She was born on July 4 to Mex­i­can im­mi­grants.

And they refuse to cower.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MICHAEL E. MILLER

They gave her the most Amer­i­can name they could think of, their only child, born in Mary­land on the most Amer­i­can day of the year, Fourth of July.

Heather, her un­doc­u­mented par­ents called their 6-pound, 11-ounce baby. But the nurses at the hos­pi­tal couldn’t un­der­stand their Mex­i­can ac­cents.

“They wrote down ‘Heater,’ ” her fa­ther, José Piña, 38, re­called with a laugh.

Now, on her 9th birth­day, Heather Piña sat at the din­ing-room ta­ble, eat­ing her mother’s tacos and drink­ing tamarind juice, as peo­ple gath­ered out­side to grill hot dogs and ham­burg­ers for In­de­pen­dence Day.

A year ear­lier, the fam­ily had spent the hol­i­day at a party, splash­ing on an in­flat­able wa­ter­slide be­fore watch­ing fire­works with friends.

This Fourth of July, they weren’t cel­e­brat­ing. The only re­minders of the birth­day Heather and the na­tion shared were the sound of a far-off boom­box and the oc­ca­sional bot­tle rocket, whistling in the dis­tance be­fore pop­ping like a bal­loon.

The coun­try had elected a pres­i­dent who had called chil­dren like Heather “an­chor ba­bies,”

and peo­ple like her par­ents “rapists” and drug smug­glers. Don­ald Trump’s vow to build a bor­der wall and step up de­por­ta­tions was cheered by mil­lions of his sup­port­ers, who fa­vor tougher ac­tion against those who en­ter the United States il­le­gally. But it set off a wave of fear among the coun­try’s 11 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.

Heather’s par­ents weren’t im­mune to it — no one in their com­mu­nity was. But they have been ac­tive in the im­mi­grant rights move­ment for sev­eral years, tak­ing Heather out of school to at­tend demon­stra­tions.

Twice dur­ing the Obama years, she’d watched as her mother, Madai Ledezma, 35, and fa­ther were de­lib­er­ately ar­rested at protests out­side the White House.

This is what it meant to be Amer­i­can, they taught her. Speak­ing out. Seek­ing change. De­mand­ing rights.

Af­ter Pres­i­dent Trump’s elec­tion, they kept protest­ing, even as his im­mi­gra­tion crack­down crept closer to their own lives. Even as they, too, be­came afraid.

‘In case some­thing hap­pens’

Madai leaned for­ward, her hoodie cinched tightly around her face, white-knuck­led hands grip­ping the steer­ing wheel.

She had driven by her­self only twice since get­ting her driver’s li­cense, but José was work­ing late again at a con­struc­tion site, and she didn’t want to miss her English class. So Madai buck­led Heather into a booster seat in the back of their weath­ered Dodge Stra­tus, next to a protest sign.

On Trump’s first full day in of­fice, she, José and Heather at­tended the Women’s March, join­ing thou­sands of other demon­stra­tors out­side the down­town Wash­ing­ton ho­tel bear­ing the pres­i­dent’s name.

Now, less than a month later, Madai glanced ner­vously from side to side as she drove, foot pump­ing the brakes. She didn’t want to risk get­ting pulled over — not even in one of the coun­try’s bluest states.

Al­ready, Trump had or­dered the hir­ing of 10,000 more im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cers and 5,000 more Bor­der Pa­trol agents. He had promised to strip money from sanc­tu­ary ci­ties and de­manded Congress ap­prove $2.6 bil­lion for a bor­der wall. Scari­est of all for the Piñas, Trump ended an Obama-era pol­icy of le­niency for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants with­out crim­i­nal records. Now, any­one was fair game.

“Ari­zona Mother De­ported to Mex­ico Af­ter 21 Years in U.S.,” read a headline the week be­fore.

“Mex­i­can woman fear­ing de­por­ta­tion takes refuge at Den­ver church,” read another that morn­ing.

