Juan Hernandez’s Interview as told to Liz Joseph

 At the young age of five, Juan was forced to cross the Mexican border to enter into a better life.  After suffering in Mexico, dealing with separation from his mother, and language problems, Juan is surprised as to how his life turned out. 



Village Life In Mexico

I was born on the outskirts of Mexico City on April 8, 1995.  I lived with my mom and her family in a pueblo.  The houses were all made of cement.  Everything was gray and not pretty.  I had a huge family there.  I used to play with my cousins all day long.  Eleven months after I was born, my little brother came along the way.

Life in Mexico was hard from what I remember.  My mom was a mushroom picker and picked white mushrooms in factories.  When I little, I remember having to go to school.  Since the town was so tiny, we only had one school with small classrooms and very few kids in each room.  When I first went into preschool, I remember there were only 10 other children in the same class.  That was August of 2001.


The Great Escape

Right before my first day of school, I remember my mom telling me to not talk to anyone about our special trip.  All I knew about this trip was that we were going to go see my grandparents…in America.  I didn’t see what the big deal was back then, but as I got older, my mom told me she was planning this trip to escape to America for a long time.  However, the trip would be extremely expensive, and since my mom was only a mushroom picker, we had to leave illegally.

We left during the middle of night.  I remember my mom waking me up and dressing me.  I guess I fell asleep after that because the next thing I remember is waking up in a stranger’s house.  This house was beautiful.  It had wood and looked pretty and not just gray; it looked American I guess.

The next night, I was woken up by mom again and put into a car with the lady who owned the house with my brother.  I was scared.  I wanted my mommy and I remember her saying she would come back for us real soon and crying as the door shut on her face.

We kept driving through the night and when we got to this box, the lady we were with said we were her grandkids.  The first thing I remember seeing in America was the suburban areas and garbage trucks – I thought they were the coolest things ever.  She took us to a house and we had to wait there for our mom.  For 2-3 days, my brother and I were scared – don’t get me wrong – the people at the house were nice, but they weren’t our mom.


Finally Reunited

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we were told we were going to see our mom.  We became super excited and ended up going to an airport.  We waited there for 5 hours for my mom.  As time went on, my brother and I became more and more anxious and began to cry, begging for our mommy.  Finally, we saw her.  She was covered in dust and had cactus needles sticking to her clothes.  She was tired and worn out, but the second she saw us, she smiled and came running to us.

It turns out that she had to come a different way to avoid getting caught.  She had to crawl through the desert and the mountains.

After a heartwarming reunion, we were put on a plane by the lady that my brother and I came with.  On the plane, my mom was separated from us.  I remember this Asian man sitting next to us and looking at my mom.  He asked her if she wanted to sit with us, but she didn’t understand him and he felt sorry each time he asked.  In the end, he got up and placed her in his seat and took her seat.  I finally looked out the window and I knew all of us had one though on all our minds – now what?


Waiting for a Man

When we first came here, we were in LA.  Our grandparents were in NYC, so that’s why we had to take the plane to get there.  The lady told us that there would be someone at the airport waiting for us.  However, when we got there, there was no one there.  We waited two hours inside, but no one showed up.  We had no idea what to do.  We were worried, scared, and nervous.

Finally, we decided to look outside, and my mom was able to find the man, an old family friend of my grandma’s.  Our grandparents were also with him, and I remember my mom crying with joy because she was finally with her parents.  We all got into the car and drove to our new home on Staten Island.


Life in America – Getting an Education

We arrived in the country on August 28,  2001.  There was still time to register for school.  My grandpa’s brother’s wife was a teacher at that time and she helped both my brother and I enter into public school without any questions from the governments.

I remember school being really hard at first because I didn’t know any English at the time.  My teacher had another Hispanic student, Margret, become my translator and aid.  As time went on, it became easier to understand the language and become accustom to the culture of this new land.

After elementary, I went onto PS 57, which was located in a predominantly black neighborhood, but there were many Hispanic kids there too, so I didn’t have to worry too much about fitting it at that time.

School was never a real problem for me because I just went with the flow and studied hard because that’s the very reason my mom decided to come to the country.  The only problem that arose was when I was applying to college.  Since I was not a registered citizen, I knew I had to pay for school out of my pocket.  I couldn’t apply for FAFSA or federal aid or anything like that because I don’t have a social security number or a green card.  As a result, I knew I couldn’t apply to the big name schools like Yale or Harvard.  However, I was blessed to have gotten into Sophie Davis and will work my hardest to stick to the program.



To my surprise, my mom was happy that we are Americanized for the most part.  I mean, we still know our culture, where we came from, and the local language, but my mom is ashamed of it.  She doesn’t want us to have anything to do with Mexico.  She wants us to leave that life behind.  However, she also didn’t want us to become too Americanized that we forget who we really are.  In end, we ended up keeping some of the aspects of our Mexican heritage, and our mom is happy that we have adapted the good American qualities.


My Mom’s Story

My mom wanted to leave the country because she didn’t want us to have to suffer like she did basically.   She knew that in the little town we lived in, we couldn’t accomplish much.  She tried hard to get an education, but with two kids and a job, it was impossible.  She wasn’t paid enough and struggled to bring home food everyday.  My grandparents were already in America; they came in like 1990ish, and the rest of my family that lived in the pueblo was leaving at that time as well.

My grandma already worked as a cleaning lady here, so my mom tagged along when she first came here.  She didn’t know any English and thought she could just pick it up along the way, but she couldn’t.  After 2 years of struggling, she finally enrolled in Saturday English classes.

I feel obligated to study hard to make her proud of me.  She gave up so much and suffered to get us here.  I just want her to be able to have a happy life.  Education is really important for me as a result.  I just want her to be happy.