Arlene Mejorado

‘My Mothers Passport’ Was Holding A White Body

My Mother’s Passport is an interpretation I created portraying my mother’s border crossing from Piedras Negras to Eagle Pass, Texas. I made this piece through my own photography and artistic vision. According to her, the story goes as follows:

“They placed a baby that looked white on my lap and told me not to talk. I tried to make the baby look like it was mine and I put sunglasses on. I had to practice saying, ‘U.S. citizen.’ When we got to the border patrol an R&B song came on the radio that I liked. So, I started to sing along to it even though I didn’t know what the song was saying because I didn’t speak English. The patrol looked at me and let us go across to the U.S.” 

My Mother’s Passport, Digital Print, 5ft x 5ft, 2016.

The piece melds my mother’s oral history with my staged photography and recreates her journey by commingling the two. The process of creating this composition was a excursion into maternal introspective excavation and recovery of my family’s legacy of intergenerational struggle.

In 1984 my mother was a teenager ready to take her future into her own hands; she’d grown up in poverty with. At that point, her father had already passed away and she was becoming an adult. She didn’t get to continue school after the 6th grade and she had few options that could improve her quality of life. There was a young man that wanted to marry her, but she rejected him because he was an alcoholic. Eventually, she decided she would leave with one of her friends that was a chola and head to Los Angeles. My grandmother intervened because she didn’t trust that her friend would keep her out of trouble and knew that her method of crossing with a coyote (someone who assists travelers) was very dangerous for young women. My grandmother used her network through the church she attended and contacted a couple named Lucy and Willie who agreed to help. 

My Mother in Guadalajara, Mexico.

This Tejano family from San Antonio went to Guadalajara, Mexico personally to pick up my mother and bring her to the U.S. They took one of their grandchildren that was white-passing with them. It was then that they strategically placed the child on my mother’s lap to help compensate for her non-whiteness. This child served as the perfect representation of what border patrol does, giving a pass based on proximity to whiteness, though she had no citizenship. This was all during the early 1980’s when the need for documentation was less strict than it is now. However, Border Patrol agents still policed skin color and ethnicity, deciding who was white enough to cross. It’s possible they assumed my mother was a U.S. citizen, but it’s certain that if she had not held the child, my mother wouldn’t have made it here.

 In 1984 my mother was a teenager ready to take her future into her own hands. She had 9 siblings and grew up in poverty. At that point, her father had already passed away and she was becoming an adult. She did not get to continue school after the 6th grade and she had few options that could improve her quality of life. There was a young man that wanted to marry her but she rejected him because he was an alcoholic. She decided she would leave with one of her friends that was a chola to LA. My grandmother intervened because she didn’t trust that her friend would keep her out of trouble and knew that her method of crossing with the coyote was very dangerous for young women. My grandmother reached into her network through the church she belonged to and contacted a couple named Lucy and Willie. They agreed to help. 

They were a Tejano family from San Antonio. They went to Guadalajara, MX personally to pick up my mother and bring her to the U.S. They took one of their grandchildren that was white-passing with them. They strategically placed the child on her lap to help compensate for her non-whiteness, or perhaps the white child was a distraction from the brown-ness of my mother. It served as a perfect equation for border patrol to give her a “pass” though she had no citizenship. It was the early 1980’s when the need for documentation was less strict. Border Patrol agents policed skin color and ethnic features. They were deciding who was white enough to cross. Maybe they assumed she was a U.S. citizen but if she had not held the child, they would have asked for her documentation.

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