Gonzalo Santos: ‘The most persecuted and neglected people are the ones changing history’

February 24, 2023 /

Dr. Gonzalo Santos is a professor emeritus of sociology, faculty advisor of California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB) United Now for Immigrant Rights, and lifelong activist. Originally from Mexico.

Santos came to the United States in 1970 and has participated in many social movements including the Chicano Movement, the Peace Movement, the Solidarity Movement, and the Immigrants Rights Movement. He taught at CSUB for 30 years before his recent retirement. 

Santos was recently awarded the keys to Mexico City by the city’s current mayor and frontrunner candidate for Mexican President, Dr. Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo. This is a great honor and recognition of his lifelong work on behalf of the Mexican diaspora in the United States. 

“I feel it was a great honor not bestowed on me, but on the Mexican diaspora because we had not been recognized, and by getting the keys to Mexico City, it was a way of recognizing our importance and membership to the great Mexican nation,” said Santos.

This all took place during the summer of 2022 Dreamers study abroad summer. This is a program by the California Mexico Study Center which Santos is a founder of and current Vice President. This independent NGO focuses on the advocacy and development of undocumented youth and young professionals as well as establishing ties in higher education between nations. 

The Dreamers Study Abroad program is an academic opportunity for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients with Advance Parole to travel to Mexico and complete a summer of study and reconnect with loved ones in their countries of origin. The group travels with a delegation of DACA recipients from all over the United States and completes a collective academic program with them. During this, the participating DACA recipients visit loved ones that many have not seen in years or even decades. 

“The students experience an improvement on their mental health and quality of life by going to their countries of birth and reconnecting with loved ones and family,” said Santos.

Citlalli Ortiz, a DACA recipient who was able to participate in this program in 2021, shared it was a privilege to do so. 

“Being able to revisit those places made me realize that I held on to a child’s perspective because things were very different,” said Ortiz. “Although I wasn’t able to return to that house when my grandmother was alive, I was able to pay my respects and visit her in the church where she is resting. This was the moment I had been waiting for and thanks to the program my dream came true. The academic portion of the program was exceptional, we were able to dive into Mexican culture and experience it firsthand.”

Part of this academic week includes writing essays that represent the experiences of these undocumented youth living in the United States. These essays are an insight into the complicated experience of what is referred to as the 1.5 generation of immigrants. These are immigrants living in the US who came to this country as young children and have been living here their whole lives without a pathway to citizenship. 

To highlight these stories, the President of the California Mexico Study Center, Armando Vazquez Ramos, and a group of co-editors decided to make some of these stories into a book. This book is titled, Anthology of Dreams from an Impossible Journey. The book launched summer of 2022 during the Dreamers Study Abroad Program in Mexico City. 

“It is important for policymakers, scholars, and anyone interested in the human condition to read these stories of the pain within the Mexican diaspora with an impossible status in the US,” said Santos.

Santos continued to say that it is important to expand the audience that is receiving these stories to build a wider alliance.  

“For us, it was very important to express to a wider audience of allies and supporters from Mexico and the US how these voices are the authentic reflections of the traumas of the diaspora. These are authentic expressions of people who were raised in America in the impossible subject of being Americans without status,” said Santos.

During this summer, Santos and Vazquez Ramos invited Sheinbaum Pardo to do an open letter for this book. She accepted and brought the Mexican media to cover the event to launch the book. This took place at the Mexico City Museum and was broadcasted on Mexico City’s YouTube channel. 

Mayor Sheinbaum Pardo welcomed the summer dreamers, Santos, and Vazquez Ramos to what she referred to during the event as “the capital of all Mexicans, even the ones in the diaspora.” 

Santos expressed that, “the key idea is to establish a relationship to work together with Mexico City so they will support not just dreamers, but publicly support all the needs and demands from the Mexican diaspora averaging 40 million people in the US.”  

Santos continues to be an advocate and mentor for the immigrant community and actively participates in projects in the US and Mexico. 

“I continue doing advocacy because I live in the US… as long as I live in this country I will continue doing advocacy,” said Santos. 

He invites supporters to read Anthology of Dreams from an Impossible Journey, which can be found at www.california-mexicocenter.org

Santos exclaimed, “It is important to be aware of this issue no matter who you are.”

Santos shared his hope for the immigrant rights movement and the eventual victory for them. 

“What gives me hope are the social movements themselves… the most persecuted and neglected people are the ones changing history,” said Santos. “What gives me hope is that people in history eventually do prevail!”

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