AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Seventeen-year-old Zola Cervantes knows firsthand the impact deportation can have on a family. Zola's mom is American, and her father from Mexico was deported when she was 11. Zola is now a youth reporter with Boyle Heights Beat newspaper in Los Angeles, and in this piece produced by Youth Radio, she chronicles what life is like after a parent is deported.
ZOLA CERVANTES, BYLINE: Every other weekend, I pack a suitcase. I take my sketchbook, a laptop, some clothes. I always over-pack.
Did you remember the passports?
MISTY CERVANTES: Yes, I remembered the passports.
Z. CERVANTES: That navy blue American passport is my ticket to see my dad. My mom, Misty, my brother Tines and I have been making this five-hour drive from Los Angeles through the Mexican border and into Tijuana for the last six years.
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GILBERTO CERVANTES: Hola, mis enanos.
Z. CERVANTES: That's my dad, Gilberto Cervantes. I call him Apa. He calls us his shorties or mis enanos.
G. CERVANTES: Mis enanos.
Z. CERVANTES: I get emocionada when I see him - like, excited but emotional at the same time. Apa is 46 years old. He's not very tall, but he didn't seem so short 6 years ago. That's when my childhood ended. I was 10, asleep in bed when the sound of police sirens outside my home woke me up. A friend started a fight while visiting my aunt at the house. The compadre got rowdy and threatened my mom. That's when my dad grabbed a gun to protect us and got in trouble.
G. CERVANTES: A man came into the house. And when I was intending to defend my house, I got caught with an unregistered weapon.
Z. CERVANTES: The cops arrested my dad, and he was released on bail. Four months later, he was tried and found guilty. It was the day of my fifth grade graduation. Apa was deported to Tijuana within a year. He doesn't have family there, but he chooses to live in Tijuana to be as close as he can to us. He worries about us a lot.
What is it like living so far away and not being able to see us all the time?
G. CERVANTES: It's just living in a constant fear, just not being able to do anything in case anything happens.
Z. CERVANTES: My mom was born in New York. All of her family lives on the East Coast. So when Apa was deported, her life changed dramatically.
M. CERVANTES: Since he's my husband, I would talk to him about, you know, everyday things like, the house needs fixed, oh, problems that would arise with the car. And he was, like, part of my backbone to rely on. And now I became, like, the head of the household, and so it became very hard at times.
Z. CERVANTES: And I became the person she leans on. When she comes home, she tells me about her day at work. My mom works two jobs. She's a photographer. She teaches high school and community college, which means I babysit my 11-year-old brother after school. I grew up with both parents at home, but Apa living across the border is all my brother knows. It doesn't seem to bother him.
TINES CERVANTES: It's not bad or good, really.
Z. CERVANTES: Does it ever make you feel different?
TINES: What do you mean by different?
Z. CERVANTES: Like, different from other kids.
TINES: No because I feel the same.
Z. CERVANTES: He says a lot of kids travel back and forth to Mexico. And that's true but not as often as we do. My parents have talked about moving to Spain so we can be together again, but with school and money, that's still up in the air. So we learned to live apart. And with the help of technology...
Buenos. Buenos dias.
...We can still keep in touch.
G. CERVANTES: (Speaking Spanish).
Z. CERVANTES: This is our normal. The daily calls are nice, but I don't get hugs. We can't stop for breakfast together before school anymore. And on June 9, Apa won't get to see me walk the stage at my high school graduation. But I'm planning to pack my cap and gown that weekend so we can celebrate together in Mexico when I see him again. For NPR News, I'm Zola Cervantes.
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CORNISH: Zola Cervantes is a reporter for Boyle Heights Beat newspaper in LA. Her story was produced by Youth Radio.
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