SeriesLIVE

Gaby Pacheco

Immigrant Archive Project
Gaby Pacheco is a nationally recognized immigrant rights leader. As a young girl, Gaby was told that her undocumented status would prevent her from ever attending college or doing many of the things her peers simply took for granted. Rather than letting the no's stop her, she used them to fuel her quest for change. We'll hear about her undocumented immigrant experience, her many helpers along the way, and her mission to revamp our outdated immigration system.
Show transcript
00:00
I didn't let the no stop me.
00:02
I actually used that word.
00:04
You can't to fuel me uh to challenge myself to say I'm going
00:10
to find a way.
00:17
Let's begin the way we do with everyone with your, your name
00:19
and nationality.
00:20
Great.
00:21
So my name is Pacheco, also known as Gabby Pacheco and I'm originally
00:26
from gay.
00:29
Do you have any memories of your childhood in Ecuador?
00:33
Yeah, I have plenty of memories from Ecuador.
00:35
I came when I was eight.
00:38
And so I, I was able to uh grow up and be a toddler and uh start
00:44
school, which I remember a lot of that.
00:46
But mostly what I remember is my family, a lot of the family
00:49
gatherings, uh the birthdays, Christmases, uh going to the
00:55
beach with my grandparents, my grandparents at a beach house
00:58
and I was the lucky one that got to spend a lot of time with them
01:02
because my sisters were, they're six and seven years older
01:06
than me.
01:06
And so they were already in school.
01:08
And so the one that got to stay as a baby and growing up uh with
01:11
my grandparents with me.
01:13
And so I would I would get to go with them to the beach house.
01:16
And, uh, I think the reason why I remember so much my childhood
01:20
is because there was very interesting things.
01:23
For instance, my grandfather had a monkey and, uh, he used
01:27
to take me to the beach with the money and he held the monkey
01:31
in one side of his arm, walking down the beach and I would walk
01:34
on the other side.
01:35
Uh, And so I, I remember these things very vividly.
01:39
I think it's just because they were unusual.
01:42
Oh, cool.
01:42
So, being the baby of the family has its privileges.
01:44
Uh Yes.
01:45
Well, there's my brother, uh but he was a baby baby.
01:49
So, um, and he came after me.
01:52
So I'm kind of like a middle child, baby type of.
01:56
Yeah.
01:57
Sure.
01:58
I know your parents brought you to the US when you were eight
02:01
Yes.
02:02
Did you know that you were leaving your country to come to the
02:05
US?
02:07
So, at that time when I was eight years old, I thought that Ecuador
02:11
was the entire world and I thought that I was moving just from
02:16
one house to the other.
02:17
It was like moving from one city to the other.
02:21
And interesting enough, I didn't grasp the concept of being
02:26
really far away.
02:28
And I remember that I used to watch TV, and I would hear this
02:33
thing that would say call your loved ones.
02:34
And it was a Spanish commercial and it had a jingle.
02:38
So it was very catchy.
02:39
And I said, I still remember it just, and I would dial it and
02:45
call my grandparents.
02:47
But I didn't know at the time that I was calling them Collect
02:51
and calling from the US to Ecuador Collect is very expensive
02:56
And I remember that all the time, I would call them every single
02:59
time I would see a pay phone.
03:00
That's the first thing I would do, just talk to them.
03:03
And I think looking back at that, uh it was a way for me to cope
03:08
with the fact that I couldn't see my grandparents but because
03:11
I had those opportunities to talk to them, um It didn't feel
03:16
as distance and I remember the first time I saw like the map
03:20
and I grasped the distance.
03:23
Uh It was so heart like breaking and uh to see that I was so far
03:28
away from them and that uh I couldn't just get in a car and go
03:33
visit them and see them.
03:35
What were your early days like in the US?
03:39
Uh I, I think I assimilated and I did really well at the beginning
03:47
Uh I think it's because I love school and I've always been a
03:51
very curious child.
