Traveling While Undocumented on Election Night 2016

“Does anyone else see what’s going on?!” I wanted to scream in Palenque, Mexico’s bus station. It was election night, and Trump was winning.

A sea of red spilled over the U.S. map on my iPad while Miguel and I waited for our overnight bus to Mérida. We found a shiny, round, metal table where we could rest our bodies and backpacks under the fluorescent lighting. Miguel and I had three things in common: we loved drawing, we were born in Mexico, and we came here to explore Mexico after growing up in the USA. I had traveled up from Nicaragua after serving there with the Peace Corps for two years, and he’d flown down from Chicago. We met by chance in Oaxaca and we were traveling up the Yucatán Peninsula together.

“Stop looking at that thing,” he said, side eyeing my iPad. I couldn’t. He scribbled Mayan artwork  into his black sketchbook, but I wondered if he was screaming inside, too. “I’m not surprised he’s winning,” he said. “Americans are racist.”

My mom thought Obama wouldn’t win in 2008 because of this racism, but he was elected. Twice. I desperately hoped that this sort of irony would unfold once more. I slumped in my seat and drank my cactus, pineapple, and celery flavored Activia drinkable yogurt. White, European-looking backpackers played cards next to us, as if it were just another day.

I looked more like them than I looked like Miguel. My family is made up of Mexican-born European and American immigrants. When I was little, I asked my dad why we couldn’t go back to Mexico to visit my dying grandfather. “If we go, we might not be able to come back. You were born in Mexico, but don’t tell people that. Tell them you were born in L.A.,” my dad and his blue eyes told me. He’d try to hide our identity in public, but as a homeschooled kid, he’d often teach me in Spanish. I had no idea then how much my white skin, last name and accent would shelter me until much later.

Miguel kept drawing, his eyes fixated on the thick, white paper that needed the stories from his imagination. His drawings reminded me to look further within my creative self and to be present. He sipped his NesCafé as he did every night to go to sleep, and I took a dramamine pill I’d saved from my Peace Corps service. It would make me less motion sick, but I don’t really get motion sick. I just wanted to numb everything and deny the fascist takeover at “home.”

As our bus pulled in, I read a friend’s Facebook status: “At least California did it’s fucking job.” I hoped other States would do their fucking jobs too, but all I could do was recline my seat and wait for my panic to subside.

At 6 a.m., my anxiety and the city of Mérida greeted me as we rolled in on the carretera. “I think Trump won,” said Miguel, “I haven’t checked but I have friends telling me that whatever happens, they’ve got my back.”

You see, Miguel and I were both undocumented immigrants. The only difference between our status was that at age 21, after living in the U.S. for eighteen years, I became a citizen. Miguel, though, moved to Chicago at age twelve, and over a decade later, despite lacking U.S. citizenship, he returned to Mexico with an Advanced Parole travel document under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Miguel planned to return to the states the day before Trump would be sworn into office as the 45th president. I felt petrified. Not for myself, but for Miguel and all of my friends of color whose fear I will never feel at the thought of what Trump might do. I still don’t think he’ll build a wall, but what would he do? Hopefully he’d be too distracted by learning about checks and balances and adjusting to life in a house that’s not named after him to worry about Miguel.

We pulled into the bus station, stretched our legs, and sat down to stare at our phones in disbelief. The U.S. had just elected a tweeting fascist who brags about sexually assaulting women and who called Mexicans “rapists.” It was as if Moses Lake, my conservative hometown in Washington State, invaded America to spite those of us existing outside of the white heteropatriarchy for eight years under a black president. Those confederate flags waving from my high school classmates’ trucks were a testament to many white people’s fear of becoming outnumbered in a land that was never theirs to begin with.

Physically and emotionally exhausted, we checked into our hostel in Mérida. The staff asked us if we were friends because they offered for us to stay in a private room as opposed to the dorm beds we’d booked. As a lesbian who is used to traveling alone, this was a new situation for me. We jokingly called each other “babe” because everyone assumed we were together. If they only knew that I hadn’t dated a boy in over ten years.

Miguel and I stumbled into our room, exhausted, blasting the air conditioning to combat the intense humidity that made our clothes cling to our sweaty skin. Out the window, people crossed the Cathedral’s plaza and went about their days as usual. I just stared out at them, imagining them wondering “Does anyone else see what’s going on?!” There they were, calm on the outside, but I wondered if they screamed on the inside. Not just here, but in all the streets in every city.

Near the end of our journey together, Miguel and I spent a few nights in Tulum, Cancun’s sleepy neighbor. Nighttime crept up on us, and Miguel wanted to go for a bike ride. “Isn’t that dangerous? What if we hit something we don’t see?” I asked. “Don’t worry about it. Nothing’s going to happen.”

So, we rode into the beachside road past the Mayan pyramids which were dozing off in The Caribbean’s salty humidity. It was surreal to feel the cool air brushing against my once sweaty skin as we floated by.

The hum of our pedals broke the stillness, and we sang along to Manu Chao’s Clandestino:

Soy una raya en el mar,

Fantasma en la ciudad,

Mi vida va prohibida,

Dice la autoridad.

I couldn’t help but feel afraid for Miguel’s future as we sang along. After he left Tulum, I went swimming under the stars and the orange supermoon.

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Nadando con la luna en Tulum.

A post shared by Charlie (@travelercharly) on

The moon’s light reflected on the white sand, but not onto the shaded road back to my hostel. I got on my bike anyway, because there was no point to worry. Then, a sparkle in a tree to my right. Another to my left. Hundreds of sparkles.

Fireflies illuminated my path, and they, like Miguel, reminded me not to fear riding into the darkness.


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