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My Brother, Valentin

| This is the 559th story of Our Life Logs® |

About a year after my parents had my older brother Valentin in 1999, they decided to leave their home in Mexico and come to the US. Imagine; generations-long ties and familiarity, traded in for the chance of a better future. You could say I made the trek, too, but I was in my mother’s womb at the time.

Once my parents got to America, they noticed that the value of the dollar had gone up, but it seemed like the value of family had gone down. The US did not seem as family orientated as what they were used to. Parents were both expected to work all day and the children were left to be watched by strangers in daycare centers. We Mexican folk are a proud people and extremely family-orientated. The mothers often stay home to teach their children morals and how to become upstanding citizens. My mother believed letting a daycare raise your kids would cause issues in development. But with it being so expensive to raise us, she had no choice but to join in the American way.

Despite the cultural differences, our family molded well in the US. Our home was always filled with laughter. Over time, as us kids got older, more and more of our family came to live near us in the US. We all settled in Southern California and Nevada. As I said before, family is crucial, so there was not a month where we didn’t have a large family gathering. From Cinco De Mayo to weddings to the Virgin Mary’s birthday, we always had reason to celebrate. It was so nice when we would all spend time together as a family.

Growing up, I was often in my big brother’s shadow, but I really didn’t mind. Valentin was so charismatic and outgoing. He had impeccable charm and had a contagious smile that could make anyone laugh. I wanted to be just like him.

As far as we were concerned, everybody was going to live in America forever. Yet, as we got older, we began to see the risks my brother faced because of not being an American-born citizen. Originally, my parents planned on filing for citizenship when they had the money. But, that’s the problem with raising four kids, the thousands of dollars it would have taken were used up before they could ever be saved.

You see, my older brother, like many boys his age, fell in with the wrong crowd. He tried to become popular by being a rebel and tried to help our family by making money in the wrong ways. By doing so, he placed a target on his own back.

One night, this lifestyle caught up with him, and he was arrested for a misdemeanor. That could have been the end of it, sure, but once he was put on probation, he danced a little close to the sun and was arrested for smoking weed. For that, he served 90 days in jail and was exposed to all kinds of white-collar criminals. This was a continuous cycle—in and out of trouble. By the time he was 20, my brother had been arrested for selling drugs and was sentenced to two years in prison.

Now, once you have a criminal charge, you cannot immediately apply for citizenship. You have to wait years. The threat of him being deported always lingered, so my brother had decided that when he was released from prison, he would start fresh. He would get his act together and get ready to become a citizen. That was his motivation.

My brother was set to be released in early 2020. Only, he never got to see freedom.

With COVID-19 becoming a growing issue, jails could not risk an outbreak within the prisons and needed space for proper distancing in the jails. With a lack of resources, they had to make hasty decisions. So, deporting the undocumented made the most sense to them. However, anybody who had the chance of being deported was sent away on the spot without a trial.

The government said my family could appeal but that we could not stop the deportation. And without the funds for a good lawyer or file the appeal, we were out of luck. It was done. Just like that, my family unit had been destroyed, and I was furious.

We all make mistakes, but I felt like in America, they expect you to pay for your mistakes for the remainder of your life here. All because my brother had made a couple of bad choices, he was now being forced to go back to a country that did not raise him. A country he never knew. Family he could not remember. I will never forget the hurt in his eyes as he found out the country his parents fought to come to was throwing him away like old news. I could not see the charm that made Valentin so special.

After my brother’s deportation, my family pointed fingers at each other. My mother blamed my dad for not investing the money in the paperwork when he was a small boy. My father blamed my mother for spoiling my brother. Us kids would say it was my dad’s fault for not spending time with him and always working. Then we would sometimes switch the blame to my mother saying she let him get away with too much. Personally, I was even blaming myself for not telling on him when I could have prevented certain situations. We were all frustrated. With COVID-19 in full swing, we were stuck even more with our guilt. We all moped around for months.

It looked like our life, but it did not feel like it. My mother’s joy had gone. She no longer found laughter in everyday life.

Not only were we heartbroken about losing my brother, but we were also trying not to panic from knowing a pandemic was raging around us. Stores were closing. Resources were scattered. We began to fear for our jobs. My mother tried to keep her spirits up through prayer, but it was hard not being able to see family because of social distancing. My brother was not allowed to visit us and we couldn’t fly to see him because of the new COVID-19 restrictions.

For months, the world seemed so much against us. It was hard to call my brother because of the time difference, and I was in school. My mother became quiet with grief. My father walked with his eyebrows clonked together, lost for words. We were all mourning the loss of life as we knew it.

But it got to a point where we realized that life wouldn’t stop for our sadness. Life had to keep going, and so did we. While I wanted nothing more than to pause in my misery, the sun kept rising, bills still had to be paid, and children still had school to attend. Clocks do not stop amid chaos. We had to keep moving and push through the pain. We decided that we had to find a way to see my brother again, even if it took a while.

And wouldn’t you know it—even a shaky, nearly impossible, let’s-try-our-best-and-see-what-happens plan is enough to spread a little hope.

We knew the file for his return would cost thousands, so we have started saving as much as we can. It’s a messy situation—what, in the middle of a pandemic—but our family has really come back together to get him back. We’re willing to muddle through it for Valentin. Having this time to save and plan has helped bring some perspective to the situation too. Even though we’re apart from him, at least my brother is free instead of locked up. He is happier than he would be behind bars.

Even though my brother is still apart from us, I have hope that we will reunite one day. Knowing that my brother is doing well despite being on his own away from us in another country helped me feel hope for my own life, and most of all, has made me see the importance of family. If he can stay positive, then so can I. Then so can all of us. We may be apart, but we are still united in our hearts. Someday, we will hug my brother again. One day, I will once more see his smile. Until then, I am going to hope and cherish the time I have with my family—the one thing that truly matters.

This is the story of Robert Gonzalez

Robert, 20, now spends his time working full time in a jewelry store selling diamonds in Las Vegas, Nevada. After Robert’s family moved from Mexico to the USA, they did not have the money to help Robert’s older brother Valentin become a US citizen. This became a problem when Valentin got older and began getting into trouble. This led to his imprisonment and eventual deportation, causing fear, guilt, and sadness for their family—amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert and his family are still saving and planning on helping his parents file for the appeal for his brother to return to America. In Robert’s free time, he enjoys spending time with his sisters and parents and is very big on family. Robert has not seen his brother for over a year now, but he is hopeful they will be reunited again soon.

This story first touched our hearts on December 3, 2020

Writer: Melodie Harris | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker

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