03:53
And so when I came into school, I had a positive experience
03:58
because in Ecuador, the you are a little bit more advanced
04:02
in English and, and, and math than here in the US.
04:07
And everybody celebrated the fact that I had scored really
04:10
high in these tests and they had put me in these special, you
04:14
know, uh classes for gifted students.
04:17
And so that made me feel really good about myself and I guess
04:21
they set a bar for me and I started doing really well.
04:24
I love school.
04:25
I lived in school practically.
04:27
I was, uh, in all the clubs, organizations I could be.
04:30
And at that time it was choir.
04:32
So I remember singing, not knowing what in the world I was saying
04:36
But you know, when you're saying, you sing, it doesn't really
04:38
matter the uh the words that you're saying.
04:41
Um But I, I remember just being happy having a lot of friends
04:47
being carefree.
04:48
That's one thing that um that there was a difference that my
04:53
parents worried a little bit about us and making sure that
04:56
we got home at a certain time, but it wasn't like how it was in
04:59
Ecuador.
05:00
It wasn't uh you didn't feel unsafe, you were able to walk in
05:06
the streets and play and go to your friend's house and it was
05:09
OK.
05:11
I imagine life was much different for your parents once they
05:14
were here.
05:15
Talk to me about what, what their reality was like.
05:20
So I remember we came, uh we came with visas and like a lot of
05:26
country, a lot of people that come from Latin American countries
05:28
they come with a little bit of money.
05:30
Um And so my parents did come with a little bit of money.
05:33
And I remember that 34 months into us living in the United States
05:38
they already had run out of everything.
05:41
They had been able to accumulate by selling their house and
05:45
everything that was inside of their home.
05:48
And there was a lot of anxiety.
05:50
Um, I remember my mom used to wake up around four in the morning
05:55
to go to work and she wouldn't come back home until sometimes
06:01
89 o'clock at night.
06:03
And I remember that she worked on the weekends, uh, as well
06:08
cleaning houses.
06:09
Uh, she had gone to school here and she had gotten her, uh, what's
06:14
an LP N license as like an assistant nurse.
06:17
And so she worked with the elderly and she was really happy
06:20
because, you know, not knowing the language, she was able
06:22
to pass her Florida, you know, bar and, and she was able to get
06:27
license, but they worked really, really hard.
06:30
And, um, she was in home most of the time she was, she was working
06:35
and she would try, um, to do as much as she could for us, making
06:40
sure that there was like food for us.
06:42
And, uh, that on Sundays, you know, that she would take a little
06:45
bit of time to be with us.
06:47
But I, I could sense in my home, um, that both of my parents,
06:52
especially my mom, uh, that they were working themselves
06:55
to death to be, be able to provide for us and how did your dad
06:59
make a living?
07:00
So, my dad has always been into businesses uh from real estate
07:04
to being a loan officer.
07:06
And in those early days they had started a business with friends
07:09
and um, I, I don't even know selling what, but I know that, you
07:15
know, he was into uh Negocios, right?
07:17
Selling stuff.
07:18
And um uh that's most of it.
07:22
He made a living doing that.
07:24
And the thing about business and, uh, being, uh, or being a
07:28
salesman is that if you don't sell something in that day, you
07:31
don't get paid.
07:32
And so a lot of the burden was usually on, on my mom to, to bring
07:36
the money to bring the bread home.
07:40
Did there come a time where you realized that maybe you're
07:43
your experience was much different than other kids your
07:47
age there, there were time when I figured out or I realized
07:54
that I was different that when, even though I had the same grades
08:00
as other kids that I was not gonna be able to go to college, for
08:04
instance, was when I was in eighth grade and my sister had graduated
08:10
from high school and she had tried to go to mama college to get
08:15
her nursing degree.
08:17
And at MD college they had told her that, um, nope, that she
08:21
didn't have papers and so she couldn't go to school.
08:24
And to me that was such a blow because since I was in fifth grade
08:28
I fell in love with the concept of college and university
08:32
and I had been chosen to participate in this big concert that
08:37
the best of the best musicians or kids um from around the Coun
08:42
County get to go to um for a week.
