The Exiled Son
The Exile of Xavier Sibaja from Mexico in 1985
essay written by Diego Sibaja
Xavier Sibaja is a American born citizen, though he was raised and educated in Mexico City with his family. His experiences in Mexico influenced him once he arrived to live permanently in the U.S., and though he had some trouble adjusting at first, he was quickly able to participate in the everyday life of the U.S. Sibaja was forced out of Mexico due to his American citizenship which was never resolved, but he made the best out of what happened, and is quite successful to this day.
Born in the US to parents who immigrated to the US for new beginnings,as they were looking for better paying jobs, Sibaja lived in the US for four years with his younger brother and sister, Jose and Silvia. Then in 1965, the family made a decision to move back to Mexico. When they arrived they opened a grocery store in Mexico City. They lived in a “in a neighborhood that was ,uh, close to downtown,”where there was heavy activity and center of many of the parades and other exhibitions that were displayed.1 In the city the only thing children could do to amuse themselves was to go to the city park to play with whatever was available to them. Aside from playing in the parks, Sibaja visited the museums that dot the city and watched the military parades that took place in the streets. From time to time, his uncles and relatives would take Sibaja and his siblings to see the soccer games in the huge stadiums that are located in the capital.
Though Sibaja says, “I didn't notice any difference until later in life, I learned that it [is] quite different to live in Mexico City as a kid,” now compared to then,now it is dangerous for a child to be alone in the city at any time, and it is even potentially dangerous for adults at night.2 During his childhood, however, the city was considered to be a very safe place for children, so at 7 and 8 years old, Sibaja wandered the streets alone. This developed his independence, as he was able to roam alone without the company of his parents.He says at “12 [years old] went to a restaurant to order food on my own, I didn't have to have an adult there.”3 There was a lot of independence for him during those times. Sibaja also went to museums on his own, and completed tasks that were expected from many parents in the city. The only times that children were required to see the family was during lunch and supper; besides that, children were free to do as they pleased in the city.
With all this freedom Sibaja was allowed to do many different things and Sibaja says, “I enjoyed it a lot, because I was myself very independent, [so] I liked the fact that I could do whatever I wanted to do, [so] there [was] a lot of learning experience in those days”4 he still had to help his family. He traveled with his mother to the nearby town of Leon, where they bought shoes and then returned to the city and to sell them for a profit. They took the bus very early in the morning and endured the four hour bus ride. Once they arrived, they would visit the cathedral in the town, where, Sibaja would sometimes sleep due to his fatigue. Because he was the oldest of his siblings, he had many duties. Due to the duties bestowed upon him by his family, he often came into contact with adults. He saw that life was much more complicated than how it seemed. Very “...early on the game,” says Sibaja “I was always concerned and excited to decide what I was going to do with my future.”5 With this viewpoint he became a focused youngster who wondered what he would be doing in his future.
Sibaja would sometimes visit his place of birth, the United States, over the years. Depending on how the economy was doing in that given year, his family would somtimes visit their relatives living in Ventura County. They enjoyed the first couple weeks with their family, he also began to see the differences between his two homes Sibaja says,“because there was nothing else to do in the small town that we used to be in, and it was not as free.” 6 People in the U.S. were more conservative, and Sibaja and his brother were looked down on for not having to work due to their grandfather having a stable job. Once however, due to financial troubles the family was experiencing that year, the family decided to try living in the U.S. again. They had some trouble settling in at that age, Sibaja says their cousins, in America, “spoke no Spanish, and we spoke Spanish and we were arguing about that, how to say this and what to say, what are you talking about.”7 At the schools, all the classes were divided. They had a bilingual class, a white only class, a Latino class, and many others. While in Mexico, all the students were in one class, regardless of ethnicity, language, or social status, in Ventura, he was required to attend a special class, and Sibaja never liked going to that class.
