As Blanca looked out the car window at garlic and almond fields whooshing by like blurry, half-forgotten dreams, a vaguely familiar feeling stirred up inside her, one she hadn’t felt since a January morning 14 years ago in Querétaro, Mexico, when she saw her father fade into the distance with nothing but knapsack on his back and the promise of returning in a year. Now, she was the one leaving her family behind. As a sign spelling “Berkeley” flashed before the windshield, she thought she could read the contents of her father’s lost gaze reflected in the rearview mirror, and suddenly it dawned on her that she was not just going to college: once more, she was crossing a border.
Blanca has spent most of her life in Bakersfield, CA, along with her mother, an agricultural worker, her father, a gardener, and her 10-year old sister Sonia, who was born in the United States. A public health and pre-med student now entering her fifth semester at UC Berkeley, she received DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), an Obama executive order granting temporary legal status to eligible undocumented youth, in February of this year, being one of the 900,000 undocumented youth eligible to apply. In addition, the California DREAM Act has made college possible for Blanca by allowing her to pay in-state tuition and giving her access to private scholarships, institutional financial aid and state financial aid, as well as the permission to work legally. However, no legislation has been approved that would protect her family from deportation, making her path towards the attainment of a college degree a fragile one, as her parents’ deportation would not only deprive her of her only support system, but also make her solely responsible for her 10-year old citizen sister.
It is estimated that every year, 90,000 parents of citizen children are deported, fragmenting families and placing youth in emotionally traumatic and vulnerable situations. While DACA and the DREAM Act are laudable steps towards allowing undocumented youth who were brought to this country as children to pursue an education and contribute to society, Blanca’s story shows that it is certainly not a solution to a problem that concerns not just individuals, but entire families. While politicians and the public are entangled in a heated debate about border security and the future waves of immigration into the United States, close to 12 million undocumented immigrants who already live in the United States hide in the shadows, waiting in limbo for a chance to live in this country legally. Blanca, a “DREAMer”, is one individual amongst the estimated 1.7 million youth brought to this country by their parents before the age of 16. Undocumented youth who graduate high school have historically faced a hard future, like their parents, and unfortunately many more obstacles then their documented peers, due to the high costs of attending university/ college and lack of permission to work legally.
Blanca's boyfriend Daniel tries to get her attention in her bedroom that she shares with her parents in their tiny home in Bakersfield, CA. The two do not get to see each other very much while she studies up north in Berkeley during the semester. At times the Blanca's family does not approve of the fact that Blanca's boyfriend is not obtaining a higher education. While he is of Mexican origin, he was born in the United States and they feel as though he is not taking advantage of having legal documents as an American citizen. Photographed on November 28, 2013.
Blanca has worked in the fields with her mother Gloria since she was a student in high school in order to aid the family with household bills, but moreover to save for college one day, in hopes that one day she would be allowed to attend college like her documented peers. The San Joaquin Valley is known as one of the agricultural capitals of the United States. California is one of the world's largest economies due to its export of agricultural products. Approximately 9 out of 10 agricultural workers in California are undocumented. Here, she works during the summer between her first and second semester of UC Berkeley in Lamont, CA. Photographed on July 26, 2013.
Blanca's father Eduardo sits on the bed in their tiny one-bedroom home to keep Gloria company in Bakersfield, CA. Gloria tends to the grape fields for a large part of the year as an agricultural worker despite suffering from many ailments such as arthritis and pre-diabetes. While she works to provide food and income to her family, pays taxes through her employer, and pays into the system, she, like many undocumented immigrants living in the United States, does not receive any public benefits nor any subsidies for her healthcare treatments, which she in the end must pay all out-of-pocket. Photographed on November 28, 2013.
Eduardo returns home after a long day of gardening at various homes for his clients in Bakersfield, CA. Throughout the year he never knows when he will have enough work in order to support the family, in addition to always being on the lookout for being pulled over while driving without a license like many undocumented immigrants in the state of California. Recently California has passed legislation to try and ease the pain of driving as an undocumented immigrant by promising to issue special IDs for driving for those without legal papers. Photographed on September 3, 2013.
Eduardo tends to one of the yards in front of one of his client's home in one of the more affluent of neighborhood in Bakersfield, CA.Photographed on July 26, 2014.
Blanca's immediate and extended family stand outside her home and enjoy the cool autumn air on the evening of Thanksgiving in Bakersfield, CA. Blanca often returns on holidays and breaks to Bakersfield during and in between semesters in order to juggle all her various obligations. Photographed by Mark Abramson on November 29, 2013.
Family outings to the river in Bakersfield, CA are a rarity for Blanca and her family, as they often work all day without a break. In addition to the little time they have, Blanca's parents often stay home if they are not working due to the fear that has accumulated over the years of being caught and deported. Photographed on July 27, 2013.
Blanca plays and jokes around with her father and her boyfriend as they struggle to both get her attention on the morning after she became a godmother. She is often in high demand and everyone constantly tries to win her over and spend the most time they can with her as she juggles life as a pre-med student in Berkeley and back home in Bakersfield during visits. Photographed on September 8, 2013.
