Miguel and his family left their home country of Chihuahua, Mexico for safety, better opportunities and to be free of religious persecution. (Why did you and your leave your home country? ) Miguel’s parents had been talking about leaving their home land for a while, they were concerned with the escalating violence because of the drug war, an increase of kidnappings and homicides, made them feel unsafe not only in their own home but anywhere in the city. The family also practiced the Protestant faith which did not blend well with the locals, the majority of whom were Catholic.
They felt they could not openly talk about or practice the religion of their choice. So in 2004 Miguel’s parents decided it was time to move the family to the U. S. Miguel and his family faced many challenges since arriving in the U. S. The family moved around a lot, lived with other family members and often felt isolated and alone. (What challenges have you and/or your family faced in the U. S.? ) First of all none of them were fluent in the English language which made communication and understanding difficult.
Second neither one of Miguel’s parents had attended high school and found it hard to obtain jobs with limited education. Because Miguel’s parents had limited education and English speaking skills his parents became migrant workers who traveled around Colorado looking for agricultural jobs. Being a migrant worker meant moving to where the jobs were and move the family did. The family also crossed the border with visitor visas but at the end of their stay did not go back to Mexico so for a while four out of the five members of his family were undocumented immigrants living in the U. S. llegally.
Miguel’s younger brother was born in the U. S. so he was already a citizen. After Miguel’s older sister married a U. S. citizen she was able to go through the process of getting citizenship herself, which left Miguel who has not been able to attain his citizenship but does have a workers visa giving him the opportunity to stay in the U. S. and work. Miguel believes his family has a few major strengths that helped them get through the hard times. (How did you and your family cope with challenges and what are your family’s major strengths? ) Family dinners have always been mandatory.
Even now if the family is together (Miguel is the only one who lives away from the family) then they still have dinner together. During this time the family would talk about their day, how things were going and what new things were happening. Having this tight family bond is what held them together, along with a strong support team, and communication. Miguel said that he made it through high school because of his mother’s support. She would listen to his problems and help walk him through how to go about handling or fixing them. She was and still is his rock, counselor and major supporter.
Miguel and his family observe a few cultural and family practices that are different from those in the U. S. (What cultural and family practices in their family or home country that are different from those in the U. S.? ) Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the dead) is celebrated on November 2nd and on January 6th, they celebrate “Dia de los 3 reyes magos” (Day of the 3 king wise men). There are even a few holidays and family practices that are celebrated in both Mexico and the U. S. (What customs and/or cultural practices have you and your family continued to practice while living in the U. S.? ) Christmas, which is celebrated on December 24th, Thanksgiving, Easter, but without the colored eggs and bunny thing, and Birthdays.
Miguel mentioned that spending time around the dinner table every night is a family practice not practiced much in the U. S. now a days. He believes that you learn manners, morals and ethics from your parents and other family members as well as a sense of family culture, who you are, where your family came from, etc. by spending quality family time together which is lacking in most American homes these days.
Have you and/or your family picked-up any new customs or cultural practices considered “American? ” According to Miguel he and his family have started celebrating the 4th of July and Halloween since immigrating to the U. S. Miguel’s younger brother loves trick-or-treating. What kind of food do you and your family eat at family gatherings, Mexican food only or a mix of Mexican and American food? Family gatherings are always Mexican traditional dishes like pozole, menudo, tamales, enchiladas, tortillas, salsas, arroz con pollo, mole, frigoles churros, and carne asada.
However when it comes to desserts Miguel’s family enjoys a mix of both American and Mexican treats, Tres Lesches cake, natillas and bunuelos to name a few. One of Miguel’s biggest rewards of immigrating to the U. S. is the opportunity for higher education, he said that if he was still back in Mexico attending college would not have happened. Being able to attend college has allowed Miguel to find a better paying job which is another reward of living in the U. S. because a good paying job is also hard to come by in Mexico.
Another reward of living in the U. S. s being able live in a better and safer environment that has given Miguel’s parents the opportunity to own their own home and have good jobs. Immigration services were not a help at all for Miguel and his family. If it wasn’t for the fact that Miguel interned at an immigration resource center, which gave him the opportunity to learn immigration law and what was involved in attaining citizenship, he’s not sure his family would have been able to navigate through that world and become citizens. Because of his experience he was able to help his sister and parents fill out the right forms and coach them on what to say during interviews.
Miguel said that he is disgusted at how immigrant services are handled and also with immigration law. He said it is a broken system that needs to be fixed. I enjoyed my time talking with Miguel immensely. Listening to his story made me laugh and made me cry. The interview gave me a different understanding of what it means to be an American and that I need to not take those privileges for granted but to use those privileges to help others not so fortunate. Miguel talked about his frustrations at school where he did not attend ESL classes but was mainstreamed.
Because of being mainstreamed Miguel went from a getting all “A’s” to flunking out because he did not understand anything spoken in class nor was he able to read assignments. Miguel felt like his language was taken away from him which was a hard thing but when one of his teachers told him that now he was in America he needed to act American and needed to change his name to an American name. This was a low time for him because he felt like not only did he lose his language and country but now he was being told to lose his identity and make up a new one.
Growing up I’ve heard similar stories about my grandmother who emigrated here from Italy just after WWII. My grandfather and his family were worried about prejudices against Italians and thought it best for her to become “Americanized” and forgetting her own language, culture and customs. As an adult I realize how precious it is to know and understand where your roots are, where your family came from. I missed out learning my native tongue and passing it on to my children. I missed out on customs, favorite food, holidays celebrated, stories and folklore.
The schools he attended did not have any resources available to teach Miguel English so he asked kids at the local library to help him. He said that part of the need to learn English was not all grades inspired but a matter of survival, it was the only way to get food to eat. Having to fight for basic survival needs is something that is hard for me to comprehend. Even though I grew up just at the poverty line there was always food in the house to eat. I never went hungry and I’ve never had an issue explaining to someone what my needs are.
Miguel believes that all the challenges he faced helped make him into the man he is today. He said that when he found adversity or negative things he turned them into a positive moment or thing which ended up being a reward of immigrating to the U. S. Things like forcing himself to speak English so that he could get better grades and get food to eat. And turning those adversities into a career and being able to help others so life in America might be as bad. Miguel also believes that having to work hard for what you have has helped him to appreciate what he has and to value it more.
Miguel believes these qualities are lacking in our youth today, that things are just handed to them without having to work for them and because of that the youth today do not appreciate the time and hard work that goes into their parents being able to pay for their college tuition, clothes or food. After everything Miguel has gone through all the adversities and disappointments haven’t changed how he feels about living in American because in the end he believes he is a very privileged undocumented person.