DENVER — Seventeen years ago, 15-year-old Bianca Acosta couldn’t look her mother in the eyes as she bid goodbye to her family and Mexico, seeking safety, security, and a career in the United States.
Acosta was born and raised in a small village in Zacatecas, Mexico.
“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark,” Acosta said, quoting poet Warsan Shire.
Acosta embarked on a journey to the U.S. with a group of 15 people guided by a "coyote," a smuggler.
Only five people, including herself, made it through the two-month journey. Tapping into those memories is emotionally tolling.
“I was 15, and it was scary,” Acosta said. “I have PTSD.”
Acosta moved in with her family in Colorado. Her decision to pack up and leave opened doors to a career out of reach in her homeland. She graduated from the University of Northern Colorado and pursued a job in education.
Her schooling and safety came with many sacrifices.
“My grandfather passed in 2017, and I couldn’t see him,” Acosta said. “I have two siblings that I don’t know in person.”
Her immigration status as a DACA recipient prevented her from traveling outside the United States. DACA recipients can only travel if they can prove it’s for education, employment, or a humanitarian reason like a funeral or a sick family member.
Acosta did not qualify for any categories until last year, when her mother’s heart problems worsened. Fearful of her mother’s health, Acosta applied for "advanced parole," which allows immigrants to travel outside of the U.S. and return lawfully.
Still, it comes with risks, including the possibility of getting stuck outside of the United States.
Acosta went to the immigration office in Colorado to help expedite her application process, but she said she was told it would take eight to nine months unless her mother died. Determined, Acosta pushed forward and prayed to her ancestors. She was eventually approved for a three-month visit to Mexico.
“I was like, 'I’m going to see my mom, I am going to be able to tell her like, here is your runaway child; I’m here I’m home, I’m home,'” Acosta said.
For nearly two decades, she’s held on to childhood memories and phone calls. Technology in her small village is behind, video calls aren’t an option, and phone lines are sometimes down for weeks.
“My mom doesn’t know I’m coming, it’s going to be a surprise,” Acosta said. “I want to say, 'I’m sorry I couldn’t come before, sorry I couldn’t be there when she was sick, and to see my siblings grow up.'”
It’s an unexpected gift heavy with emotion. Acosta worries she may not recognize her mother after 17 years.
To help fund Acosta's extended trip to Mexico, a mentor launched a GoFundMe.
Acosta hopes to raise $5,000 to cover her rent and other expenses in the United States while she’s gone. Her 14-year-old daughter is in high school and will stay with a family member while she’s gone.
“I don’t think nothing that I ever do will give me back those 17 years that I missed, walking alongside my family, my land, my people,” Acosta said.
While it’s been challenging, she doesn’t regret her decision to leave. Over the years, their bond has grown stronger, and Acosta can't wait to make corn tortillas with her mother next to her.
The excitement to reunite with her mom steals her sleep as she inches closer to Saturday, the day she plans to begin her journey back home. Acosta says if she has to, she will sell her call to cover her expenses.
Adi Guajardo at KMGH first reported this story.