Earlier this year I found the Latinx in Tech organization Techqueria. I was lucky to meet Carlos Salgado, a young DACAmented individual in tech. He is a successful software engineer working for Team Treehouse, an e-learning platform. Immediately I wanted to learn as much as I could about his story and knew that our readers would enjoy hearing from him as well. We need to continue taking control over OUR narrative like Carlos has done below and in his life. I am grateful to have met him and all the great things he is doing for our community. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.
Q: How old were you when you came to the US and do you remember much about your home country?
A: I was about 5 years old. I’m not sure if I turned 6 here in the states or if I turned 5 and I do not remember much about my home country [Mexico] other than stories that my parents tell me. Which I feel like I remember because they tell me but nothing like I can remember this specific day [in Mexico].
Q: Have you stayed in communication with any family in Mexico?
A: Yeah, my grandparents live down there. A couple of uncles but most of my immediate family lives here [in the US].
Q: About the age of 5 or 6 do you remember how you got to the US?
A: A person brought us through the border in a car. We crossed through AZ and drove all the way to L.A. where we met some of my family members.
Q: Do you recall when you first realized you were undocumented?
A: Yeah, when I got about the age of 15. I kind of always knew. It was always on the back of my mind because my parents would always tell me if we were asked to say that I was born here. But I didn’t really know what it involved being undocumented. But I found out when I turned 15 and everyone was getting their driver’s permit and I couldn’t go and get my driver’s permit cause Oregon stopped giving licenses out for undocumented people.
Q: Did this in any way affect how you felt about school and your ability to participate in your education?
A: It did. I’ve always liked going to school and getting good grades, but when the college conversation started coming they would say that I couldn’t apply to FAFSA. I started to think, “what is the whole point of even trying in school if it’s not going to lead me anywhere.” I felt like I was going to end up doing any job that undocumented people [typically] do. Then I started not trying in school. I still graduated with some honors but I could have done a lot better if I had not decided to not try anymore.
Q: That moment made you realize that you could end up doing an undocumented job. Could you describe what that looks like?
A: I would see my dad struggle finding jobs. The only jobs he would have was in dishwashing, landscaping and other harsh labor jobs that I do appreciate and admire but as you come to a country to do better you aspire for a better career. When I figured out I was undocumented I thought that [harsh labor jobs] was going to be my future.
Q: What point did it turnaround for you and lead you to where you are now?
A: I was lucky to hear about DACA and apply when I turned 16. Once I got my work authorization at 16 it clicked to me that I could come out of the shadows, like Barack Obama said. I also realized that they could take anything away from me but me learning and my experience. If it meant that I would eventually have to go back to my home country I still am going to take all my learnings back. So that’s where it clicked that I was going to give it my best and regardless of where I ended up I was going to have all that knowledge.
Q: After all that transpired what did you do next?
A: Once I got the work permit, I felt liberated and got the energy to try my best in school again. I ended up getting all A’s my senior year and got a scholarship for community college. It was motivating but also a bummer. I wanted to go to a four year college like the rest of my peers but because I wasn’t as motivated earlier on I missed out on bigger scholarships for four year colleges. Regardless, I realized I was in charge of my story and the job I wanted to do. I wasn’t going to let them impose the jobs on me [because of my status].
Q: What was your motivation in college and what did you study?
A: I went to college to get a transferred degree in Computer Science. I only went for a term. What was motivating me was that I could pave the road for my brother, who is also undocumented. I needed to prove that even with our immigration status it didn’t define what we could do.
Q: How often do you run into people in your community that do not favor DACA and what would you say to them?
A: I don’t run into people as much but I do read articles against DACA that say we should go get in line and do it like everyone else. I honestly had no decision of what to do when I was five. My parents brought me here and all I wanted to do then was see my dad. My dad left when I was sleeping at four years old. All I knew was that my dad was gone. My dad had gone to the US. As a five year old I just wanted to see my dad. I didn’t know what a border was or that I needed a permit. I just wanted to be reunited with him. I have run into people saying that DACA recipients are lazy. If you think that there is a problem with you. The reason I’m saying this is because if a person that came from another country, didn’t speak the language, had to cross the border and can take your job away from you then there is an issue with you not with them. I had to learn English in first grade and I had so many odds against me. I went against all those odds and was able to still be successful. I’m at a loss of words for what to tell someone that thinks we are harming the US. There are so many statistics showing how we benefit the US and if they still think that way, I don’t know what to tell them.
