For her 17th birthday, an aunt got her Taylor Swift concert tickets. Hunched over her kitchen table one recent afternoon, she flipped through an album with dozens of photos from the show. She pushed a tress of brown hair behind her ear and recounted how her best friend, Kristin, surprised her with a Happy late 17th birthday Alibear message that flashed on a screen behind the country singer.
I still get very homesick, she said. I miss my friends. I miss everything. Like in the winter I miss the snow. Right now, here its been raining. But I know there its been super sunny. And I want to be there and go to the pool and get tanned.
Pinzon regrets that she didnt keep up her Spanish while she lived in Overland Park. Her grandma spoke to her in Spanish, but she always answered in English.
After her father and grandmother died, Pinzon moved to Indiana in 2009 to live with the family who once employed her grandmother as a housekeeper.
She graduated the next spring. Like her closest friends, she wanted to go to college. Her sister Lulu went to Saint Louis University. She wanted the same experiences and opportunities. Shed maintained a 3.5 grade-point average through high school. She fantasized about attending the University of Missouri or Indiana University and studying journalism or international relations. She took the SAT at her aunts request, but shes never looked at the scores.
Why would I look at them? she asked. Its not going to help me. Its just going to torture me. I could have gotten into college.
As many of her friends were packing to go to college, she was packing to return to Mexico.
Pinzon tried to get into college when she returned to Mexico City, but she couldnt overcome the bureaucracy. The government wouldnt validate her U.S. high school diploma because shed used a hyphenated name in the United States. Many returning migrants struggle to certify their transcripts. Pinzon was told shed have to get a U.S. court to validate her identity or wait until she was 21, when she could take a GED-equivalent test.
With her good grades and diverse extracurricular activities, which included collecting school supplies for children in Uganda, Pinzon probably would been a shoo-in for a U.S. state college, had she been there legally. But in Mexico, she couldnt even get the government to accept her high school diploma.
It was so much paperwork, she said. So much bureaucracy that it kind of wears you out, and eventually youre going to need money. So I just got a job, and thats what I do now.
She ended up finding a job at a call center, one of thousands where telephone and cable companies, among others, hire Americanized migrants to take customer service calls from the United States at Mexican wages.
One day, she recognized the 913 area code. It was a woman from Overland Park who needed her cable services transferred. Pinzon ignored the five-minute-per-call limit and chatted. She told the woman she used to live by Johnson County Community College. They talked about a local Greek restaurant they both liked.
Dont you love Overland Park? she asked the caller.
On June 15, 2012, less than two years after Pinzon returned to Mexico, she was playing foosball with friends when her sister called from St. Louis.