Ev­ery time an ar­ti­cle about a de­por­ta­tion went vi­ral, Madai won­dered if her fam­ily was next. There were ru­mors of raids on con­struc­tion sites like José’s, and sto­ries of peo­ple be­ing de­tained while drop­ping their kids off at school. When strangers knocked on the door, Heather hid.

Even Madai, who called her­self a ching­ona, or badass, on Face­book, was afraid.

“I don’t like to go out in the morn­ing any­more be­cause it’s too risky,” she said, her speedome­ter glued to the speed limit.

A traf­fic stop could lead to de­por­ta­tion. At­ten­dance at her English classes had dwin­dled. Dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Madai knocked on doors in Vir­ginia for Hil­lary Clin­ton, though she couldn’t vote. Now she was too spooked to help a friend con­duct a poll in a Latino-heavy neigh­bor­hood.

She and José were con­sid­er­ing sign­ing a power-of-at­tor­ney form that would al­low friends or rel­a­tives to take care of their daugh­ter if they were de­ported. Madai weighed whether to get Heather, a cheru­bic girl with al­mond­shaped eyes and a wild imag­i­na­tion, Mex­i­can cit­i­zen­ship.

“Para si algo pasa,” she said. In case some­thing hap­pens.

She dropped Heather off at a friend’s house, then winced as she climbed back into the car: Stress made her stom­ach hurt, and life sin pa­pe­les was noth­ing if not stress­ful.

Mo­ments later, as she turned onto a wider street, car horns sud­denly be­gan blar­ing.

“Why are they honk­ing?” she shouted, look­ing in the rearview mir­ror. “Are they honk­ing at me?”

The real cul­prit was a black party bus with a rear door swing­ing open. Madai care­fully passed it be­fore pulling into the high school, where she parked at a dis­tance from other cars. When she saw that her ve­hi­cle was on the line, she parked it again — just to be safe.

‘It says Don­ald!’

Heather stood on a muddy sta­b­le­yard at Mount Ver­non on a bright March af­ter­noon, ex­cit­edly grip­ping a toy ri­fle. All around her, His­panic and African Amer­i­can third-graders clam­ored to get into for­ma­tion.

“Com­pany,” shouted a man in colo­nial cloth­ing and a tri­corner hat. “At the dou­ble-quick, for­ward march!”

As the man struck a mar­tial tat­too on his drum, another man in pe­riod cos­tume be­gan play­ing a fife and lead­ing Heather’s class in cir­cles out­side Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton’s iconic white-columned home.

“Or­de­na­dos,” yelled Madai, a bright-green “chap­er­one” sticker on her ma­roon hoodie. Stay or­ga­nized.

Here, framed by Amer­ica’s past, was a vi­sion of its fu­ture.

Heather had been look­ing for­ward to the field trip. The night be­fore, she asked her mother if the 18th-cen­tury man­sion was haunted. Now she stood in line to tour the fa­mous es­tate.

“Wash­ing­ton’s bed!” she squealed, trans­lat­ing a sign for Madai.

Then a class­mate ap­proached. The boy was also His­panic, but he made fun of the Mex­i­can sand­wiches Heather of­ten brought for lunch.

Heather slunk up to her mom, her head down.

“Mama,” she said. “Tor­tas are from Mex­ico, aren’t they?”

Not for the first time, the girl with the all-Amer­i­can name and birth­day won­dered where she be­longed.

Her fam­ily’s path to the United States stretched back 20 years and more than 2,000 miles to the city of Tul­te­pec, an hour drive north of Mex­ico City. José and Madai had met as teenagers and fallen in love un­der a fig tree.

José sug­gested they marry. She could stay in Tul­te­pec while he made money in the United States. It was the mid-1990s, and the Amer­i­can econ­omy was boom­ing. So, too, was il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion from Mex­ico.

But Madai re­fused, and they split up. José went north and found a job main­tain­ing golf cour­ses in Texas. They hadn’t spo­ken in al­most nine years when José called and asked her to join him. Madai said yes.

“I re­mem­bered him be­ing taller,” she re­called of their re­union. “And he said, ‘Since when did you get so tan?’ ”

They moved to Mary­land in 2005, and Heather was born three years later.

