opened the door. They saw Misael’s surprise and could have sworn he was guilty.
“He saw a young, Hispanic kid and he thought, ‘This kid’s got it,’” Misael said.
He was angry. Not because he didn’t understand why the officers would do that to him, but because they didn’t respect his dignity. It’s a recurring theme in his life.
Still, Misael said everyone deserves to be respected.
He said he’s tired of feeling like a stranger somewhere he’s lived his whole life. He said that, even though his dad and his sister will stay here, he thinks about what it would be like to go back to Mexico.
“How wonderful it would be to walk down the street, ride a bus, go to the library, go to a restaurant and not stand out because of my race,” Misael said. “Here, everywhere I go, people look at me. I stand out. You feel like an outsider everywhere you go.”
“Is there else anything else you want to add?” I asked.
“People need to start paying attention to what’s going on,” Misael said. “For their sake.”
Edited by Charlotte Spence.