His cousins and siblings had to overcome a language barrier, but once they did, they grew “up to influence each other because they also had to make a trade off, they also had to come to Mexico City, and they also [had] to experience the way we did things”8 during their visits to Mexico. They became very close, as Sibaja had to show them around the city, and take them to the different sights. During their time together, they slowly assimilated on both ends, creating a bridge between the two countries. After staying for one year in Ventura, the family decided that even though they were able to connect with their family there, they could not assimilate into American society yet. So at the age of twelve, Sibaja and his family returned to Mexico once again.
Some time after returning from Mexico, Sibaja found that he would have to make a choice where or not to go to high school. In Mexico, it was, and still is seen to be pointless to go to high school, if one is not planning to go to college afterwards. It is necessary to compete for a spot in high school, as people are “.. not secured a spot in high school.”9 He was able to get into a high school, which was part of a university. In that high school, students are automatically admitted into the university, which was Universidad National Autonoma de Mexico, the largest university in Mexico. High school in Mexico is only three years long, and after Sibaja graduated he attended the university along with his brother.
During his time in high school, he was taught by Spanish refugees from the Spanish Civil War. The high school he attended was “the best public high school in Mexico because all these professors were scientist, and writers,” and Sibaja was able to learn many things.10 He was exposed to a level of teaching that few high schools receive, and the professors shared their stories of being thrown out of the country. They were highly politicized, and influenced many of their students. In high school, all students were considered and treated as adults, though they were around the age of sixteen. The school did not reprimand them for cutting class or for loitering around the campus instead of being in class. The officials would not take any steps to warn students if they were in danger of failing. Exams were the only things that were enforced, and students who didn't pass would stay in the same grade until they passed or dropped out. Sibaja was forced to become much more disciplined as there was no one around to push him to do better. He could only rely on himself.
Before he entered college, Sibaja had to decide what should be his major in college would be. Sibaja says that on “ the day that I had to fill in the form I was in line tossing a coin, this this, [not this], and thats how I chose it because I didn't know what to do,” and so he chose communications as his major.11 This worked out in his favor, as he loves to research and to tell stories. When he chose his major, he finally attended UNAM the college in which he was guranteed a spot. In college he was further exposed to much more liberal ideas which would continue to influence his future.
College was very different from high school. In the university there were students from all social clases. Unlike high school which had students from the middle and upper class of society, college also had kids from the lower classes. He had classmates that practically had apartments inside their parent's homes, and classmates whose neighborhoods were full of squatters and trash. Sibaja saw both sides of society during his time in college. People in that time “[went to] one extreme to the other.”12 Though he had friends, all of them went their own ways to find out what they had to do in life. Unlike many schools, the students had to fullfill a school long project for their class, doing many different things. His project was to find out why the government had created certain policies. This project eventually landed him a job, as an assistant for the Ministry of Interior. His job was to compile information about the policies that were imposed recently that were posted on the newspaper. They produced small binders in two hours, starting at 4 a.m. which was when the newspapers were given out. After the reports were written, one of the workers would ride with a cop to the home of the Secretary of Interior, and answer any questions the secretary had about the papers.
During his time working for the secretary, there was growing economical problems in Mexico. When oil was found in the 70's, Mexico began to pump it and sell the oil. But in 1981, the oil markey fell, and when it fell, Mexico was buried in piles of debt due to unchecked spending, making the peso worth almost nothing compared to the dollar. The government then proceeded to nationalize the banks as to prevent them from closing, and Sibaja's money fell. Sibaja says, “When they closed the banks and then reopened the banks, they gave me my money back in pesos, so instead of me having 1500 dollars, I ended up having 300 dollars.”13 This happened to many people in Mexico, and many Mexicans lost large amounts of money. It was also during this time, that Mexico City became much more dangerous than before. People turned ot robbery and crime in order to make due and be able to survive.
