Alex Alpharoah Tells His DACA Story at PaliHi

By Laurel Busby
Staff Writer

Alex Alpharaoh’s life began with a journey that almost killed him.

More than 30 years later, he is still searching for a safe end to the trek that began when he was just three months old.

His 15-year-old mother initiated the journey from Guatemala to the United States to secure a better life for herself and her baby. She had no idea how dangerous the trip would be, nor how hard it would be for Alpharaoh to grow up as an American who is not legally an American.

As he states in his one-man show, “WET: A DACAmented Journey,” which he presented in shortened form to PaliHi students last week, “if only my paperwork could be validated, if only my life could make sense.”

And his tale, which strangely enough includes an intense anxiety-filled flight to Guatemala earlier this year to get a legal entry date on his return home, is a wild personal ride that exposes what it’s like to find your way in a home country that is legally not your home country.

Alex Alpharoah presented a shortened form of his one-man show, “WET: A DACAmented Journey,” at Palisades High on October 30. Photo: Bart Bartholomew

In a question-and-answer session after the piece, Alpharaoh told the students that during that trip to Guatemala, he decided that “if I made it back home, this is the story I would tell.” He spent months creating the show and also waiting for his DACA permit to be approved in order to more safely share his reality with others. (DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

While his story may seem like it could become a political diatribe, it is not presented as such. Instead, it’s an intimate portrait of Alpharaoh’s internal and external struggles to do things that Americans take for granted. He never criticizes the current president, who he refers to as “the 45th,” but he does share how the changed political landscape has affected him. He doesn’t leave out how he also struggled during previous presidential cycles, simply because living in the United States illegally is not easy.

In fact, this personal aspect of the show, which he will perform as part of the Encuentro de las Americas Festival in downtown L.A. in November, is what inspired PaliHi’s Human Rights Watch Student Task Force to bring Alpharaoh to the school.

Senior Peter Jebsen and other Student Task Force (STF) leaders had seen the performance a month earlier at a workshop for STF leaders from 15 L.A.-area high schools. Before then, “I understood in the abstract, but it wasn’t real to me,” Jebsen said. However, “you can’t watch his show and not feel moved.”

Other students were obviously also touched by the experience. Some teens were brought to tears,
and Alpharaoh’s confusion and anguish is palpable as he details living in the shadows and his efforts to emerge, including performing this show, which he knows puts him in a potentially dangerous position.

He begins the tale with rapid-fire, spoken-word poetry, and he returns to this style frequently throughout the piece, with quick litanies such as “I placed my faith in a fabricated dream, and it filled my head with worry and dread, watching others live and get ahead, while witnessing any chance at reform die instead.”

However, he mostly simply shares and reenacts his story, which includes his arduous month-long trip to the United States as an infant. He and his mother had so little to eat and drink that her breast milk soon dried up. He began to starve, and eventually his tiny body went into convulsions and he lost consciousness. His mother’s anguished cries for help reached the ears of a nursing mother who had left her baby behind in Guatemala. This mother first resuscitated Alpharaoh, then fed him back to health with her own breast milk.

Today, Alpharaoh, 34, is a healthy father of his own teenage daughter, and he has temporary legal status like 750,000 other DACA recipients nationwide. But that status is tenuous. On September 5, President Trump rescinded the DACA program and gave Congress six months to determine the fate of DACA recipients.

Alpharaoh fears going back into the hidden world of being undocumented. He knows what that means. Growing up, he couldn’t do simple things that his younger American brothers and sister could do, such as have a library card. As a teen, he couldn’t get a driver’s license. As an adult, he could neither acquire a Social Security card, have a bank account, nor purchase property. He couldn’t even collect lottery winnings if he bought a ticket.

Alex Alpharoah visits with members of the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force chapter at Palisades High. The students wear STF “Immigrants Are U.S.” t-shirts as part of their L.A.-area campaign to protect the human rights of
He begins the tale with rapid-fire, spoken-word poetry, and he returns to this style frequently throughout the piece, with quick litanies such as “I placed my faith
in a fabricated dream, and it filled my head with
DACA recipients.

When DACA was initiated in 2012, Alpharaoh was 29—the oldest a person could be and still receive DACA protection—and he nervously applied. His application had its problems. For instance, he had earned two degrees and become a social worker, but he had to make up a Social Security number in order to get a job. For years that went unnoticed, and his work was so exemplary, he was nominated to be Social Worker of the Year in California.

Unfortunately, when Alpharaoh documented an elder abuse case and was ordered to testify as part of his job, investigators discovered his fake Social Security number, and this almost led to a 15-year stint in prison followed by deportation. Instead, Alpharaoh was able to plead guilty to a lesser charge of disturbing the peace, and this misdemeanor was later expunged from his record. But it had been on his record, and he was worried that it might end his DACA hopes.

It didn’t, and his hope to achieve citizenship is still there.

During the Q&A session at Pali, Alpharaoh said his 15-year-old American daughter, whom he always encourages to honor herself, is also his biggest cheerleader. When he worried that applying for DACA or going to Guatemala to get a new entry date to the U.S. would end in tragedy, she pushed him to fight his fear and continue to honor himself by coming out of the shadows. In fact, the first time he performed the show, he was so terrified that he almost didn’t do it.

He was panicking in the car a couple of blocks from the theater and told her, “I’m going to put myself at risk. I’m going to get deported. This is stupid, and I’m not going to do it.” She rolled down the window and replied, “It stinks like fear in here, and it’s yours.”

She continued, “If you don’t do this, you can never tell me again that I have to start and finish something. Everything you ever taught me about keeping my word and starting something and finishing it becomes invalid.”

“She’s tough,” Alpharaoh said with fatherly pride. “She gave me the courage and I did it . . . and all these months later, here I am.”

Alpharaoh’s appearance was organized and hosted by the Pali STF chapter as part of the student organization’s campaign to protect the human rights of DACA recipients. For more information, visit www.hrwstf.org.

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