“Maybe I’ll go to the beach?”
Wildin David Guillen Acosta has taken the week off.
Yesterday, he graduated from Riverside High School, the first in his family to complete an American education. He should have graduated last June. Instead, this time last year he was being held in solitary confinement at Stewart Detention Center in Georgia
. Once processed in that infamous prison, detainees have a very poor chance of getting out. Eighty-seven percent are deported, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Acosta celebrated his temporary freedom and a milestone—one he says is a “huge step” for his future—among hundreds of peers, teachers, and family yesterday at Riverside’s ceremony in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Valedictorian Aaron Balleisen called out Acosta’s name during his commencement speech. “This year, one of our classmates was threatened by deportation,” he said. “I’m so proud to stand here today with the leaders who helped bring Wildin home.”
Other than the mention and a couple of news cameras outside, Acosta graduated without much fanfare. For the first time since he was detained, the entire family seemed, for a moment, at peace. Wildin’s mother, Dilsia, was exceptionally chatty, a facet of her personality that doesn’t always reveal itself in interviews, where she’s poised and determined to fight. She wore a chic beige-colored dress with a long matching sweater. Her dark hair was blown out sleek and straight, her cheeks made up in a dewy rouge. Acosta looked sharp, too, with sparkly studs in his newly pierced ears. He and his father, Hector, wore fitted suits. His younger sister, Odalma, snapped photos and texted them to another sister, who also lives in Durham but couldn’t get off work to attend.
Acosta’s fight isn’t over. His next court date is August 30. He is waiting for a work permit to be processed and his asylum request to be accepted. But yesterday provided a welcomed, joyful pause in a tumultuous year for the twenty-year-old and his family.
Even when one of his teachers, Mika Twitmeyer, hugged him through tears, Acosta gracefully calmed her down. “No, Mrs. Twitmeyer, please,” he begged. “No crying. Not today. This is a wonderful day.”
Acosta said he took the entire week off from his construction job. When asked what his plans are after graduation, he laughed.
“You mean immediately, right?” He contemplated a beach trip. “I’d like to take a break. Enjoy life a little bit.”
His mother says he is the first of her four children to finish high school in the States. “I hope he becomes an engineer, something he’s always dreamed of being,” she says.
After the ceremony, the family and their friends, many of them members of Alerta Migratoria NC, headed over to Acosta’s favorite Chinese buffet. There, Viridiana Martinez mentioned how many Americans still don’t acknowledge the refugee crisis present in Central America and here on American soil as a result of unaccompanied minors, like Acosta, fleeing their violent homes.
Earlier at the graduation, she told a television news crew that Acosta “went through a lot. He was nearly deported three times. He was shackled, subject to psychological torture. And just like him, there are hundreds of other youth who are going through the same thing right now.”
Despite a more-than-full-time job, Acosta also helps Alerta Migratoria work on the cases of youth just like him. But yesterday, he did take a break.
“This is a huge step for me,” he explained. “And I think this the first step to help me achieve my other goals.”
Acosta and his friend, Sandro Mendoza, joked at the end of a the four long tables pushed together at the Chinese restaurant. Mendoza mimicked Acosta’s Honduran lilt when he said “ya tu sabes,” and Acosta smiled, eyeing his fortune cookie. He cracked it open. In it, a slip of paper read: “You will win success in whatever calling you adopt.”