The Journey for Tomorrow

Francisco Jiménez ’66 immigrated to the U.S. illegally as a child. Today, he’s a decorated writer and retired professor. At his barest, he’s a testament to the American Dream. But it’s not that simple. The dream, it turns out, doesn’t belong to anyone.

The American Dream. It’s a subject some of us thought we’d left behind in our high school English classes, grateful to have finally finished analyzing The Great Gatsby. But we know that’s not really reality. We carry the weight of the American Dream on our shoulders everyday, desperate to understand its meaning and finally reach that green light.

And for immigrants, that green light seems to land itself among the stars, millions and millions of miles away. To be able to reach it by simply crossing a bay would be a welcome change.

On any given night in the United States, there are between 45 and 55,000 migrants sleeping in detention centers. Some have attempted to cross the border without legal documentation. Others tried to claim refugee status, claiming asylum from their violence-ridden home countries.

And America is laser-focused on enforcement—to name a few methods: the short-lived yet devastating Zero Tolerance Policy that separated thousands of families, and President Trump’s continued slashing of the annual refugee cap (down to 18,000 in 2020 compared to 110,000 in 2016).

But deterrence isn’t actually happening. Despite strong anti-immigrant rhetoric from U.S. political leaders, despite threats of deportation and family separation, and despite threats of sexual assault, physical violence, and severe health crises during the journey from their home countries, they come. They come to the U.S. on the promise of a better life—on the promise of the American Dream.

“Why do we even say it’s an American Dream?” Francisco Jiménez ’66 asks. “Every family dreams of having the ability to provide a good education, good health benefits, a good job for their loved ones. It’s really a Human Dream.”

“We lose as a nation as a result of [immigrants] not being able to develop their God- given talents to the fullest in order to contribute to our society,” says Jiménez. The

decorated writer and retired Santa Clara professor often chronicles his own immigration story to underline the universality of the migrant journey.

Stories of crossing borders are not original, Jiménez says, no matter the setting. Details of time and place blur from one protagonist to the next, but that doesn’t mean these stories aren’t worth telling. Adaptations of the immigrant’s tale highlights the same motifs—sacrifice, duty, work, hope—over and over until the entire page is bright yellow.

Herein: three stories of immigrants who chose to pass through SCU on their journeys. It’s also an opportunity for the University to be what its new President, Kevin O’Brien, S.J., calls a place of generous encounter, a space where we can meet and understand one another.

“Once you make connections, you begin to tear down those walls that separate us from one another,” Jimenez says, “and we begin to see ourselves reflected in the other.”

 

Every family dreams of having the ability to provide a good education, good health benefits, a good job for their loved ones. It’s really a Human Dream.

The Jiménez Story

Jiménez is an immigrant from Mexico. In the late 1940s, when he was a child, he, his mom, his father, and his older brother left their home near Guadalajara for a better life in California, entering the country without documentation. His entire family worked for hours on end every day in the fields. Jiménez missed months of school to work.

Feeling they had made a home in the United States did not change their undocumented status. When Jiménez was 14, a decade after he had first arrived in the country, he and his family were deported to Mexico.

Being deported didn’t dim the promise of a better future. Months later, the family returned legally and settled in Santa Maria—and back into their laborious routine. The work seemed to pay off. Jiménez attended SCU and continued to Columbia University to earn his Master’s and Ph.D.

Jiménez’s rags-to-riches story is not one he owns. Like the “human” dream isn’t exclusive to one people, the problems Jiménez and his family faced aren’t either.

“My story is not unique.” Jiménez states. “It’s really the story of many, many immigrant families from the past and the present. In spite of all of the difficulties they encountered, they persevered. And they did so because they wanted a better life for their children, and their children’s children. How can you fault that?”

Families are drawn to the light of the human promise America emits every day. Santa Clara is home to a version of that promise, and hosts some of those who dare to dream, work, and sacrifice.

Call us Sam

Some of those at SCU are literally called dreamers, after a piece of stalled legislation providing a way for them to become citizens. Like Jiménez they arrived in the country as children without immigration paperwork or by overstaying a visa. Unlike Jiménez, they got to stay.

An estimated 700,000 of those kids applied for the right to stay in the country for school and work under an Obama-era program called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It remains in place under court order.

Some shared their stories, complied here into a composite sketch as Sam’s story.

Sam is from Mexico. When she was a kid, her father travelled between Mexico and the US on a work visa. She fondly remembers celebratory Christmases, her father home.

Then, the holiday visits stopped—Sam’s father had a stroke in the United States, and he needed to stay there. It was the only place he could find treatment for his condition. Her own sporadic visits to the States replaced family celebrations in Mexico.