Her Amer­i­can birth cer­tifi­cate came with ben­e­fits. She was the only mem­ber of her fam­ily with health-care cov­er­age, through Med­i­caid. She was en­ti­tled to a U.S. pass­port. She would never have to worry about be­ing de­ported.

But the big­gest ben­e­fit of Heather’s Amer­i­can iden­tity was a chance to pro­tect her par­ents. In 2014, Pres­i­dent Obama an­nounced De­ferred Ac­tion for Par­ents of Amer­i­cans (DAPA), a pro­gram that would have al­lowed un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants with clean records and Amer­i­can chil­dren to re­ceive pro­tec­tion from de­por­ta­tion.

The im­pact would have been enor­mous. Roughly 4 mil­lion U.S.-born chil­dren have at least one un­doc­u­mented par­ent, ac­cord­ing to the Mi­gra­tion Pol­icy In­sti­tute.

But sev­eral states sued to stop the pro­gram, and it never went into ef­fect. In June, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­scinded it.

Heather didn’t re­ally grasp the dif­fer­ence be­tween her and her par­ents un­til she met chil­dren at school who had been de­tained at the bor­der be­fore be­ing re­leased.

“Mama, tengo pa­pe­les?” Heather asked when she came home. Do I have papers?

And Madai had ex­plained that, yes, she had an Amer­i­can birth cer­tifi­cate and a So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber, and so many other things that her par­ents might never have.

Heather em­braced her Mex­i­can her­itage, con­stantly ask­ing her mother ques­tions about the coun­try — “Are there ci­cadas in Mex­ico? What does the ice cream taste like?” — even as her English out­stripped her Span­ish.

In Tul­te­pec, peo­ple cel­e­brated the fes­ti­val of San Juan de Dios ev­ery March by set­ting off thou­sands of fire­works and light­ing gi­ant bull sculp­tures ablaze. Heather would watch on Face­book and draw bulls of her own, wish­ing she were there.

Her par­ents thought about send­ing her to Mex­ico to visit, but didn’t know who could take her.

Mean­while, Madai’s younger brother said he wanted to come to the United States. Don’t, she told him. Be­ing un­doc­u­mented in the United States was harder than he re­al­ized. Trump had made it harder still.

Even Heather had been af­fected by the anx­i­ety and un­cer­tainty.

At Mount Ver­non, the glimpse of a sin­gle word sent her rush­ing to­ward her mother.

“Mami,” she shouted. “It says Don­ald!”

Madai glanced at a wall etched with the name of a donor, Don­ald W. Reynolds.

“I don’t think that’s Don­ald Trump,” she said, hold­ing her daugh­ter close as the girl be­gan to cry.

‘I don’t feel safe’

One by one, the chil­dren out­side the White House im­plored the pres­i­dent not to de­port their un­doc­u­mented par­ents. Heather was one of the last to take the mi­cro­phone at the April im­mi­grant rights protest.

“Hello,” she said softly, as TV cam­eras recorded her words. “My name is Heather Piña. I am 8 years old. I was born on July 4 in An­napo­lis, Mary­land.”

She had been at­tend­ing protests since age 4, but this was dif­fer­ent. Trump was barely 100 yards away.

Her mother had spent the pre­vi­ous day mak­ing Heather a Tshirt fea­tur­ing her fa­vorite car­toon char­ac­ter, WordGirl, punch­ing through a wall with the pres­i­dent’s name on it. Now Heather tried to chan­nel the su­per­hero’s courage.

“When we’re in school, I don’t feel safe when I say the Pledge of Al­le­giance, es­pe­cially when it says lib­erty and jus­tice for all, be­cause this doesn’t in­clude my fam­ily. And I am afraid that they will sep­a­rate me from my par­ents,” she said, read­ing the speech she and her mother had writ­ten the night be­fore. “But we as chil­dren have lots of power, and we have to sup­port and pro­tect our par­ents.”

As Heather spoke, her mother stood be­side her hold­ing a sign declar­ing, “We be­long to­gether.”

