On January 2 of 1983, I landed in Los Angeles. I didn’t have a return ticket. My idea was to stay one or two years in the United States and return later to Mexico.
Everything I had – a suitcase, a guitar and a portfolio – I could carry in my two hands. It was little, very little. But I felt free for the first time in a long time.
I left Mexico because of censorship. The TV station where I worked did not want to broadcast a report I put together on the psychology of Mexicans and how presidents were in fact hand-picked by the outgoing presidents. No one knew me. No one cared. But I did not want to be a journalist under censorship. I quit. “I burned the ships,” I told my mother, somewhere between scared and proudly. I left, with my meager savings and the sale of my rickety red Volkswagen.
I went to Los Angeles because I had a visa to study at UCLA, which offered a certificate program in journalism and television. That was my escape, and my excuse. In reality, I need time to figure out what to do and a chance to change my life. That first year, I ate a lot of bread and lettuce salads. But I felt embraced by a country where journalists could say whatever they wanted, without fear of reprisals or punishments.
I bought a small black and white TV – the screen was about two fists wide – and started to learn about the Latino community. At that time, we were barely 15 million – and only recently baptized as Hispanics. Today we are more than 62 million. In effect, I surfed the Hispanic wave.
A year after I arrived, and after I finished my studies, I got a job as a reporter at Channel 34 in Los Angeles. Pete Moraga, the news director, was my angel. He gave me my first job and invited me to his house for my first Thanksgiving dinner. In 1986 I moved to Miami to work for what is now Univision and shortly afterward, after a crisis within the network, became the anchor of the daily news program. I was only 28 years old. I had never interviewed a president or covered a war, and I didn’t understand even myself in English.
But Univision became my second home. I learned to question power and do journalism on the run. And today, with the addition of a couple of small gigs, I am still in the same job. This marvelous profession has allowed me to go places where history is being made and interview its protagonists. I cannot imagine a more intense life.
The United States gave me opportunities that my birth country never could. That’s why I am so grateful. No one, never, has told me that something cannot be broadcast. And that’s why I am totally in favor of freedom of expression – and favor the release of Julian Assange, jailed for publishing secret military documents. It was here I learned that credibility is the only thing journalists have. And once it’s lost, it can never be recovered.
When I came to this country, Ronald Reagan was president. And I admired the US system of democracy, more than two centuries old. The Mexico I left behind was the opposite. Authoritarian, fraudulent, corrupt. I never imagined that almost four decades later later, a lying and egotistic multimillionaire like Donald Trump would shake the US system by refusing to recognize the results of a presidential election.
When I was young, I never told my parents I wanted to be an immigrant. I wanted to be a soccer player, or a rocker. What happens is that some are forced to emigrate. Of course, there is a country that attracts you. But no one wants to leave their home, their family, their favorite place, their smell.
I appreciate enormously the opportunities and privileges I have had. I swallowed the whole American Dream. My children were born in the United States, and have had opportunities I could never even imagine. Their lives, I expect, will be much better than mine. I have a “modern family,” affectionate, fun and marvelous. Had I remained in Mexico – one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists – I fear I would be telling a different story.
And even so, I miss Mexico so much.
Immigrants suffer from loneliness and the feeling of being far away. And they are always thinking of returning. I never felt so alone than at a year’s end concert in Los Angeles, surrounded by people and yet with no one to hug. And I don’t forgive myself for being at work in Miami when my father died in Mexico City from a heart attack. It is inevitable to think that sometimes we’re in the wrong place.
As foreigners, we learn to live with rejection. In some ways, it makes you stronger. So many times I have been told in the United States to go back to my country, and when I go back there are Mexicans who call me a traitor and tell me I no longer belong there. Holding two passports, one green and one blue, there are days I feel I belong in both countries. And on other days, none. But I feel good in my own skin and I am optimistic about the future.
When I came to the United States, there was one big Hispanic leader, Cesar Chavez. After his death, we looked for someone to replace him. And soon we realized that we needed thousands of Cesar Chavez, not just one other. We went on, from bigger numbers to a little bit of power. And that’s measured by the representation we have in the Supreme Court (Justice Sonia Sotomayor) and the International Space Station (Salvadoran-American astronaut Frank Rubio) and the new heroes Andor and Namor (played by Mexican actors Diego Luna and Tenoch Huerta) and the 45 Hispanic members of Congress, more than ever. As Cesar Chavez said, “We have seen future, and the future is ours.”
There are days when I think about how my life would have been had I stayed in Mexico. And my only answer is that it would have been very different. What I do know is that the most courageous and transcendental decision of my life was to become an immigrant.
That’s why I am here, 40 years later. Because I risked it all. And today I know of no other way to live.