Gissela Moya


Student/ Aspiring Attorney

My name is Gisela Moya. I was born in Honduras, San Pedro Sula. I came here when I was 11. Before coming here, I lived in Mexico for eight months. My parents came here first: my dad came here when I was seven, and my mom when I was nine. I was mostly raised by my older sisters.

My dad and mom came for economic reasons.  But my sisters and I came because one of my cousins was raped and when we tried to seek justice through the police, they simply said “She wanted it.”

She was 13 and he was 28. After we pressed charges, his family started threatening us. Out of fear that something would happen to me because I was the baby, my mom wanted to make sure she could get us to the U.S as soon as possible. My parents came undocumented, and I came the same way.

Our journey to the US started in Honduras. My parents always said they were going to bring us all here. I remember telling my friends that I was going to go to the US and they wouldn’t believe me. We left in early January of 2007. I will never forget that night. I was eleven years old when I said goodbye to my home, childhood friends, and my sister Raquel, who would not make the journey and whom I have yet to see. In the flat bed of a pickup truck on our way to the bus station, we listened to Ricardo Arjona’s “Mojado,” a pop hit about immigration.

The next day, we had crossed Guatemala and arrived at Mexico’s southern border. Like many of today’s migrants, we headed toward the Suchiate River, by Guatemala’s Pacific coast. There, a coyote ordered me and my sisters to remove our clothes to cross the river. A cousin who had accompanied us impersonating my mom on the trip refused, fearful we would be subject to sexual abuse, which is suffered by many Central American girls and women who migrate to the United States.

My cousin who was impersonating my mom said, “No, my daughter is not going to take off her clothes.” And then she carried me, so I wouldn’t get wet. I was quite small. We just had to make sure that we were with our clothes. Even if we got wet, we wouldn’t take them off. Once we got to Mexico, we left to the house we needed to get to.

In Mexico, we stayed in a small town in the Yucatán Peninsula, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, for eight months. We stayed with the same family that my parents had stayed with when they were crossing. Months later, we moved out of the house because the caregiver was mostly keeping the money that my parents would send her instead of feeding us right.

After leaving the first house, we started living with a friend my sisters and I met through church in Mexico. There, we slept on the floor on a mat, covered by mosquito net. At least there we were happier because the other issue with the first house was that the caregiver had two sons. We always felt like they would try to spy on us while we took showers. So, we always had to be careful.

I finished sixth grade in Mexico. My sisters made sure I attended school, where I was isolated and bullied for my Honduran accent.

That was a bad memory, but I had great memories there as well. A lot of great people helped my sister and me. I remember eating rambutanes. They’re red and sweet. There were a lot of rambutan trees over there and a lot of coffee; cafetales. I always had great coffee there.

Our caregiver claimed me as her daughter to give me Mexican citizenship. She did it, so we could cross Mexico without much trouble. My parents paid our caregiver to take us from Chiapas to Tijuana through airplane since we were citizens of Mexico, but she refused to follow through. She just wanted to keep the money.

Her husband decided to take us to Tijuana on a bus. We were in the bus for three days crossing from Chiapas to Tijuana. They would stop us on the bus, and I always acted like I was asleep. There was this one time that we needed to stop to go to the bathroom and so we go and once we’re trying to go back in the bus, an immigration official decides to stop us and test us through our vocabulary to see if we were really from Mexico. Thankfully, we passed his test.

Three days after, we arrived at Tijuana to a very nice couple. We were with them for two weeks. They were so kind to us. Sadly, both of them have died. The wife tried to teach me English, but I wasn’t able to pick it up.

After two weeks, my parents found a coyote to cross us to the U.S. Only two sisters could come. My oldest sister and I ended up coming together. We went to Mexicali, and in Mexicali the coyote gave us fake papers. I don’t know if they were real or fake. We crossed through the main port of entry with a woman. Supposedly, she was following someone else and was supposed to go to an specific lane, but she went on the wrong one and we got stopped.

The Border Patrol said that my accent wasn’t from the state that my id stated. So, they told us to go inside for a second inspection. I was 11, but I was impersonating someone who was nine years old. Once we went in for second inspection, I couldn’t understand what the officers were saying. They separated my sister and me. My sister was in a separate room for questioning while I waited with another agent. I remember the agent trying to make me laugh.

I didn’t know what was going on until my sister came back. They transferred us to another checkpoint. I remember that they had a mattress for kids there. It was a waiting place.  My sister was 21 and she was seven months pregnant. They took our fingerprints and paroled us in because my family was here. Years later, I requested a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which details what happened when we got apprehended. The FOIA said, they had already put the paperwork for me to go to a children’s detention center, but because they were full, and my sister couldn’t be deported through airplane, they decided not to separate us and paroled us in.

A family friend picked us up from Calexico. We had to wait for like five hours after we got out. I remember there was a McDonald’s right outside the building. I only had $5 and my clothes was kind of dirty. With my $5 dollars I bought a pink shirt that said, “Hello baby, LA Girl.” That was the first shirt I bought in the U.S.

