ALEJANDRA VILLALOBOS MCANDERSON
Hispanic Heritage Month | Villalobos Vitality
My name is Alejandra Villalobos McAnderson, but you can call me Alex. I moved to the United States when I was six years old from Mexico. There’s not much that I remember because I was young. Now, based off immigration documentation, I know my father was involved politically in Mexico. Apparently, he was with the wrong party, and when they murdered his best friend, he had to flee the country. My mother, my siblings and I had to go into hiding until he had enough money to bring us over. We moved from a small town to the big city. We weren’t really allowed to go anywhere except school, and we left once a week to go to Western Union and pick up the money my father would send us. When we immigrated to the United States, we went to Sun Valley, California, and that’s where I grew up. I came to Kansas in 2004 to attend Baker University on a soccer scholarship.
As a child, you don’t really notice what you’re leaving. But you’re going because your parents are telling you to go. Now, in my journey, it is realizing what I left behind as a young adult and growing up. My name is Alejandra, but I go by Alex. I had the epiphany a couple years ago when speaking to one of my students. He asked, “why do you go by Alex instead of Alejandra?” And I remembered in elementary school, it was too difficult for my teachers to pronounce. So, then they nicknamed me Alex. But now as an adult looking back, what other things have I given up in this journey? My name and my identity.
My first name, Alejandra, means defender of mankind and my last name, Villalobos, means village of the wolves which is very fitting for what I do now as an entrepreneur. I do corporate wellness and teach people about mindfulness and meditation. To me, my name means resilience. I think that all the things I have been able to overcome—the challenges through the immigration system, being different, being looked at different, and seeing my parents be treated different.
I came here in first grade, and I had an amazing first and second grade teacher. I remember I used to go to her house in the summertime and she would just tutor me. Now, I would say my Spanglish and my accent kicks in occasionally especially when I'm doing my energy work. Most people assume because of the way that I look and because of the way that I sound that I'm a US citizen and that's helped me in some ways, but I think that's why it's important to share my story and to not judge a book by its cover. I've seen my brothers who are of a darker complexion be treated completely different than myself. I want to share and be able to educate others on my journey and how complex the immigration system is. We can only do that by sharing our stories.
I have a complex immigration case that's been open since the 90s. Because my father was afraid for his life, we filed for political asylum, and they don’t grant people from Mexico political asylum, so it was denied. Then there was a deportation notice on our case. During that deportation notice there was an appeal and during the appeal the case got administratively closed so it's a weird gray area. In my journey I met two types of lawyers-- either lawyers that would say give me $20,000- $30,000 and I'll connect you or lawyers that would hesitate to touch my case. The lawyer that I have now, we've been working together for a couple of years, and he really understood my story and suggested that we file under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) until there is some type of immigration reform. So, we've been filing under DACA for many years and when the last administration came to office, he suggested that we should open this case.
We didn’t really know what was going to happen with the DACA program and we had to take our shot. Opening my case would bring it in front of a judge that can decide that the deportation notice is not valid and thus waive it. This would give me a path to apply for permanent residency through my husband who is a US citizen. Or the judge can say that it is valid even though I have children here. This would mean I would have to leave the country and try to re-enter.
We didn't get a notice until last year that the case would be open again and we've just had notice after notice where it keeps getting pushed. We were going to meet this year and it just got pushed out to January of next year.
This process takes so long. No one really is willing to answer questions. It’s frustrating because at the same time the rules are constantly changing. It's a bit of a pawn in the political game and DACA is constantly being put up on the board between both parties. It's just this constant back and forth and we never really know what's going to happen. I've had to let go of control. Before it created so much stress in my life to be constantly worried about being deported, constantly be worried about what's going to change in the program, and if I’m still going to be here. Thankfully with my work I do now I've let go of that and I know that regardless of what country I'm in, I am going to thrive. I’ve allowed myself to truly just live my life one day at a time.
Community and tribe give me the strength. I think that's been why I've been sharing my story. Before, when I was in the corporate world; specially when I was in finance, it's not something that I spoke about freely because it is a conservative and male dominated industry. I didn't want to be judged but what I noticed is that once I shared my story with usually conservative white males, a lot of them would be like “whoa I had no idea; that's not the stories that I've heard from the media or from other sources.” A lot of the times, their response was denial. They would start by saying “oh no, but you're different. You’re not like you're not like those people.”
But I am exactly like those people. We had to flee the country. We literally came in the middle of the night. I am those people and I am those kids that are being put in camps and in cages. That would have been me 23 years ago. They would then look within themselves like what other things have I believed that aren't true. I started to notice by me sharing my story it would start to change the perspective of what people thought about immigrants especially Mexicans.
As a kid, I was running away from the very thing I am now so proud of. I am very proud my culture. I am very proud of where I come from, and I am very proud of everything that it took for me to be where I am.
My dream is for us humans to be more humane. For us to see what we have in common and for us to see past the exterior. Everyone has a story; everyone is struggling with something, and I think it's time that we come together. I wish that people knew the immigrant stories
When we allow ourselves to be diverse and we allow ourselves to have different people at the table they allow us to see things from a different perspective and sometimes they see blind spots that we don't see ourselves so instead of leaning back and ostracizing things that are different, why don't we lean in why we don’t start to be curious about those things that are different?
To new immigrants, I would tell them to find your tribe. I think that's what going to makes things easier. Find those that are going to support you. Find those that are going to love you through this journey and get a good lawyer.
To my younger self, I would tell her that she has nothing to prove. That she is smart and kind and beautiful.
I am sharing my story because it’s just time. I think I've have hidden in the shadows for so long and as an immigrant you're encouraged to do that. You're encouraged to not speak, to not have the spotlight on you, to not bring any attention to yourself or to those around you.
It’s time for people to step up and share their story. I think that it's also my responsibility, where I am now as a leader in this community, and I have a platform to be able to speak for those that don't have a voice and so that that's truly why I'm doing this: to put a face to it.
It's so easy to judge others and to not lean into these stories when you don't know someone personally. It's time to lean in, to support one another, it's time to be more humane, to know that we are connected, that there is something much bigger than us and that until we figure that out, we're going to keep running into the same struggles and it's time that we come together as a human race.