Homeward Bound

As he arrives at Monterey Regional Airport, DACA recipient Jesus Hernandez hugs his daughters Camila, left, and Emilia, center, as his step-daughter Liana Maldonado, right, looks on as they welcome him home from his two-week-long trip to his hometown in Mexico.

Jesus Hernandez is a 31-year-old carpenter in Salinas, who left the place where he was born in Queretaro, Mexico, at 8 years old. He moved with his mom and sister to Monterey to reunite with his dad, who’d left Queretaro two years prior, in pursuit of the American dream.

Hernandez knew about his undocumented status as a teenager, after he started questioning why he couldn’t go back to his hometown to visit his grandmother and cousins. Since he crossed the border in 1998, Hernandez had never stepped on Mexican soil – until last month, when he finally went back to Queretaro after obtaining a permit to travel outside of the U.S., called advance parole. He was able to request advance parole because of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals); DACA recipients can request such travel permits under certain circumstances: humanitarian, work or study abroad reasons. Hernandez’s request, for humanitarian reasons, was granted so that he could visit his 80-year-old grandmother, Maria de Jesu, and see her alive. Hernandez yearned to hug and talk with her.

His visit to her was a Plan B, after she had planned to apply for a visa to visit Hernandez and his family in Salinas, but she got sick. Hernandez went to see several lawyers and all but one discouraged him from applying for advance parole, saying he was wasting his money or that he would get stuck in Mexico. Salinas-based immigration attorney Blanca Zarazua told him she’d make it happen and told him to buy his flight tickets. “I was scared of buying a ticket without being approved,” he says.

But it worked – within a week, he got his permit. He called his cousin Gama Resendiz and uncle Bernardo Hernandez and told them he was flying the next day. “They couldn’t believe it,” Hernandez says. He left from Monterey Regional Airport at 6am on April 13, and that afternoon, was in Mexico.

Despite the fast travel turnaround, he was too late for his original purpose. His grandma died a week and a half before he got his permit. “That’s why I was trying to make it there,” he says. But he was able to bring flowers to her grave: “I still made it to see her.” He spoke to the Weekly about his long-awaited return home.

Weekly: Several lawyers told you it would be difficult to get advance parole. How did you feel when you got the permit?

Hernandez: I was happy because I was going to return to my hometown, but at the same time, I was nervous and scared, because it had been a long time since I’ve been there.

How did your family in Salinas take the news you were traveling to Mexico in the middle of a pandemic?

They were excited that I was going there, and a little worried because of the whole Covid situation. But they said as long as you are careful and take precautions, you should be OK.

After waiting for 23 years to go back and visit, this was a last-minute trip. What kind of arrangements did you have to make in order for it to work?

I called my boss on a Sunday and I told him listen, I’m planning a trip. I have to leave the country for two weeks. He was supportive. I have just finished a big project with him.

How was seeing your relatives in the flesh after so many years?

I was excited to go back to them, to hug them and see them after over 20 years. All my cousins that were small are adults now.

Which was your experience like being back in your hometown – was it strange, or did it feel familiar?

Even though I wasn’t there for 23 years. I recognize the streets, the houses, the people. I was walking around town and saying hi to people. I kept on telling my cousins, “I know them. I know them.” They were surprised I remembered them.

You planned a surprise meeting with your great-aunt. How did it go?

She couldn’t believe it, but I was there in person. Now with social media, she knew who I was and what I Iook like, and I would video chat her and we send pictures back and forth.

Did you have a to do list or places you wanted to visit or food you wanted to try in your hometown?

I wanted to try it all. Just a regular concha, or there is a pan called mestiza. It’s like plain bread but it has a really good flavor. The Mexican food, just the bread, the cheese, everything.

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