08:45
And uh I remember the first time stepping into, um and seeing
08:50
like the buildings and how big and everybody just walking
08:54
freely.
08:55
Um and I fell in love with it but it really, I didn't get sold
09:00
on the idea of a college or university until all of us were walked
09:05
into the cafeteria of um and I remember all the kids just saying
09:10
whoa and see that they had so many options and there was restaurants
09:16
inside this cafeteria and we all had conversations there
09:21
talking about how we wanted to go to college to be able to, you
09:24
know, eat what we wanted to eat.
09:27
So in eighth grade, when I come to that reality that my sister
09:32
can go to school and I'm like, well, that's my sister that's
09:35
gonna happen to me.
09:36
Um I got really scared and so if I used to be a good student or
09:43
uh love school, that volume was put times 10.
09:48
Um and I just started like absorbing as much as I could from
09:53
the time that I was in school because I felt that I was not gonna
09:58
have that opportunity like my friends to go to college, uh
10:01
because my sister didn't get to do that and that was probably
10:05
gonna be the reality for me too.
10:07
And has that been your reality?
10:09
No.
10:11
Talking about, talk to me about how it's been different for
10:13
you.
10:13
Yeah.
10:14
Well, the difference between my sisters that didn't, uh,
10:18
when they graduated from high school they weren't able to
10:21
go to college.
10:22
Uh, was that I, I didn't let the, no stop me.
10:27
I actually used that word.
10:29
You can't to fuel me, uh, to challenge myself to say, I'm going
10:35
to find a way.
10:37
And I actually found people at Miami Dade College that saw
10:42
that fire in me and said, we're gonna do whatever we can to help
10:46
you go to school.
10:47
And so we were able to find a way to get a visa for me to go to MD
10:54
College as an international student.
10:56
And I remember the day that, uh, after months of every day going
11:03
in at six in the morning being the first one waiting for the
11:06
door to open to say half of this stuff isn't enough.
11:10
And they're like, no, you need this and this go back home.
11:12
It's like, oh, but when they finally gave me my schedule of
11:17
classes, I saw it and I looked at it and I cried and I touched
11:22
the paper because I couldn't even believe that, you know,
11:25
that was happening.
11:27
And I touched the paper and I made a promise and I said to myself
11:31
my sisters couldn't go to school.
11:34
There's friends of mines that didn't get to go to school and
11:38
I'm going to school and I'm gonna fight to make sure that, uh
11:41
my sisters and my friends and people like me have an opportunity
11:47
to go to school.
11:49
It's beautiful.
11:51
Was there, as you mentioned, people at Miami Dade who were
11:55
helpful.
11:56
Was there anyone in particular that you can look back on and
11:58
say, wow, that person really helped me out in a very big way
12:02
Is there someone that you're thankful for it?
12:06
There's three women that made it happen.
12:09
Um One of them is her name is Sue Georgie and Sue Georgie was
12:15
a recruiter and she had come to one of the fairs that we, that
12:20
they had at the school and I went up to her and I said, look, I
12:24
don't have papers, I'm undocumented, but I really want to
12:26
go to school and I started selling myself to her.
12:29
I am the president of this organization and I have this GPA
12:33
and I'm silver knife for this and that and she's just there
12:36
like, wow, like, you know, I impressed her and she said, OK
12:40
you want to go to school?
12:41
We'll figure out a way.
12:42
So she started connecting me to people and she connected me
12:46
uh to the international students director who is the other
12:50
person that just started helping me and Flores uh the, the
12:54
director of Miami Dade College said the same thing.
12:57
She was like, we figure it out.
12:59
I don't know how, but we'll figure it out.
13:01
But I remember then that when I was a little girl doing all these
13:07
battery of tests that they did in order to place me in school
13:10
my parents, what they had done was to ensure that we didn't
13:14
stay undocumented.
13:16
They, they gave us and they, they took us to international
13:19
student office at Miami Dade County public Schools and got
13:22
a student visas.