Members of the Mexican community and Blanca's extended family members enjoy festivities at a party in Bakersfield, CA on the day of her godson's baptism. Many of the Mexican families that live in her community come from her mother's homeland of Guanajuato, Mexico. Photographed on September 7, 2013.
A clothing line full of wet clothes sits on the fence in Blanca's backyard in Bakersfield, CA. Photographed on August 24, 2013.
During a long summer day of work, Eduardo's American born daughter Sonia, 10, helps her dad with his gardening route that day in Bakersfield, CA. During the summer she often spends the day with him working while Gloria works in the grape fields.
Blanca spends the summer between her first and second semester at UC Berkeley back home in Bakersfield, CA. She talks on the phone in the background while her boyfriend Daniel hangs out with the family chicken. Photographed on August 23, 2013.
Eduardo tends to a client's backyard by cleaning up trash while the client, a police officer, relaxes in his pool in Bakersfield, CA. Photographed on June 19, 2014.
Eduardo sulks his head inside his Bakersfield home after recounting the ordeal he had to go through when he first crossed into the United States by himself without his family in 2000 from Mexico. Photographed on September 2, 2013.
Blanca and her father Eduardo pay tribute to the Virgin of Guadalupe at the start of her second semester of UC Berkeley in Berkeley, CA at an unspecified church. At the start of each semester she pays tribute by bringing flowers to the Virgin to thank her. Photographed on August 27, 2013.
Gloria helps her daughter Blanca pack up her dorm room on the day of move out at the end of Blanca's first semester ever at UC Berkeley as a pre-med student. Even though the family struggles financially and is always behind on their rent, they always try and make the drive up north to visit her and help her with moves and other types of activities. Photographed on May 17, 2013.
Often Blanca spends long hours into the night in the library on the UC Berkeley campus in order to study. She often has to juggle her academic life with constantly checking in with her family all day long to make sure they are safe. In addition, her father barely speaks English and therefore has always required her assistance to translate and help him with communication with his clientele for his gardening business. Photographed on November 24, 2013.
Blanca packs up her backpack at the end of one her classes in a lecture auditorium at UC Berkeley. Often Blanca finds herself tired and without enough time in the day to juggle her academic life and managing and staying in contact with her family in Bakersfield. It is not uncommon for her to find a missed call list and full inbox of text messages on her phone at the end of a class. Photographed on September 5, 2013.
Blanca prepares herself in the morning in her room at school before heading off to her first class that day in her second semester of school at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, CA. Photographed on November 24, 2013.
Blanca gives a presentation with classmates during a university writing course geared towards students who learned English as a second language, such as herself, during her second semester as a UC Berkeley pre-med student. The other students in this particular class are mostly foreign students at UC Berkeley.
Blanca and her best friend at UC Berkeley Diana sit at home in their off campus apartment they share with two other girls in Berkeley, CA after a long day of classes. Two days prior to this President Obama announced to the nation that he would be implementing an executive order that would temporarily protect undocumented immigrants in the U.S like Blanca's parents. Photographed on November 22, 2014.
Blanca walks up a wooded path in Berkeley Hills to go catch a California sunset overlooking the UC Berkeley campus and the Bay Area. Photographed August 30, 2013.
Blanca passes a set of fields as she makes the journey back to Bakersfield from Berkeley by train to see her family for Thanksgiving break. Photographed on November 26, 2013.
Blanca's parents and sister embrace and cry with joy upon seeing their daughter arrive at the Bakersfield Amtrak station for Thanksgiving break during Blanca's second semester at UC Berkeley. The family is always overjoyed to see their first born. Photographed on November 26, 2013.
Blanca's parents drive from their Bakersfield home to a local clinic to get blood tests done for Gloria. Driving while undocumented always brings fear to immigrants. Statistically speaking, the vast majority of stops that lead to deportations happen within a 3-mile radius of undocumented immigrants' homes. Photographed on November 27, 2013.
Eduardo empties his truck, or "la troca" as the family calls it, of leaves accumulated from clients' yards at the Bakersfield city dump. The truck is used for work as well as all aspects of life. The family's truck is a big part of their lives and sustains them in many ways. It is an asset they cannot live without. The truck has been broken into and stolen on various occasions making life even harder for the family. The family even uses the truck, which eats up gas quickly, to drive Blanca to school up north in Berkeley at the beginning of semesters. Photographed on December 1, 2013.
Gloria stands under one of the sheds at work in the neighboring town of Lamont, CA. She has been working int he grape friends for many years now ever since arriving in the United States in 2001. Photographed on July 26, 2014.
A "banda" practices in the early evening in Blanca's Bakersfield, CA neighborhood near her family's home. Photographed on December 1, 2013.
Blanca stands in her backyard in her Bakersfield home during summer break in front of a television that a client of her father's gifted to the family. Photographed on June 20, 2014.