There was no specific moment that Sam realized she was leaving Mexico for a new home. “I was told we would be gone for a year,” she says. “So I told my friends, ‘I’ll see you in a year.’ We’d been gone a few years before I realized we weren’t coming back.”

She vividly remembers her first meal in the states: Jack in the Box. Of course–there’s nothing more American than eating a greasy cheeseburger in the backseat of a car. Despite its questionable nutritional value, the meal was a welcome one. After a long and tiring journey, it was time to start a new one.

Her family overstayed their tourist visa, trading a three-story house in Mexico for a single, shared room in Northern California. “It’s what my parents fought for,” Sam says, ”keeping my family together.”

I needed to be perfect, because if I made one wrong move, I could be gone from this country. I’d be here one day and gone the next.

In high school, like many other students, she joined an academic enrichment program. It was a key resource in her acceptance into college. These distinctly American educational resources greatly contributed to Sam’s parents’s decision to move, too. It was a “totally selfless” choice, she says.

“Better opportunities are part of why we moved,” she says. “My parents knew there were better educational opportunities in the U.S. than back home. Even the school system in Mexico is corrupt.”

No matter how similar Sam’s upbringing was to any Average Joe’s, her immigration status follows like a shadow. “I always felt the need to be perfect,” she says. “Other people got chances to mess up, but I needed to be perfect, because if I made one wrong move, I could be gone from this country. I’d be here one day and gone the next.”

So Sam lived with this bearing on her conscience, doing everything she could to protect herself and her family. She grew up too fast, serving as her parents’ translator while bottling up her envy for those who had the opportunity to enjoy freedom deep inside. “It creates a mental stress that builds over the years,” she said. “You want to live in the shadows, in fear of any information leaking and getting you deported. It’s unhealthy for any person, and we do it a lot, immigrants.”

But it’s not a tunnel with no light at its end. Today, the dreamers who make up Sam are in their second and third years at SCU. They find solace in Jiménez’s stories, the Jesuit community, and in SCU’s LEAD Scholars Program, confident that their relationships are genuine, not facades. In turn, they’ve grown the confidence to let us in behind their walls to hear their truths.

Easing the Path

As an immigration lawyer, Hendrik Pretorius JD ’07 is intimately familiar with the ins and outs of U.S. immgration policy. But it wasn’t a law classroom where Hendrik first dealt with legal paperwork. From country to country he and his family followed his father’s job as a South African government worker.

As his father neared potential retirement, the family was faced with a decision: return to South Africa, or move to the U.S. permanently. After years of moving from place to place, the family would move one more time: to California.

“It really came down to mine and my sister’s futures and what my parents wanted to do to give us more opportunities. They did that, certainly, at a detriment to themselves,” Pretorius says. Because they immigrated, Pretorius’ parents had to push off retirement in order to support the family, something they would not have had to do in South Africa.

It’s a sacrifice Pretorius is grateful for every day. “The reality is just that the level of college education in South Africa is not as high as it is in the U.S. Here, if you work hard in school, then you can find a job that will lead into your career, whereas that’s not necessarily the case in South Africa.”

He and his family went through the legal immigration process quickly and smoothly, selected for the Diversity Lottery Program when they first arrived. Pretorius has been a U.S. citizen for about 20 years. “We were very lucky compared to what other people have to go through,” he says.

Now, Pretorius is the CEO of ImmiPartner, where he helps with foreign-born investors and entrepreneurs, as well as hiring Silicon Valley companies, deal with immigration issues.

“Immigrants are an essential part of a prospering community. I feel very strongly about that. What I do every day is not only helping immigrants come into the U.S., but helping the innovation and prosperity of this community as a whole.”

That’s why Pretorius’ work is important to him. He knows that without immigrants, we lose. And if there’s one thing Hendrik’s story proves, it’s that this country is stronger with immigrants in it.

The Stories We Tell

Stories of crossing borders are, as Jiménez says, not original. They are not unique. Telling them provides a glimpse into the numerous re-adaptations of an immigrant’s tale—of sacrifice, duty, work and dreams.

Adaptations are worth telling. “It’s a really good way of making changes,” Jiménez says. “By telling our stories. We may not be able to change minds, but we can change hearts.”

Find Hendrik Pretorius here, and learn more about his firm, Immipartner.

In the Beginning

Santa Clara’s new President—a Jesuit always in motion—on noticing the things around us, looking into the future, and using tradition as a guide.

Adam, Eve, and the Apple of Intelligence

If making—and appreciating—art makes us human, what happens when we get help making a masterpiece from something unhuman?

Finding Center

Taye Diggs reflects on celebrating who you are, where you are, and Mickey Mouse.

A Lobby for Justice

A swim. A murder. And a case keeping the wrongfully convicted from winning their freedom.