In the 1980's, the Reagan Administration began to pressure Mexico. Due to the wars in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile and Argentina, Mexico became a haven for refugees from those belligerent nations. Half of his professors in his university were refugees from these nations. Because of this, Sibaja says the, “Reagan Administration complained about how there [were] all these radical communists in Mexico and there [were] a lot of students with no visas and everybody could come to Mexico no matter what,” which forced the government to make drastic decisions.14 Most of the students and professors did not have the necessary papers to avoid being thrown out. So students without papers would have to, after they graduated, leave Mexico as soon as they graduated. Due to Sibaja being born as an American, and never fixing his status, he fell under this new law. After he graduated from UNAM, Sibaja was forced to leave the country.
Sibaja was shocked by his forced removal from Mexico, as he says “if you are raised in Mexico you think your Mexican, and you sort of forget you were born in another country.”15 His parents and himself never had second thoughts of him being born in the US, and so they never made any effort to change his status in Mexico until it was too late. He never had any issues with anyone about being born in a different country than Mexico, as he was always seen as a Mexican by others. Sibaja proceeded to get an attorney to work out a way to get a work visa and stay in Mexico, but he still had to leave the country. In 1985 Sibaja arrived to the U.S. permanently, and began to live with his father, who had moved back to the US before him. Awhile after he arrived, he was wandering the streets of LA, when he saw the building of the Spanish newspaper La Opinion, which was offering a freelance positions. Sibaja inquired about the job, and was able to have lunch with the editor. During his lunch, he was able to secure his position due to his writing skills in Spanish. Then this job led to another. The editor had another job on the side, but could no longer keep it, and so Sibaja was offered this job also. The job was for a public relations firm that promoted films. At the firm he was given a scholarship for UCLA for a public relations program. At that point, he made the decision to stay in the U.S. for the next 3 years, which was the amount of time he spent attending UCLA. Sibaja called his attorney, telling him “...forget about it, I'm not going back and I'm staying here for the next 3 years.”16
Though he got the job at the PR firm, the job did not last long. The freelance job at the La Opinion newspaper was did not pay as well as other jobs, as he was paid for every story he printed out. With his decision to stay in the U.S. Sibaja needed a better paying job to pay for the apartment he and his dad were living in. Sibaja quit both jobs and aquired a job at the Los Angeles Public Services as a job worker. Sibaja grew tired of that job, and continued to move on from job to job, including one that allowed him to work under Congressman Henry Waxman. Later he helped open a short lived Latino magazine with a friend of his, though when it closed he moved on.
Living in the U.S. Sibaja was still able to keep his relationships with everyone back in Mexico alive, and friends came up to visit him. Sibaja also began to have many different jobs, moving from one to the other. In these jobs, he saw the differences in management styles from Mexico and the U.S., Sibaja says “in Mexico you are basically, trained to follow directions,” while in the US you only talk to the boss when you run into problems, and in Mexico you ask for advice.17 Also in Mexico, Sibaja was paid only $600 to $700 a month, he also received heavy discounts from government stores, where he could buy groceries or whatever he needed at perhaps half the cost than at the regular market. In the US he received better pay, but with few the benefits. He had diffulty in understanding this employment different system, because having an accent in those days was a disadvantage. Sibaja also experienced many things in the US, such as the earthquake that rocked Los Angeles, and the LA Riots that shook him to the core, as his house and parents were in the middle of the crossfire. He had to dash home, gather what he could, and make a run for Ventura. He witnessed the looting, and his block was even set ablaze, though his home avoided harm and he was able to avoid danger. Through time Sibaja was able to participate in American society with little problems due in part to his family's history of coming and leaving the U.S. since the 1950's.
1. Sibaja Xavier. Personal Interview. 24 May 2009, 2
2. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 2
3. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 2
4. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 2
5. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 3
6. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 3
7. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 4
8. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 4
9. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 5
10. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 5
11. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 6
12. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 7
13. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 9
14. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 9
15. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 9
16. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 10
17. Sibaja,24 May 2009, 14