I chose to interview my mom first because I need to start with my own roots. My mother is now a naturalized citizen but she remembers living undocumented for many years. This is her story.
Patty, as family calls her, came to the U.S. in the early 80’s while she was only in her 20’s. Her first job in the states was unpaid. She got free housing and food in exchange for doing everything and anything around the house. After that she says she worked taking care of children where she was paid $30 a week.
Her reason for coming is like many other immigrants. After her father passed away her family was left without much. Patty wanted her mom to be able to afford simple necessities. She knew by coming to the United States she would have the potential to make much more money than she ever would by staying in Mexico.
When I asked her why she stayed being paid so little, she choked up saying she just wanted to be able to afford to buy her mom a juice box.
Patty says coming to the U.S., away from her family, isolated, affected her in ways she did not expect. She was in a country she did not know, could not speak the language, and was away from everyone and everything she loved. She says the Vitiligo started developing once she was in the United States.
(If you don’t know Vitiligo is a condition of the skin that causes the loss of skin color in blotches. Patty used to have a milky chocolate complexion. She now jokes that when she gained U.S. citizenship she changed her skin color to match.)
Years later when she finally visited a doctor for the first time to treat the condition she was told that it could have been triggered from the stress she was feeling.
“La soledad y la ansiedad te causa miedo” (Loneliness and anxiety cause fear”) Patty says, and this fear that started developing in her held her back from learning how to drive even from asking neighbors for a ride to work. She was weary of asking for rides to and from work from guys in the same neighborhood she was in. She says she couldn’t trust anyone and much less ask for favors.
But suddenly Patty’s future seemed bright. She qualified to apply for amnesty.
In 1986 President Reagan granted Amnesty to any immigrant who entered the U.S. Prior to 1982. Once Patty applied and qualified she was on the road to a legal place in the U.S. After her application was accepted she waited a year to be able to gain residency.
“Para mi la amnestia fue verdadermente un milagro” (Amnesty really was a miracle for me).
Although Patty was on a path to citizenship she was unable to immediately see her family again. The first year while she waited to be given residency she could not leave the country. And once she could, she didn’t have enough money to be able to go back. She said it was 5 years after her application that she finally made it back to Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco.
And 10 years after her application, she became a U.S. citizen.
She tells this part of her story in a very somber tone. You can tell she’s hurt from the years she missed with her family. But even then Patty only has good things to say about the United States. She says she still loves her birth country, but loves the laws here in the U.S. She says if there are bad things about this country she tries not to see them.
I asked her if it was worth risking her life crossing the border, being away from family and dealing with poor pay. She thought about it for a moment and said this :
“Voy estar agradecida eternamente con Dios. Que hay trabajo y oportunidades para toda la gente. Me gusta mi trabajo, para mi este pais me ha dado todo.”
“I will forever be grateful to God. There is work and opportunities for every kind of person. I like my job, to me this country has given me everything”
It’s because she knows what her life would be like had she stayed in Mexico. In the city her sister lives in, the water runs to the faucet only twice a week. They have to ration it during the rest of the week to be able to shower and clean dishes. Family members who are younger than her suffer from diabetes without proper care, are losing teeth, and their health is quickly deteriorating. From here in the U.S. she is able to help her family in ways she never could from being there with them.
Lastly I asked her what would you hope someone would take away from your experiences. She says it’s not worth over stressing and you have to remain positive.
( I chose this picture because she told me a story about a boyfriend she had in Mexico. He sarcastically said to her when will we ever see the skyscrappers of those big cities on the other side? Well if her ex boyfriend has internet access I hope you see this vato)