MEXICO CITY -- In a corner of her room is a pink drawer. Its almost hidden by the 3-foot pile of clothes. But when Alejandra Pinzon clears a path and pulls open the plastic drawer, she can touch her most cherished possessions: a jumble of mementos that connect her to a life thats slipping from her grasp.
Homecoming photos from her high school back in Kansas. A worn letter from her aunt in Overland Park, Kan. A report card of five As and, in Spanish, a B minus. And her SAT scores, numbers shes never bothered to read.
Kneeling on the floor of her Mexico City apartment, Pinzon riffled through the drawer until she found her gold Taylor Swift concert tickets. She stared at the tickets and smiled.
Im obsessed with Taylor Swift, she said. I wish shed come to Mexico.
Just months after the concert, in the spring of 2010, while her friends were chattering about what to wear to prom, Pinzon faced an irreversible decision whether to return to Mexico that would forever shape her future.
Pinzon was 17 and living in the United States illegally. She wanted to go to college, but she knew that wasnt an option. She worried about being deported. She thought she could go back to Mexico, get her degree, build her skills and then, hopefully, a U.S. company would sponsor her to return on a visa. She might be back in as little as four or five years.
It didnt work out that way.
When Washington lawmakers debate pro and con, immigration is framed as a political issue. But the repercussions are real for young people such as Pinzon, whose parents chose the difficulties of starting new lives in the United States illegally over the safety and small horizons of home. This fractured relationship between right and left, Republicans and Democrats, has half a million young people like Pinzon caught in a state of limbo between countries.
The now 21-year-old with big brown eyes and a wide smile lives in Mexico City. But emotionally shes tied to the broad suburbs and flat accents of the American Midwest. Its an ambiguous space for these young people that affects everything from the relationships they develop to their sense of self. Its a space that exists somewhere on both sides of the border, but not on one or the other. The late poet Gloria Anzaldua called it the borderlands.
An estimated 500,000 Mexicans ages 15 to 32 returned to their homeland from 2005 to 2010, according to an analysis of Mexican migration records by Jill Anderson, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. In all, about 1.4 million people moved from the United States to Mexico in that time, about double the number that did so from 1995 to 2000.
About 11 million people, including 6.1 million from Mexico, remain in the U.S. illegally, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
For these young people, like Ali, its a very painful and confusing space, because the question is Where do I belong? and To whom do I belong? Anderson said. Shes editing a book, Los Otros Dreamers, that documents the sociological challenges that young returning migrants experience. And I think that becomes even more painful when youre separated from your family.
Ali Pinzon could be anyones American-born next-door neighbor. She adores country music and peppers her sentences with like and you know.