Away from Home, Angelo Cabrera Speaks About His Future

The streets appear desolate as a result of the migration. (Photos by Rafael Gaviria via Diario de México)

The home of Cabrera’s family

Irma Rodríguez hopes her son will be able to return to the Big Apple.

The population is engaged in manufacturing and selling products of onyx.

The temple of San Antonio de Padua is a haven for the family when they pray.

The town of San Antonio Texcala is located near Tehuacán, Puebla.

Warmth is felt in Cabrera’s family when one visits their home.

Cabrera remembers is experiences when he first immigrated to New York.

Cabrera shows his degrees and recognition from the authorities.

In January, Voices of NY posted a Mott Haven Herald piece on the plight of Angelo Cabrera, a Mexican immigrant and founder of the Mexican American Student’s Alliance who, having spent two-thirds of his life in the U.S., returned to Mexico to make his status legal. His application for legal immigration status, however, was denied. What follows is a translation of a Diario de México interview with Cabrera on returning to his hometown of San Antonio Texcala, Puebla, and what his hopes are for the future.

Immersed in a familial environment, but with his mind in New York, Angelo Cabrera, an outstanding student with a master’s degree in public administration and a degree in political science from Bernard M. Baruch College, lives his life. Cabrera specializes in applied science at the City University of New York (CUNY) Borough of Manhattan Community College and is the director of the Mexican American Students’ Alliance (MASA), an organization that helps Mexican immigrant students.

His story of success – and now frustration – surprised the immigrant community in New York City and Puebla, following its publication in The New York Times. After spending 24 years in New York, he decided to return to Mexico to legalize his status, ask for a pardon from U.S. authorities for having entered the country illegally, and to continue his work in support of the Mexican immigrant population.

His extensive academic career, the work done on behalf of the community, as well as the support for hundreds of children of Mexican immigrants born on U.S. soil to continue their studies, were not enough for authorities to allow him to return to the city that saw him grow and allowed him to better himself.

Living in the hills amid businesses selling onyx, and having received a brotherly welcome from his town, his relatives, but above all his mother, Cabrera longs for a solution to his situation.

On the lookout for messages or calls from the media, friends, and acquaintances who want to know about his case, he now spends his days in a humble home, made from stone and metal sheets.

“The Internet at home is not always good. It’s slow, so I have to go to a café in the city of Tehuacán to be able to connect,” he said in an interview with Diario de México USA.

Gone are the large buildings, yellow cabs, and people running through the streets of Manhattan. In San Antonio Texcala, residents are barely seen.

“The majority immigrated to New York. Here I no longer have friends. They all left. Only elderly people and children remain around here,” said Cabrera. The empty streets and houses, some built by migrants, confirmed his statement.

His goals

“I always dreamed of wanting to be a teacher, but unfortunately the possibilities I had were very limited and for that reason, I was forced to move to the United States,” says Cabrera at a table made of planks, surrounded by a few small benches and pots belonging to his mother, who, despite having lost her eyesight to diabetes, cooks for him every day, preparing the dishes he most enjoyed before his move in 1990 when he was only 15 years old.

“I still have not fulfilled my greatest wish,” the activist says emphatically. “My greatest professional dream is to finish a doctorate degree. As an individual, it is to start a family, but my greatest dream as a person, enveloped in altruism, is to one day make a difference in my community in New York.”

“I am one of those people who believes that he doesn’t need a materialistic world to be happy. For me, wanting to support my community is the greatest gift. If I manage to change one person, that person will go on to change other lives and it will create a chain reaction. That is my big dream,” he says.

NY is my home

Cabrera watches his mother and goddaughter cooking something out of carne enchilada (beef with chili) and memelas (fried tortilla filled with beans), food he confirms tastes different from the hamburgers or bagels he was used to buying in the Empire City.

“I miss my friendships, my people, my students, the parents, the way of life. I know that I come from this poor community, but I lived in a different world for 24 years. For me, coming back here [to Puebla] was a tremendous shock because I was entrenched in a different lifestyle. But the strangest thing is not having the opportunity to continue supporting those most in need. That is what hurts the most,” he says sadly.

“Part of my life stayed in New York. I know that I have family here, I came back to reconnect with a family that I hadn’t seen for years, but in my heart there is also a family in New York that adopted me and gave me the opportunity to fight for them. I would be nothing if it weren’t for my community, so I want to have the chance to give them the best of me.”

Throughout the conversation, a rooster’s crowing and a horn announcing services to the community can be heard in the background – not the train that runs through New York’s five boroughs nor the English that is spoken in the malls or delis where Cabrera once worked.

“New York is my house, it is my home, a place that gave me the opportunity to progress, a space where I lived my childhood. I want to continue on there,” he reiterates. “A great need exists in the Mexican and Mexican-American communities in the U.S., but especially in New York. Our city is the one with the greatest need for which we have to work,” he adds.

Angelo ties his hair back, adjusts his glasses, and explains: “We have the advantage of being one of the biggest communities. If we educate and instruct it, we will be a community that can create change. We have to work hard. There will be moments when we fall down and think that we will never be able to move forward. I have experienced that. Now that I’m here I remember instances when I had nothing to eat, no money to pay for a book, but I had to continue living, dreaming. That fed my spirit. It gave me strength to carry on. The important thing is to never stop dreaming. Today you fall down, tomorrow you stop and continue walking,” he emphasizes.

And what if he never receives the pardon, Angelo is asked. After a few seconds of silence, he takes a deep breath and says, “It will be an immense sadness, because I leave behind an entire world, an entire experience. It will be sad to give that up, but I know that that possibility exists.”

Videos of the interview with Cabrera, conducted in Spanish, can be viewed at Diario de México.

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