Sarai is a young woman who is well acquainted with facing the struggles of life head on, and shining brightly regardless of real setbacks. Her authentic personality and openness have made her an ideal advocate and speaker on many social issues, including DACA rights, and women’s issues. Her most inspiring moment was speaking at the latest Women’s March in Greenville. She is destined to create a meaningful impact in our community, just by being herself, and helping others to do the same.
Sarai is from Canoa, Puebla, a town of about 14,000 inhabitants. This small village in central Mexico is infamous for the 1968 lynching deaths of five young hikers thought to be communists - an oppressive reputation for a hometown. Sarai grew up in Canoa and when she was 11 years old, her mother brought her to the US.
“At the time I didn’t understand how life changing my mother’s decision was going to be. I only knew that wherever my mother went, I was going to go also. Looking back at the circumstances, it is clear to me that there wasn’t one simple reason. - lack of familial support, economic stability, physical safety, better education, and emotional stability were all in the mix of propelling my mother to go into the unknown with her children.”
Sarai ended up in Upstate South Carolina because the family followed people they knew from their hometown who were already in Pickens County. She is adamant that her family made the best decision in her favor by bringing her to the US, despite the rapid changes to immigration policy that can alarm and destabilize DACA recipients.
Sarai reflects that, “The clearest most advantageous thing that has happened to me in the US is that, through DACA, I am more easily able to access and afford mental health care. I started addressing mental health in my life about three years ago. Striving for higher education, collaborating with volunteers, and freely sharing my experiences would not be possible without the mental health care I have sought. Living in the US has opened my family and I to a broader perspective to what living healthy means. I don’t know that we would have grown in this way had we remained in the town that I grew up in.”
Sarai strives for balance between the many positive and negative forces acting on her life. She is pursuing an Associate’s degree at Tri-County Technical college, but has reduced her class schedule because she must also work to support her education. It is a lot to juggle and she has needed to delay her graduation date, but she plans to pursue higher education for as long as she can.
When asked what her life might have been like if she had remained in Mexico, she asserts, “I cannot guess what kind of job or how many children I would have if I had never left Mexico. However, I can safely say that growing up in the U.S. has allowed me to think for myself. The United States has taught me that I have a choice. Anything from choosing to follow cultural expectations to choosing to exceed the expectations of negative labels that I didn’t get to choose - this is my American freedom and identity. Wherever I get, or don’t get, deported to, this will remain with me.
As an active advocate for the rights and opportunities of DACA recipients, she has never been one to gloss over difficult truths. Her status has forced her to imagine herself, and her future beyond her current circumstances, and even her current country of residence. Considering this, her attitude towards being a “DACA Student” is interesting - “I am deeply grateful to be have DACA status. The limitations are frustrating but they proved to be a validation that I needed from my government. I am here, I live here, and I matter.”
What does Hispanic Heritage mean to Sarai, whose life has been clearly split in half by her time in two counties?
“Hispanic heritage to me, means accepting the ambiguity of your identity. I am Mexican and American at the same time. I have experienced both, and both will be with me always. Secondly, I was born in Mexico, but hispanic heritage to me, means that regardless of where you were born you can approach me, you can talk to me in Spanish, and that you can count on me.
Finally, we asked Sarai to predict the future. What would happen if she and others like her were given the right to contribute fully to our American society?
“If DACA recipients were freely given the chance to contribute to the United State they would lead fearlessly. Many already are, but many are also afraid and with reason. This is the time for allies to speak up for the well being of their communities. A competitive flourishing economy and unity among cultures can be spurred by accessing the potential of DACA recipients. DACA recipients are a hybrid generation that understands the intricacies of cultural differences, and can step in to unite them.”
The Hispanic Alliance honors Sarai Bautista as a woman who has stepped up to speak and lead fearlessly, and who works to unite the many complex cultural groups created through immigration. We believe that her life and work show why immigration is a beautiful part of Hispanic and American Heritage to honor and maintain for the future.