Earlier this year, NPR Music held the third installment of the Tiny Desk Contest, our annual search for a talented, unsigned musician to play a Tiny Desk concert here at NPR headquarters. More than 6,000 bands and artists entered, and many (including this year's winner, Tank and the Bangas) were new to the Contest. But we also saw a number of familiar faces — some of whom have been with us since the beginning.
Diana Gameros is one of those three-time entrants. After submitting videos in 2015 and 2016, the 35-year-old singer-songwriter filmed this year's entry on a cold morning, as dawn broke over the San Francisco Bay. As she sings, the camera zooms out to reveal a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
As beautiful as the vista in her video is, the song she chose to perform is even lovelier. Gameros says she wrote "¿Cómo Hacer?" to express some of the emotion she felt at being unable to return to her home country, Mexico. She'd traveled to Holland, Mich., at age 13 to visit an aunt and had chosen to stay long-term, but when she applied to college, she was unable to get a student visa.
"So I went through four years of college as an undocumented student," she says. And when Gameros wrote "¿Cómo Hacer?" in 2011, she still couldn't travel outside the U.S.
"I was in a very vulnerable state," she says of that time. "I was really missing home in Mexico, and several things happened. A very dear aunt who lived in Mexico had lost her battle to cancer. My hometown, Ciudad Juárez, where my parents and siblings and little nephews still live, was going through really tough times, since it was enduring a militarized policing of streets and drug cartel conflicts — and my father and sister experienced direct violence by getting pulled out of their car at gunpoint in broad daylight."
But Gameros' immigration status prevented her from returning to Mexico to be with her family during that time of crisis.
"I just felt that my family needed me," she says. "I wanted to be there when my nephews were born. I wanted to tell my brother I loved him and that I was proud of him for raising these beautiful kids. I wanted to be by my sister when she was going through puberty and she needed to talk to me.
"Being away from my family and my land in such hard times just brought up a certain feeling of guilt and fear and powerlessness and doubt, and I began to question many things in my own life," she says.
Those sorts of questions make up the lyrics of "¿Cómo Hacer?" Gameros says.
"The translation of some of these lines are, 'How can I make life last? How can I dissolve borders? How can I make my land forgive me?' " she says.
Gameros says she now has the proper documentation to live and work in the U.S., but she likely won't get her green card until next year.
"When I get it, I will be able to finally visit my homeland," she says. "It's been 15 years since the last time I was there, so I'm really, really looking forward to that time."
Lucy Perkins produced the broadcast version of this story.