One hun­dred days into the Trump pres­i­dency, Madai pushed aside her trep­i­da­tion. She started go­ing shop­ping in the morn­ings again. She and José aban­doned some of their worst-case sce­nario plans, such as sign­ing a power of at­tor­ney or ob­tain­ing dual cit­i­zen­ship for their daugh­ter.

“Fear doesn’t let us think or do any­thing,” Madai said. “That’s how they con­trol you.”

‘Viva Mex­ico’

Af­ter din­ner on July 4, Heather played a video game in the small bed­room she shares with her par­ents. On a tablet, she tried to guide a scrappy kid avatar along a se­ries of train tracks, col­lect­ing gold coins, but an over­weight sher­iff and his dog kept catch­ing her.

“Save me!” flashed a mes­sage each time she was caught. In an aquar­ium on the night­stand, a pair of gold­fish she named Pan­filo and Solovino swam in cir­cles.

Her par­ents were sit­ting in the next room when there was a knock at the door. Madai looked at her hus­band.

“Aqui?” Madai asked him. Here?

The fam­ily had just moved to the apart­ment. Half their be­long­ings were still in boxes. They didn’t know their neigh­bors.

José and Madai hadn’t wanted to trade their home in a leafy sub­urb for this drab apart­ment com­plex. They hadn’t wanted to move for the sev­enth time in a dozen years. And they hadn’t wanted to en­roll Heather in a dif­fer­ent school in the fall.

But they’d had re­peated runins with their pre­vi­ous land­lord, who’d threat­ened to call the po­lice on them. So they loaded José’s work truck with their be­long­ings and started over again in another com­mu­nity.

Madai went to the door and opened it cau­tiously.

“Hi,” came a warm voice. “This is for my baby.”

It was their new up­stairs neigh­bor, who had heard Madai play­ing “Las Mañan­i­tas” — a Mex­i­can birth­day song — for Heather that morn­ing and had come to in­tro­duce her­self. Now she was back with a present for the 9-year-old: a gift cer­tifi­cate to Chick-fil-A, where the woman worked.

“Happy birth­day, sweet­heart,” she told Heather. “I hope you had fun to­day.”

Madai and José were plan­ning to cel­e­brate Heather’s birth­day later in the sum­mer, when more of her friends were around, so the gift cer­tifi­cate was her only present.

“Thank you,” Heather said, hold­ing it with two hands, read­ing ev­ery word.

One more gift ar­rived that evening. There was a faint rum­ble, like dis­tant thun­der. Heather’s eyes widened. “Can we go out­side?” she asked. José dis­ap­peared out the front door, then re­turned, ges­tur­ing for the fam­ily to fol­low. To the south­west, blos­soms of light were burst­ing over a lo­cal park.

“Over there!” Heather shouted, point­ing at the fire­works.

White sparks flashed above the tree tops.

“That one looked like snow,” she said qui­etly.

Mo­ments later, red, green and white rock­ets burst si­mul­ta­ne­ously, as if cre­at­ing the Mex­i­can flag.

“Viva Mex­ico,” Heather said with a smile.

One day, José said, they would see the fire­works in Tul­te­pec to­gether.

“When you have papers,” Heather replied, star­ing up into the rocket-streaked sky.


TOP: José Piña and his wife Madai Ledezma and daugh­ter Heather watch fire­works from their apart­ment on July 4, the day Heather turned 9.


ABOVE: Heather, then 6, holds her mother’s hand dur­ing a news con­fer­ence about Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ex­ec­u­tive or­der on im­mi­gra­tion. Heather was born in Mary­land, but her un­doc­u­mented par­ents came from Mex­ico.



TOP: Heather Piña speaks out against Pres­i­dent Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies in front of the White House in April. Heather’s par­ents take her out of school to at­tend demon­stra­tions. They have taught her that speak­ing out, de­mand­ing rights and seek­ing change are what it means to be Amer­i­can. ABOVE: José Piña and Madai Ledezma watch soc­cer prac­tice.

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