Life in The Golden Cage: A Philly Chef On What It’s Like Being An Undocumented Immigrant

Why do that, though? Why come here, especially illegally?
Uncle: In the beginning, it was to see another country and, why not make some money. Definitely more opportunities than in your own country. Working here more hours you make some money, then you send some home. Eventually, you have to pay the same amounts of money like everywhere else for rent, for the bills, your food. You make money, but you have to spend it to live in this country. Whatever you have leftover, you send to your family and that’s gonna be good. I didn’t know anybody from here. The only thing I knew about this country at the time was tv, the news. That’s it. I didn’t know anything about this country until I came over here. That wasn’t easy. Just because of language, difference in cultures—all that kind of stuff. Eventually, I just started to be, how do you say, part of the culture of the United States, the Americans. Like me and of course some of them, and take some from this country and be me, being Latino now.

Quaote ImageYou said take some from—
Mexican: Yeah, like the culture, the history from here. When you come here, you can’t just be Mexican. You need to be part of this culture. Because now you’re living here and you need to be part of this and from there make your own fusion between Mexican and American. And that’s where we come as Latinos. We’re Mexicans living in another country but we still have our traditions, but now, we do American traditions: Thanksgiving and all that kind of stuff. So, you become part of this culture.

People have this misguided anger relating to assimilation, where they say, they need to speak English, but you, like every immigrant I’ve talked to, says you want to learn English, not only to excel and have better conditions, but also, like anybody else in a foreign country I would assume, because you want to get to know the other people around you, to communicate with your friends, etc.
Chilango: Yes. Traditional Thanksgiving in America is turkey, but when you come here from another culture you may do the Thanksgiving but maybe in a different way. You don’t have to do Turkey. You do like different things. It’s the inclusion between two cultures. You’re keeping the traditions from here but you’re importing a little something from your own country.

But you guys eat a lot of turkey back in Mexico.
Immigrant: Yeah, pavo or guajolote.

On Thanksgivng it’s, why aren’t you guys putting mole on it.
Amigo: [Laughs] See, it’s the same animal but different.

That’s a dark mole—the [turkey] gravy.
Filadelfian:[Laughs]

We talked about the possibility of using your name here. Is that something you’re comfortable with?
Wey: I don’t know if I feel uncomfortable because for so many years I met so many people who kinda knew already…I can say, sure do it, who cares, but there are some people actually who may say, holy shit, I didn’t know about that, and they may change the way they see you. They already know I’m Mexican—duh. Some people, they don’t know if you’re legal or not. A few people ask me if I’m legal or not and I’m not comfortable when people ask me. I’m like, why you ask me that? It just make me mad. They ask me my status and I’m not gonna tell you because, first of all, why are you asking me that? What is it your business whether I am or not?

What is it that makes you Mexican?
Native son: First of all, my color. That’s what makes me Mexican and realize that people—in this country, there are so many different colors. And some people, they’re from Africa, Honduras, and to me, it’s just my family, me being brown and from Mexico. I still have my heart in Mexico, and that’s what makes me Mexican. My heart is from there and I think it’s always going to be there.

What is it that makes you American?
Individual: Because America is one big continent and I am part of America. I am Mexican and I am American because we live on one big continent.

You mentioned your family in Mexico and that your heart will always be in Mexico. You’ve got a family here, man—that makes you American too.
Traveler: Yeah. [Laughs] For me, being part of this country is working here, being important for this country. And I have a beautiful girlfriend who is from this country and also have fucking awesome friends from this country. You know? [Claps] And that’s what makes me feel good. Because if I didn’t have any of this, if it was just only work—I don’t know. I don’t know. I think I would be all the time miserable. So many people that I met and they know me and I can call them friends. And that’s what makes me feel that I am from this country. Because they welcome me.

Born in Mexico. Is it a new life here or a continuation?
Human being: It’s a continuation. I think people live in more than one place but it doesn’t mean they’re going to stay there forever. As a human being we’re born in one place and then we just move and that’s part of life. Life just starts and goes and goes. As human beings, we can be Nicaraguans, Mexicans, Argentinians, Japanese and you may move to a different state or to another country—that’s what makes this country. It’s just everyone comes from different places and makes this country. But some people, they forget about that. They forget it and they think—yeah, you’re born here, but maybe your mother or grandparents—they were immigrants too.
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