13:24
So I originally had a visa when I was in third grade and I lost
13:30
a visa.
13:30
Like my sisters did going from one school to the other.
13:34
So when I went from elementary school, I lost it going to middle
13:37
school.
13:38
And I remember very vividly and clearly when Sophia um told
13:43
my parents, Gabby, you uh you have to make sure that you stay
13:52
in school.
13:53
You have this visa called duration status.
13:55
As long as you're going to school, you're fine.
13:58
But what they failed to say was if you change schools, like
14:01
when you go from elementary school to middle school, you have
14:03
to change the visa.
14:04
And so I went looking for Sofia and Sophia still worked there
14:08
And I said you did this and I was so angry and I told her you ruined
14:13
my life.
14:14
You didn't explain it the right way.
14:17
And I remember my dad being so angry at me and looking at me like
14:20
calm down.
14:22
And then Sophia looked at me with so much compassion and said
14:25
I'm sorry, like that's the, the rules, that's what they told
14:30
me.
14:30
And then I said, put it on paper.
14:32
So Sophia smiled and said, I've never seen somebody with so
14:37
much fire and desire to go to school.
14:39
I'm gonna help you.
14:41
And so between these three women, um and tons of other people
14:45
But you know, those were the three that opened the door for
14:49
me and opened the door of opportunity to be able to go to school
14:53
and go to Miami College and eventually graduate with three
14:56
degrees from M DC.
15:00
Yeah.
15:00
What, what degrees have you graduated with?
15:03
So I have a degree in my first degree, was an associate in arts
15:07
and music education.
15:08
And then from there, I wanted to extend my international student
15:13
visa.
15:13
So I did an associates in science and early childhood education
15:17
Uh and then I went on to do a bachelor's degree in special education
15:23
And what are you doing now?
15:26
So I just finished um one of the biggest, I think fights of my
15:31
life.
15:32
Um my short, you know, 27 years lived life, I became an immigrant
15:37
rights activist.
15:39
And one of the things that I feel very accomplished and very
15:42
proud uh is the fact that we were able to win deferred action
15:47
uh for dreamers or, or specific uh dreamers and uh as an immigrant
15:54
rights activist doing all this work right now, I'm taking
15:58
time off and I'm stepping back so that other leaders could
16:01
come and continue the work.
16:03
Uh And especially in a young people's movement, there's a
16:06
time where you don't kind of relate to the 18 years old anymore
16:09
So I'm stepping back, I'm trying to figure out what's next
16:13
in my life.
16:14
Uh Because I do want to go to school.
16:16
I wanna make sure that one day uh when people call me, they say
16:20
doctor Pacheco, right?
16:22
I wanna get my doctor's degree.
16:24
And the other thing is that my passion and my love uh is actually
16:28
working with people with mental disabilities, specifically
16:31
people with Down Syndrome and autism.
16:33
And so uh doing the work of or being inside immigration, um
16:40
it takes a lot, a lot of work.
16:42
You have to give it your all.
16:44
And um I felt that it's too distinct path that I've learned
16:50
a lot but it's not, it's not my calling, which is to work with
16:54
people uh with Down Syndrome autism, people with mental disability
16:58
So I've taken the time to stop reflect and figure out, you know
17:03
how do I get to my end goal, which is getting my doctor's degree
17:07
and working in, in my field.
17:10
Yeah.
17:11
When you, as I'm sure you've heard when you hear from people
17:15
hey, you know what if they're here illegally, they're here
17:19
illegally.
17:20
They need to get in the back of the line and they need to leave
17:23
How do you respond?
17:26
So, I feel very, I try to come people and meet them at where they're
17:32
at whenever they tell me things like you're illegal or you
17:36
you, you are just a criminal and I try to explain to them, uh
17:41
one of the, the big myths, right?
17:44
And it's that we don't want to become citizens for instance
17:49
And I tried to explain to them that even if I wanted to pay $10
17:54
million to the government, to an attorney to help me make the
17:59
line, there is no line.
