Analucía Lopezrevoredo (right) celebrates receiving her PhD
Analucía Lopezrevoredo (right) celebrates receiving her PhD

Growing up undocumented with Jewish-Latinx identity inspires ex-‘Dreamer’ to act

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Growing up Jewish and Peruvian in Southern California, Analucía Lopezrevoredo always knew she was different — from her Jewish friends, most of them wealthy and white, and from her Spanish-speaking friends, most of them from Mexico.

The summer before ninth grade, she found out why.

While driving with her father, she casually asked if she could go on a Girl Scout trip to Ireland, which would be her first time out of the U.S. All of a sudden, he fell silent and pulled the car over.

“He couldn’t even look at me,” she recalled. “He told me, You can’t leave the country. If you do, you won’t be able to come back in. And if you leave the country, we might be separated. We’re not supposed to be here, we’re not allowed to be here.”

That’s how Lopezrevoredo found out that she and her younger sister were Dreamers, among the 800,000 young adults who were brought to this country as children by their undocumented parents.

She was not to tell anyone, not even her sister. It could risk exposing all of them, her father told her.

Lopezrevoredo, now 33 and a U.S. citizen, lives in San Francisco and is active in the Jewish community and in immigrant-rights organizations. Shortly after becoming a permanent resident at age 20, she began speaking publicly about what it was like to grow up without legal status.

She wants American Jews to know it is more commonplace than they might realize.

“I’m not the only Jew who grew up undocumented,” she said, estimating that thousands are in that group nationwide. “There isn’t a lot of room for them to come forward and say ‘This is also my experience,’ and that really saddens me.”

Lopezrevoredo at a Shabbat dinner hosted by OneTable in San Francisco in December 2018
Lopezrevoredo at a Shabbat dinner hosted by OneTable in San Francisco in December 2018

For the last three years Lopezrevoredo has been the associate director of West Coast programs at OneTable, a nonprofit that provides tools for young Jewish adults who want to host and attend Shabbat dinners. She also spent two years as program director of JIMENA, which preserves the stories and cultural heritage of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.

She is also the founder of Flavors of Coexistence, an organization that holds cross-cultural, pop-up dinners to promote understanding, and is co-founder of Jewtina y Co, a community for those like herself, with dual Jewish-Latinx identity.

“The narrative about the Jewish-Latinx experience is so limited, and there’s a lot of classism in deciding which stories are told,” she said.

Lopezrevoredo comes from a mixed background. Her mother’s matrilineal line is descended from Sephardic Jews from Spain. (Her name, Analucia, comes from Andalucia, where the Jewish community once thrived.) Her father isn’t Jewish.

She grew up attending a Reform synagogue in Orange County with her mom and sister and said she has felt comfortable in Jewish spaces since childhood. Her cultural experience, however, was different from that of her other Jewish friends, largely because of class and race. She didn’t have a bat mitzvah until she was 23.

“Growing up as an undocumented person, I felt so much further away from the Jewish experience,” said Lopezrevoredo. “The reality of my Jewish friends was so far from mine.”

Both of her parents were professionals in Peru — her father was an attorney and her mother a teacher — and came here on tourist visas, but violence prevented their return home, where the Shining Path terrorist organization was active.

In the U.S., the family struggled in the early years. Lopezrevoredo remembers helping her parents put newspapers in plastic bags for weekend delivery. There were times when her parents didn’t eat so the children could. And she always assumed that she and her sister were enrolled in the school’s free lunch program because their mother worked at the school, only learning much later that they qualified because of the family’s income.

Her mother went on to work as a master teacher at Head Start and her father as a professor at Santa Ana College, both becoming naturalized in 2006. One constant value in her family was education, and Lopezrevoredo excelled in school. (That is still the case — earlier this year she earned her Ph.D. in social work and social research from Portland State University.)

A high school Model UN teacher, Linda Levine, recalled Lopezrevoredo as “an outstanding debater [who] lit up a room” and remembered other trips she had to decline. “I felt so bad,” Levine said. “It was such a shame that someone of her ability was unable to participate in these activities with her classmates, and she couldn’t tell them why.”

By her senior year, Lopezrevoredo was the student body president, a top debater and an excellent athlete and star water polo player, which under normal circumstances would have earned her multiple scholarship offers. With expectations high, teachers encouraged her to apply to top colleges, without knowing that she wouldn’t be able to attend without financial assistance — and that her status made her ineligible for Cal Grants and federal funding. That put private schools and even the UC system out of reach for her family.

She chose Loyola Marymount, a Jesuit university in Los Angeles, which offered her generous scholarships and “opened their arms to me as a student.” Its location also allowed her to be near her family in case their status was discovered.

Lopezrevoredo became a citizen in 2011, coincidentally at the same time as the passage of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), which allowed children who grew up here with undocumented parents to get conditional permanent resident status.

Protected by her status, she continued advocating for undocumented immigrants, working with humanitarian organizations and helping people navigate their way through the bureaucracy. She also leads workshops at schools and volunteers as a translator for Spanish-speakers applying for residency.

“They see me as someone who understands their experience,” she said.

For most of her life, Lopezrevoredo was reticent about sharing her story because of her status. However, given today’s hostile climate for immigrants and knowing what it was like to grow up living in fear, she feels she must speak out.

“I didn’t speak out about being an undocumented person until about six months ago,” she said. “Now I feel I can talk about it.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."