Q: There are people that want to blame our parents for bringing us here. Do you think that is a fair representation of them?
A: One of the laws they [Congress] wanted to pass was going to help DACA recipients but immigration law will remain the same against other immigrants. I don’t want to be a part of that because my parents aren’t criminals. My parents just wanted a better future for me and throughout history people have immigrated for a better future. The roots of the country itself are immigrating for a better future. I don’t think my parents did anything wrong. I wouldn’t accept anything that would exclude them or turn them into a criminal in any way.
Q: Can you still recall what you felt when Trump decided to rescind DACA?
A: I remember what I was doing. I was in California in a hotel room with my family. DACA brought me out of the shadows and I felt like a regular US Citizen with some limitations. I lived my whole life here. I’ve learned US history front to back. I was sad for a couple of days but the same thing that helped me try again in school lifted me up. They may take DACA away but they won’t take away what I’ve learned. If I could excel here I can excel anywhere. I do want to live here and it would be amazing to stay but that isn’t going to stop me.
Q: If DACA is rescinded how will that immediately affect you and your family?
A: I’m thinking of asking my employer if they could continue to employ me while I go back to Mexico and figure out a way to return legally. My current DACA status expires in October this year. It’s going to impact us greatly. This is the only country I’ve known being here since I was five but it won’t be the end of the world.
Q: In the ideal scenario that you become a US citizen what are your aspirations?
A: I want to continue growing in my career as a software engineer. Without any barriers and having the same opportunity as any other US citizen, I dream of having my own tech company. I want to be able to create change. The only way I feel like I will be able to make a significant change is by having a greater share of voice so I can advocate for my community and call out white privilege. I don’t think it is required to do so but as I grow the more I will be in a position to better advocate for my community and other kids that may have a similar experience like me.
Q: Tell me a little bit more about your daily routine before and during COVID-19
A: Having a career in the technology industry has helped a lot. We were able to move from an apartment into a house. My dad has always had the dream of owning a house. He has been saving up since he got to the US. With me being able to work in a job that is very stable because of the stability of the tech industry we have a steady income. With some help of a family friend we were able to purchase our home. Being able to fulfill my parents’ dream makes me grateful that they brought me here. Going back to how people want to criminalize them for bringing me here I thank them and want to give back to them for their sacrifice. With COVID-19 my parents are both out of a job. My mom works in cleaning and my dad in landscaping. I can still bring in an income because of my job and I am able to provide for them like how they did that for me as a kid.
Q: What is something you want to share?
A: I would like to let anyone who wants to be an ally to be a voice when we can’t but be careful of falling into white saviorism. We are not the fragile, poor immigrants without a future. We have proven that in many ways with our resiliency. We do need you to be our voice when we are silenced but with caution of not turning into white saviorism.
Q: How many individuals with DACA have you met and how has that interaction been for you?
A: I think that DACA let us come out of the shadows but I still had a feeling of being ashamed of being undocumented. Even now as a DACA recipient I was still ashamed about it sometimes. Seeing your story and sharing it through the My Undocu Life project was comforting. I was able to see someone else like that made it. Even with all the obstacles thrown at you seeing how you made it felt good. Reclaiming our narrative and sharing it to the world is hard but if we don’t do it nobody will. That’s how they’ll be able to keep us silent so it has given me the courage to be vocal about our situation.
Q: On paper we’re referred to as aliens. The feeling of shame is valid since the word to describe us is meant to belittle us. Have you come across people using that word and how does it make you feel about it?
A: I haven’t come across people using but in all my DACA papers I an alien number assigned to me. I just laugh at it. I know that certain words are used to oppress even if it’s not meant intentionally at first. I’m fine with it because I know who I am now. I know what I am capable of and that I’ll be resilient no matter how they try to identify me as. It speaks more to them then it does to me. I feel that by using derogatory terms you are showing your true self. As a country that was built on immigrants it is not a welcoming way to be introduced to the US as an alien.
Q: Do you want to give a shoutout?
A: I would like to tell my parents that I am grateful for what they did to bring me here. Thanks to them I am in a position to help them out and pave a way for others like us that are pursuing a better future.