18:02
And so I try to, to tell people that and I uh in a very compassionate
18:07
and loving way because I feel that people don't, it's not that
18:11
they hate us.
18:12
It's just that they don't understand us.
18:15
And uh many times I've had many times people do then have that
18:21
conversation, it's very uncomfortable because it, you kind
18:25
of have to just prove yourself.
18:27
But um I would say that 90% of the time when I've had that conversation
18:34
with people and I've told my story, people have come to say
18:39
OK, I get it, we need to reform our immigration system or I
18:45
get it.
18:46
You know, it's not your fault.
18:48
There's something bigger that is not allowing you to integrate
18:51
completely into our community.
18:53
And I think that the biggest thing that usually makes people
18:57
understand is when I say, and I show them how much, I love this
19:03
country and how much as much as this is their home.
19:07
This is also my home.
19:09
I'm sure that over the course of the work that you've done on
19:12
behalf of immigrant rights, you've met countless other young
19:16
people like yourself who were brought here as Children and
19:20
it faced many of the same issues.
19:22
Um Have there been many commonalities in your experiences
19:27
Can you talk to me about that?
19:31
Regardless if people came in a plane came through Mexico or
19:38
Canada?
19:39
Uh, I think that the struggles that we have in the United States
19:44
it's immigrants, uh, really tie us and bond us together.
19:49
And, um, the discrimination that we go through is not the discrimination
19:56
for instance, that African Americans go through.
19:58
Right.
19:58
It's, it's discrimination overall but it's more of all of
20:06
us are in this cage and we're able and allowed to participate
20:12
in the community either by, uh, working right in the fields
20:19
working in the hotel industry and making people's beds or
20:23
at restaurants.
20:24
Right.
20:24
We're allowed to do certain things.
20:26
But there comes a time where you want to walk out of that cage
20:30
and do certain things.
20:32
Like go to school, get a better job, um, uh, travel and see the
20:38
world and we come to the reality that we are inside that cage
20:45
and like poor little birds probably could see the world around
20:50
them.
20:50
But as soon as they try to fly out, they hit themselves against
20:53
that.
20:54
And I think that those commonalities we all have and there's
20:59
this fire that we have inside of us to achieve and be able to
21:04
seek those dreams that we have, but we're not allowed to and
21:09
we're not able to.
21:11
And I think that the, the single most thing that uh unites us
21:17
and when I talk to young people all over is fear, right?
21:21
This fear that we all have that we all live in the shadow.
21:24
And that uh that sense of we cannot do things like you cannot
21:29
drive, you cannot go to school.
21:32
Uh you cannot travel.
21:33
Um And it's, and I think that those disheartening um obstructions
21:41
that we have in our lives kind of bring us together and we're
21:45
able to relate and say, oh yeah, I couldn't get that job that
21:49
I got offered making $80,000 a year because I don't have papers
21:53
So I'm making 18 and it's like, yeah, me too.
21:57
You know, I got offered this really great job to be a manager
22:00
at a mcdonald's.
22:01
But, you know, I'm just now I the only thing I could do is is flip
22:05
burgers if suddenly students without their documentation
22:12
are allowed to stay and allowed to study and allowed to realize
22:16
their dreams.
22:17
Um Would that necessarily be a good thing for the country and
22:21
why I think that we're in the 21st century.
22:28
And when we think about the United States and our country as
22:32
a whole, we can't think of the borders that just surround us
22:38
Uh That's no longer a reality for us.
22:41
We're in the 21st century where globalization is happening
22:46
at a rapid pace.
22:48
And if we don't educate the people that live in our country
22:53
the people that grew up here that know the streets and our
22:59
boyfriends and girlfriends and partners to our Children
23:03
grew up with us.
23:05
If we don't allow those people, regardless of their status
23:10
or not in this country to get an education, we are going to fall
23:15
behind and we are not gonna be a country that is part of the 21st
23:19
century.
