American Raised In Mexican Orphanage Reclaims Her Citizenship
Hundreds of kids are raised in orphanages in Baja California. This is a story of a classic immigrant tale, with a twist.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Aired 5/17/12 on KPBS News.
Flor Jacqueline was always aware she was a U.S. citizen, but her mother forbade her from returning to the U.S. Now 18, she has reclaimed her citizenship and is on her way to the U.S. One of her goals: help the family that caused her so much pain.
Special Feature More On Baja Orphans
Once a month, a group of volunteers visit an orphanage in Tijuana to lend a hand.
VALLE DE GUADALUPE, MX – Flor Jacqueline looks like your typical teenager: She’s full of energy, self-conscious about her looks, and likes to hang out with friends.
But her life story is unique. She’s an American citizen abused by relatives who has lived about half of her life in a Casa de Hogar, which is basically what is known as an orphanage in the United States.
Now 18, she is reclaiming her U.S. citizenship. Her ultimate goal is to go to college in the U.S. and start a new life.
“Because I see that there are many more opportunities over there to get ahead,” Flor said in Spanish. “Because here, it seems, that life is much more difficult.”
Hundreds of children – whose parents have died or abandoned them – live in loosely regulated group homes in Baja California. Most of these homes depend on the charity of Americans to operate.
Maria Dolores Paris Pombo has studied immigration and orphans at Tijuana’s Colegio de la Frontera Norte (College of the Northern Border). She says kids who have U.S. citizenship tend to return to the U.S. to stay with a relative or guardian.
“What is rare to see are kids who are U.S. citizens living in an orphanage, or in Mexico by themselves,” Paris said in Spanish. “Because someone from the U.S. will claim them.”
Paris said she has seen kids in Tijuana who are U.S. citizens living in group homes. But they arrive there because they follow their parents, who were deported from the U.S. Then, the parents return to the U.S. and leave their kids behind, either because the trek is too dangerous or they don’t have enough money to pay the smuggler, Paris said.
Flor’s story is different. She was born in Long Beach, Calif. and came to Mexico at age 4, when her mother decided returned to Ensenada.
At age 8, neighbors called the authorities when they heard a disturbance at Flor’s house. They found her bleeding from a head wound, and she was taken to a hospital for treatment. She was removed from her family and taken to the first Casa de Hogar.
Attempts at reunification with her family failed, so she was placed in a second home and later a third, which she escaped from. Flor seemed destined for a tough life on the streets; one of her friends got pregnant at 15.
But at an age when most teenagers who are heading down the wrong path don’t turn around, Flor changed.
“More than anything, I saw my family and how they were and I said: ‘Oh no! I don’t want to be like them,’ ” she said. “And it was that, more than anything, that inspired me to change.”
At age 16 and still a ward of the state, Flor was placed in Rancho El Faro, where she still lives.
The orphanage is in the Valle de Guadalupe, surrounded by vineyards and olive trees.
Rancho translates to ranch in English and that is how this group home is run: They raise animals and crops to eat; they wash their clothes the old-fashioned way; the new kitchen under construction will burn wood because it’s cheaper than buying propane.
About 35 orphans live here — most of whom are adolescent girls. Most orphanages in Mexico will not accept children older than 12, believing them to be too much trouble.
Cristina Rodriguez Medrano, the director of Rancho El Faro, says Flor uses her rough childhood as motivation.
“She focuses on what she wants,” Rodriguez said. “And that should help her break the cycle of abuse and dependency that she grew up in, because it hurt her growing up in an orphanage.”
To help Flor reach her goal, an Orange County-based charity called the Corazón de Vida Foundation has taken a special interest in her. Employees helped her obtain her birth certificate and have driven her to the U.S. consulate in Tijuana to obtain her passport.
But why take such an intense interest in one orphan from the hundreds the foundation helps? Maricarmen Macfarland Hernandez says Flor is a special case.
“Flor Jacqueline has a strong talent,” said Macfarland, the foundation’s liaison in Mexico. “She has a big, big heart and she knows exactly what she wants out of life.”
The foundation wants to do more than help Flor claim her citizenship. The plan is to have her spend the summer in in the United States at the home of Hilda Pacheco-Taylor, the foundation’s president. There, she will learn English, and probably sneak in a day or two of fun.
After graduating from high school in Mexico, where she gets good grades, the goal is to have Flor attend college in the U.S. in 2013.
She wants to major in veterinary medicine or a field that will allow her to work at a zoo. Flor said her love for animals comes from her abusive past: she viewed them as a refuge. She could talk to dogs and cats and they would not yell back.
Flor’s also wants to help her family, despite the challenges that poses. Flor wants to reunite with her mother, and support her siblings – three brothers and a little sister – who all live in Mexico. Despite growing up in an extremely dysfunctional family, she feels an obligation to be there for them.
Video by Katie Euphrat. Voiceovers (in order of appearance) by Alisa Barba, Simonne Villamichel & Maya Barba.
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