Eventually, the family friend picked us up and we drove to Ontario, California. On our way there she took us to a Denny’s, and that was the first restaurant that I ate in the U.S. Her son came along, and he was teaching me how to say bad words. Hours later we arrived at Ontario, California and saw my parents. I hadn’t seen my dad in five years and my mom in three years. It was just so weird. My mom had lost a lot of weight.

We were all living in an apartment. I was amazed that all the roads were paved because in Honduras they’re not and in Mexico, they weren’t either, not fully. We woke up and my parents went to work. My dad was a gardener, he’s a gardener still, and my mom was working in a factory.

After they left in the morning to go to work, my sister and I woke up in the morning and checked out the apartment. I was so surprised by the shower head in the bathroom because in Honduras we didn’t have a lot of water. We first put water in a bucket and then use a cup to shower. I was also surprised by the kitchen cabinets which looked fancy in my eyes. Back in Honduras you didn’t have that. You needed to have money. And my dad had this big TV and I thought it was so much better here. I didn’t know that according to American standards we were considered poor.

Right now, I’m at UC Berkeley studying political science. I transferred here from Chaffey College which is located in Rancho Cucamonga. I’m a senior now. When I was in high school my counselor told me, I couldn’t go to college, but I was determined to find a way to go to college. Throughout my high school years, I was very involved as a student. I ran track and field, cross country, swim, I sang choir, AP classes, I did theater, and more. I tried to be as involved as I could because it was the first time that I had the option to. It’s insane how I began to dream here. In Honduras, my reality wouldn’t even allow me to have crazy dreams. Here, all these doors were open and I wanted to take every opportunity.

Because I am undocumented I thought I wasn’t going to be able to go to a university or a Cal State, but I still applied. The DREAM Act had already passed in 2012 and I graduated 2013 so I was eligible to go right after high school but my high school counselor told me that there was a lot of paperwork to file and that I couldn’t go.

Thankfully, I started at Chaffey College and became part of a program called Puente Program. They focus on first-generation students and help them transfer to four-yearuniversities. In that program, I learned about the importance of mentorship, community, confidence, and it also helped me stop being ashamed of being undocumented. I hated the face that people would give me when I told them that I was undocumented, I felt so much shame all the time. Eventually, I began to speak more about what it meant for me to be undocumented and I received a lot of support.

I was in track and field my first year of college. I ran the 400-meter hurdles. Being an athlete and part of the Puente Program developed my confidence. It made me realize that I didn’t want to end up stuck in a factory job because for many of my family members it was the only option and it pained me to see their struggle.

The biggest hurdle for me has always been not being able to qualify for DACA by two months. I worked while going to community college. Every year I applied to the scholarships offered at my school because they didn’t ask for citizenship. I was always on the lookout for scholarships that didn’t require citizenship.

It was through scholarships that I bought my first car. On the first two years of community college, I rode the bus. I walked more than a mile to get to the bus stop and then it would take me more than an hour to get to the school. It would take 15 minutes through car. My first car was this Honda Civic 1996, having a car made things so much better. During that year, I was also the president of the Dreamer’s Club.

My fear once I applied to university was figuring out how I would pay for school. Not having a social security to take out loans or my family’s financial support made me feel like I was alone. I knew I had to figure it out on my own.

Thankfully, financial aid does not depend on being eligible for DACA status, there are laws like AB 540, California Dream Act, BOGS waiver which help students despite not being eligible for DACA.

My journey with financial aid has been challenging because there’s so many scholarships and internships that I cannot even apply. While applying for internships this summer, I had to look for the ones that did not ask for work authorization.

Right now, I don’t know how I’m going to apply to law school. I’ve only met two undocumented lawyers without DACA who went to law school. They got more than 30 scholarships to pay for law school. I know that’s going to be me. I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I just know that I will find a way to pay for it. With the program that I’m in, I have the possibility to get my Master’s in Public Policy paid for.  I’m navigating my options. I’m going to have to go to an Ivy League, they are going to have more money. There’s no way I will be able to go to school without financial aid. Absolutely, not way.

As of now, my goal is to get a master’s in public policy and law. I know the importance of being a lawyer and the respect that it gives you. Hopefully, at that time I’d be formally undocumented. I know that I need credibility in whatever I do, whether it’s advocacy, policy work, or law.

I have worked with undocumented women from Guatemala in legal offices before. Often when immigrants try to advocate for themselves, immigration officers do not listen to them. They don’t until they bring a lawyer.

I know how much the community needs representation. I know that my family didn’t take me to court back in 2007 because they thought that they were going to deport us if we went to our court hearing.

Something that has taken a significant role in my life is being Honduran, being Central American, what that means in the immigration narrative. I know that most of the kids right now who are being separated are Central Americans and mostly from Honduras. The caravan that was going through Mexico that ignited Trump to enforce the zero-tolerance policy were mostly Hondurans.

I always think of myself being 11 years old and reading my FOIA and just thinking, “What if there would have been space for me? How long would I have been there? How much more would that have traumatized me?”