23:20
And I think that for us as a country that has been going through
23:24
a bad, uh recession and we've been going through an economic
23:29
crisis, the best way to come out of that crisis is to make sure
23:34
that we have people that speak different languages that could
23:39
compete against other people in the world that could go to
23:43
work and make uh money in order to pay taxes in order for the
23:49
the economy to continue to circulate.
23:51
And so I, I think that for those people that say, well, you know
23:55
we shouldn't give those opportunities to those people because
23:59
you know, they're here wrongfully.
24:01
Uh I think that it's a very bad, bad way of thinking about it
24:06
Uh, because those people are their neighbors, those people
24:10
are the people that they go to church with.
24:12
And so um by holding back other folks, what you actually do
24:17
is create a very big uh gap between those that have and those
24:22
that don't.
24:24
We have a very contentious election just weeks away.
24:29
And there are many who are in, in, in your position, um who are
24:35
not allowed to vote.
24:36
Uh But they also have a lot of friends and family that are in
24:41
a position to vote.
24:43
What would you like those that are in fact in a position to vote
24:48
to know about this situation and consider as they make their
24:54
final decision to cast a vote.
24:58
So I think that the most important thing that one of the as human
25:02
beings we have in here and people who are citizens um is the
25:06
right to vote.
25:08
And when I talk to people be my, my family or friends and they
25:14
tell me, oh, I'm not gonna vote because you know, Xy and Z I get
25:19
so angry, I get angry because I look at what is happening in
25:23
the Middle East when I see a 14 year old get shot because she's
25:26
speaking out and saying that she wants to get an education
25:30
And I think about the women here in this country who have that
25:33
ability to get an education and are looked at as equal.
25:37
But less than 100 years ago, they had to fight in order to be
25:41
able to vote and people take that lightly.
25:45
And I think that that shouldn't be taken lightly.
25:47
So that's one stance, the other stance is there's so much at
25:53
stake and the less that we show the power that we have as a community
25:58
to say, who should be in power or not, the less politicians
26:02
are going to listen to us.
26:05
And as a Latina, I know that my community is suffering with
26:10
unemployment rates being high with a majority of the undocumented
26:15
people being Latino or Latina and politicians just brushing
26:22
off those issues because we don't vote.
26:25
And so I tell I had a conversation with my uncle and he was like
26:30
oh, you know, it's just gonna be such a waste of time.
26:32
And I said, no, you have to.
26:35
And I remember him saying, OK, I'm gonna do it.
26:37
He became a citizen.
26:39
He has registered to vote and he is going to be voting and I am
26:43
I'm really proud of that.
26:44
And I hope that the people that I consider my friends on November
26:50
6th go out and vote for me for the 14 year old that got shot because
26:56
she wants to get an education and for the women that put their
27:00
lives in risk and some even died to be able to have that opportunity
27:04
to be looked as equal and go up, you know, and cast a ballot and
27:09
and decide who the, the next leader uh for them for this country
27:13
is going to be knowing what, you know, now, if you could give
27:19
advice to a recently arrived eight year old girl, what would
27:24
you say?
27:26
Uh This makes me tea.
27:29
Um I love Children.
27:33
I love Children.
27:34
So um I think that they're the most precious thing and what
27:42
I would say to and you all this, whatever you set your mind to
27:48
you could do it.
27:49
Don't let anybody ever tell you you can't.
27:53
Um And I grew up like that with that thought in my mind, I had
27:59
so many people tell me you can't, I had my high school counselor
28:04
tell me you can't go to college.
28:07
Don't even apply.
28:09
You have to be careful because you're gonna put yourself in
28:12
deportation proceeding and your whole family.
28:14
You can't, don't put yourself out there.
28:18
Um, I had people that, that would tell me, oh, you can't ride
28:20
a bicycle.
28:21
That's too tall for you.
28:23
You can't, uh, you can't sing.
28:26
You can't, uh, take that class and get a good grade because
28:30
it's too advanced for you.
28:31
And I pushed myself and I did it and I'm here and I'm successful
28:36
and I've been successful in everything I've done.