How DACA recipient Juan Paul Flores Vazquez got discovered by Calvin Klein
According to Google, the “American dream” is defined as “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.” To those seeking citizenship in the United States, the “American dream,” is what they strive to achieve. In an interview with Dazed magazine last October, Juan Paul Flores Vazquez, now 22, reminisces on his experiences receiving his Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, and being discovered by Calvin Klein.
Born in Mexicali, Mexico, Juan Paul Flores Vazquez crossed the border and moved to Modesto, California at a young age. “I was either three of four,” Vazquez said. Living in California is a memorable experience for Vazquez because it’s where he got his start in life and received his DACA status.
“That’s the state that introduced me to my world,” Vazquez said. “A lot of my experiences of who I am today and why I try to have some conviction with myself is because of the environment that small town had on me.”
Vazquez shared that he received his DACA card the same month that former president Donald J. Trump was elected into office. The Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals is a program that came into effect during the Obama administration. It allows undocumented immigrants to apply for a work permit that lasts for two years and is renewable. In addition, it prevents undocumented immigrants from being deported from the United States.
Making a Living
Vazquez was 16 when he received his DACA status and later moved to El Paso, Texas to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker. He traveled alone, leaving his family in California.
“I felt like Modesto was getting too small, and I wanted to try and challenge myself to continue my education in cinema without school.”
Living on his own at age 16 was challenging for Vazquez, because no one prepared him for “how bad housing is.”
“I was living in an apartment that was crumbling its roof off,” Vazquez said. Upon arriving in El Paso, Vazquez worked at a call center called “Alorica.” The environment at Alorica was “hostile” for Vazquez who shares that it was hard for him to work there. He described the conditions of working there as “toxic.”
“My DACA recipiency affected my job at Alorica,” Vazquez said. “I felt so discriminated against at that job.”
Vazquez currently works with “La Mujer Obrera,” which is a local activist group that “stages walk-outs and fights for worker’s rights.” He also works at Café Mayapan, a restaurant opened by this activist group. Vazquez also participates in “Juntos y Vacunados,” which helps vaccinate people from COVID-19, without the fear of being asked for an identification card.
“We are on our way to achieve this goal of getting as much of the community vaccinated,” Vazquez said. “That includes people who are undocumented or may not always feel the safest with places that require IDs.”
Vazquez feels that helping people get vaccinated is where he belongs. “A lot of people have asked if we require papers,” Vazquez said. “Seeing that fear in other people’s eyes, I recognize that. I belong here guiding others through this process.”
Receiving His DACA
Vazquez said that even after receiving his DACA, there was always that fear that it could be taken away.
“There’s always that thought in the back of our heads that this program could be used against us,” Vazquez said. “That’s something that can never go away, that fear.”
Besides citizenship, one of the things Vazquez struggled with was wanting to work but not being able to for so long.
“All of my friends were getting part-time jobs and I couldn’t,” Vazquez said.
Vazquez describes getting his DACA as “winning the golden ticket from Willy Wonka,” but with the limitations of not being able to leave “bounds,” meaning the United States.
“The only way I can reunite with my grandma in Mexicali is through that wall,” Vazquez said. “Our calls are always bittersweet because we know that it’s not promised because of the system.”
Vazquez said that he will always be undocumented, despite having DACA.
“People think that being undocumented ends when you get DACA, but no. There’s still that connection,” Vazquez said.
Although it took some time for Vazquez to get his DACA, the result impacted him so much so that he made a short film in remembrance of the occasion.
Vazquez applied to be a part of the Calvin Klein campaign that showcased American youth. He received multiple calls and was required to sign documents, in addition to presenting his DACA.
Once the billboard was up in El Paso, Vazquez drove to its location and was amazed to see himself on a billboard. The billboard was located on the entryway of El Paso from Socorro.
“I had people calling to congratulate me,” Vazquez said. “But physically, there it was, just me and my partner.”
The billboard with Calvin Klein was a one-time thing, where they paid Vazquez a “stimulus check,” Vazquez said. Vazquez adds that he did receive more followers after modeling for the Calvin Klein billboard.
Vazquez said that the people he met while working with Calvin Klein were “some of the best people” he has ever met.
“They treated me like a prince,” Vazquez said. “They had an umbrella out for me when I was walking in the sun through the desert.” Calvin Klein did give Vazquez some merchandise from modeling with them. “I got a pair of tighty-whities, a red flannel shirt, and a pen,” Vazquez said.
By Brianne Williams