Flying over the border from Mexico to the United States in his mother’s lap at the age of one, Fred was too young to understand just how much a journey of a few miles would affect the rest of his life. Having grown up in America almost his entire life, he has the benefit of fitting right into American society. However, the ropes that tie him back to Mexico are still taut and he feels their tug constantly.
Coming to America
Whenever I ask my mom, or whenever anyone asks her, really, she loves to tell this story, about how it was first seeing America, she always talks about one moment. She always talks about how when she first stepped onto the sidewalk outside the airport and a watery snowflake flew into her right eye. My mom loves to make things dramatic, like all Mexican mothers, and so she claims it happened in slow motion, that the snowflake hit her eye and the world, like, completely stopped or something. She says that she heard all the car honks and stuff in the background but all she could focus on was the snow. She says she was, like, captivated or something because it was nothing like the snow her telenovelas or movies from back home would show – it wasn’t white and pretty, it was gray and watery. But then her aunt and uncle who were picking us up from the airport took us to their car. They were picking up me, my mom, and my aunt, my mom’s sister.
We were pretty lucky, I’d say. We came into the country with Visas and had family to live with. The house was pretty nice, too. It had a ping pong table and a weight room. I don’t really remember much from actually living there, I was one when we moved in and, like, four when we moved out and now I’m 18, but we still visit and the house looks pretty much the same. The house was in Corona, Queens, a hub for Mexican and Ecuadorean immigrants. Since my mom’s aunt and uncle had been living there so long, they had really good networking and so almost right away my mom got a job at the corner deli. My mom’s uncle’s friend owned that deli so he hired her. My mom accepted the job because it was so close to the house so she didn’t waste time commuting and so she could spend more time with me. My mom’s aunt looked after me while she worked from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon. My aunt and uncle were extremely helpful to us in the beginning, they paid for our trip to America and babysat me and the never even expected anything back. Well, actually, now that we have our own house, all they ever want is to come visit us all the time.
It was really lucky that we moved into a neighborhood with a high concentration of Hispanics since my mom barely knew any English when she came to America. She took weekly ESL classes and religiously watched “Inglés sin Barreras”, the same instructional video used in the movie Spanglish.
How Their Lives Improved
In Mexico, my mom’s family lived in an elevated house made out of bamboo wood, like a farmhouse. They did subsistence farming, so they grew everything they needed. Only cold water to shower in. No washing machine, no dryer. An average workday for my mom would be that she would wake up, feed and bathe me, drop me off at my abuela’s house, go to work for ten hours at the factory where she was a seamstress, and then pick me up and go home. It was a lot of hard work for very, very little pay. The minimum wage in Mexico sucks! It’s like freaking five cents and the price of products is rising because we’re importing stuff from the U.S., like corn flour, which is why tortillas are starting to cost a lot. Mexicans can’t afford it! But the minimum wage in America is way better and so buying something as simple as a tortilla is not a problem.
My mom came to America for “the American money” and “el sueño Americano”, or “the American dream”. Here, we never really struggled for money. My mom worked at the deli for three years, until we moved to an apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens. We moved because my younger brother was born and he has cerebral palsy. My mom quit her job to become my brother’s full-time attendant and the government started giving her money as compensation. The money was enough that we were able to move out of my mom’s aunt and uncle’s house. A year after we moved to Kew Gardens we moved again to our current house in Floral Park, Queens. The government gave us money for the house and even money to buy a car.
My mom chose Floral Park because it has a good school district. As I got older, my mom became more and more concerned about my education. When I was born in Mexico, she immediately began thinking of my future and was hell-bent on sending me to good schools. But, looking back, that was really, really good for me because it’s because of the good school system that I got into Bronx Science for high school.
I’m actually extremely thankful for the opportunity to have an American education, I know people would kill for that chance. I definitely wouldn’t trade my education for a life in Mexico. I’ve been there four or five times and, I don’t know, life just kind of doesn’t compare. Everything is cheaper in Mexico, but America is where I grew up. My mom knows I identify more with America than with Mexico and at first that really freaked her out because she got scared that I would lose touch with his Mexican roots and his culture, but then she realized that being Mexican-American is a culture in itself.
There are definitely parts of my Mexican heritage that I want to preserve, though. Like tacos! I love tacos. And soccer. I also love the family values of Mexico. My family is extremely close-knit since all of my mother’s brothers and sisters immigrated to America after she did and so I have lots of cousins, something like twenty-six of them. The strong family values were actually what had originally made it so difficult for my mom to immigrate to America. She had to leave behind her parents, her siblings, and practically all her cousins. Family values were also why she chose to immigrate to America versus her second choice country, which was Spain. She had her aunt and uncle and their children in the U.S. My mom misses a lot about her home country: “Primos (cousins), the food, the happiness. I have no doubt that during her old age she’s going to want to move back to her hometown. I don’t know how she’s going to deal with no air conditioner and washing machine and stuff, she’s definitely gotten accustomed to the American lifestyle. I don’t really think I’ll ever feel that way, though, the desire to live in Mexico. America is home. Mexico is where my family comes from and where I go on vacation, but in the end, you’ll always just want to go home.