My parents brought me to the United States in September of 1995, when I was a little over thirteen years old. My father felt that we would have a better life in the United States. He used to move back and forth without documents to California, where he would work on the fields for a while, and then go back to Mexico. He came and went illegally until he was able to get his documents in 1986, when amnesty was granted. Once he was a citizen, he petitioned for us to become Americans too. We were finally approved in 1995 and that’s when he brought us to the United States. It was entirely his decision, he told us that we were going and that was it. He chose the United States for us because he had already been living there, and he knew how things worked. He knew there would be jobs available for him and that he was going to be able to support us and provide a better life than the one we had in Mexico.
There was not much to do before we left for the United States. We used to have some goats and sold them beforehand. We had some cows and they were sold. And some of the chickens were given away to family members. I was planning on running away with a boy so that I would not have to come to the United States because I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to leave my hometown, my grandfather that I was really close to and all of my friends, so I was planning on running away to avoid coming to the United States. The boy was actually my husband’s cousin. He used to tell me that he loved me. I did not like him at all, but I was willing to run away with him so that I wouldn’t have to move. I didn’t get the chance because my father lied to us. I don’t know why but he told us we were going to leave two weeks later than we actually did. My mom had already packed the few things that we had, and one of my uncles hired a truck. They told me to get in the truck because we were leaving, and I said, “WHAT? No! We are not leaving for 2 weeks!”
My family traveled to the United States by plane. It was the very first time I got on a plane. At the airport we had to go through immigration and they just checked our passports and we went right through. We boarded the plane in the state of Guanajuato and arrived in Chicago. From there, we took a bus to Iowa. We lived in a very, very small town called Nichols, Iowa. It probably had a population of maybe 100 people, maybe less. It was very tiny. You would think that because my dad spent all of his time in California that he would take us to California, but shortly before he picked us up in Mexico he moved to Iowa. I don’t know why he picked Iowa. I don’t know why he picked Nichols, Iowa.
As far as my expectations for what the United States would be like, I don’t think I had any. I knew that people used to be white, and that they spoke very funny. We never heard somebody speak English, but because of what other people would say, we thought they would sound kind of like when the dog barks. People would also say that the women were extremely pretty and that men were really tall, but that was about it. When I actually did get to the United States, it was strange not to see people that looked like me, and had my color. I remember thinking that the people were so skinny. I would see them, and they were really tall and skinny and I wondered how they got to be so tall. I couldn’t understand the language at all, I never though it sounded like the dog’s barking, but I did not understand anything. It was very intimidating because I just looked at people and always said, “Que? Que?” but they never understood what I was saying.
I think with any language you’re learning, it is a long process. I came in 1995 and since I didn’t exactly know what was going on, I was actually placed into special education because at that point they didn’t have ESL teachers. When I got to high school they did have ESL classes, and that’s when I started learning more and more. I was in ESL classes for a year and then I moved on to regular classes. I did struggle a lot but I had support from the teachers, which helped. I didn’t understand everything but it was getting better and better. I’m still learning!
Once I arrived in America, everything was good until I started understanding what people were saying. Especially in high school, people used to make a lot of fun of me because of the accent I have (because it was even stronger back then). My classmates used to tell me that immigration was going to come and pick me up because I was undocumented, and that I would never learn English. They told me that I spoke really funny and that I should be embarrassed and shouldn’t even try to learn English. It got to be really hard because I was taken out of ESL after just a year, but all my other classmates remained in ESL. They all stopped talking to me because they claimed that I felt that I was better than them, which was not the case. But, regardless, they stopped talking to me and those who were not in ESL did not talk to me because of my bad English. Those were some really lonely days. With all the other students making fun of me, high school was very difficult. Today you would call what they did bullying, but at that time you would never call it that. I was lucky to have teachers that helped me through the whole process, but it was difficult.
Before I came to America, I did not want to move, but when people say that the United States is the land of opportunities, that is literally what it is. That’s how I see it. When you have opportunities that you never had in your home country, you can see how much America has to offer. I know that it’s a lot more difficult and different for people who do not have the legal documents, but it’s still better. They are way better off here than their home countries; that’s why they are here. It’s definitely the land of opportunities.