Just the fact that I didn’t see my parents for five years affected me significantly. It took me years to tell them that I loved them. Because I had all these abandonment issues and I was mad at them because they weren’t there for me during part of my childhood. At the same time, I felt guilty for resenting them because they gave me a better life.

It was literally two years ago before coming to Berkeley that I finally told my mom that it affected me that I didn’t see her. And she was like, “It affected me as well, I didn’t have any of my daughters.” I put myself in my mom’s shoes, and then on my sister’s shoes who stayed behind in Honduras which I haven’t seen in almost 12 years and started seeing the world different. She doesn’t have her immediate family. All her sisters and her parents are here.

She’s 32. We’ve been trying to help her apply for a visa, but there’s a lot of hurdles over there. You need to have more than $150,000 in your bank account to make sure that you don’t stay here. She’s a teacher over there, but sometimes I feel like I don’t know her because I haven’t seen her. I’ve tried to stay in contact with her, but it’s not the same.

The current immigration policies constantly drain me. Sometimes I’m trying to focus in school, but then my parents call me saying “There’s immigration raids in Oakland, there’s immigration raids in San Francisco,” and meanwhile I’m worried there’s going to be an immigration raid in South California and someone’s going to get deported out of nowhere.

I feel like I’m in this constant anger. I hide it and I suppress it. I’m able to channel it through my therapist. But for me, knowing how TPS is going to affect thousands of Central Americans really angers me. I’m just so angry because I know how it’s going to impact their kids. I know how it impacts the relationships with your parents and I hate the fact that there are kids going of go through that.

My hope for this country is compassion. I’m able to talk to people who do not agree with me or who are Republican. I see their humanity. I try to understand where they’re coming from, why they think the way they think.

I can question whatever they’re doing in a manner that they’re not going to feel defensive and that they’re going to listen. I don’t know how that happens, but it softens them, and they start seeing that I’m not coming at them with aggression.

It sucks that I have to be extra nice because that means I’m putting emotional labor to make sure that they see my own humanity. But that is something that I have seen work in my experience, just never going to their level. If they’re screaming at me, I wait until they calm down, so we can actually talk. Sometimes it means talking about things that are not even related to politics. Because we like our families, we like eating with our families. We like going on walks, we like the beach, or we like the sun. There’s things that we do have in common. Even if you are extremists, there has to be something because we’re humans.

It’s just like all these layers that you have to take off because they don’t even know why they even hate me. How could you have so much free time that you’re going to hate me? To put all that emotion into hating a person, another human being? I just don’t see how that’s benefiting you because you’re harboring all that hate inside of you and that’s what you’re spitting out left and right. And I do not want to be part of that.

That’s why I’m going to try to just see you as human, just see wherever you’re coming from. And we’re going to talk and express in a respectful manner. I’m not trying to change your mind or anything, I’m just trying to let you be a human and hope you let me be human. But I feel like once they start seeing that they have nothing to feel threatened for they see that I want a simple life. I want to live. I don’t want to survive. Help me live and not just survive.

I feel this love and hate relationship about America because I do have amazing opportunities here, more than I would ever have in Honduras. But I also hate the fact that I even had to come here. America has destabilized a lot of Latin America through history. You’re talking about El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile and other countries. And then right now, they legitimized the presidency of Juan Orlando, the Honduran President right now, when he did voter fraud.

The election was last year and Salvador Nasralla, the opponent, was leading when 50% of the votes had gotten in. Out of nowhere, there was a power outage in the machines. And next thing you know the margin is closes and Juan Orlando, the ex-president, wins. But Juan Orlando was the one who helped oust Manuel Zelaya, who was seen as a socialist by the US and was ousted through a coup back in 2009.

When Juan Orlando became president, he got rid of some of the Supreme Court justices and replaced them with his own and then changed the clause to be able to get reelected which was against the constitution. On election night there were riots and more than 31 people were killed post-election. Instead of the US calling for a recount, they legitimize his administration.

I hope that with my story people can see my humanity, one, but I hope that more people have rights especially for due process. I really hope the children get released from children detention centers. I hope they start believing that they have a future. I hope that they receive a lot of therapy because they will need it. I hope that going to counseling isn’t stigmatized. I hope that our community gets healing. I really hope that we can heal.

I really hope that we can live in a world where we’re not surviving day to day, paycheck to paycheck, where we get to live what all these people dream of living. That we’re actually glad to be in this country and not upset to be in this country. Not mad at this country. To actually stand for something that is right.

For me, personally, I hope that people do not come here out of necessity because it sucks being undocumented in the US. It really sucks. I do not imagine a life where I constantly have to prove my dignity and my humanity. I can’t. I cannot stay here if you tell me that I’m going to be living here 50 years more undocumented, I can’t. I personally could not. I just cannot live day to dayor years to years with no hope. And I do not want to feel mistreated or disregarded. If I have less than 80 years in this life, I do not want to feel like I’m nothing. Whatever you say, we will always give more than what we are given.