About us, they never knew a single thing. Not the way we woke up every single morning to the scent of huevo con chorizo frying in the kitchen, tortillas freshly made, stacked under a carefully embroidered napkin of white cloth with pink and blue flowers at every corner, both flour and corn. Not the way an occasional allowance of no more than one dollar made us so happy and grateful. Not how good it felt to come home with the clothes we’d picked out for the next school year several months earlier, at the end of every summer when we’d pick them up from layaway, racing back and forth, changing from one outfit to the next, until all three had been paraded around our living room. Or for that matter what the experience of actually shopping for anything new meant to us. To them we were just another family like thousands of others: poor, uneducated, uncultured, with parents that spoke only Spanish, and worst of all stuck in our pitiful existence.
We were the Mexicans people talked about so much in those days, before Reagan and his amnesty for immigrants. The ones with a carload of children popping out of every door every stop we made in our multi-colored vehicle on its last wing; the ones stealing jobs and opportunities from Americans; the very ones that had to be detained and deported to prove a point that this country was not a place to violate laws.
What they failed to realize was that by sending us back they brought us closer together, and made us stronger. In the arroyos of El Sauz we learned of civility, humility and dignity from the other children who treated us like royalty just because we had come from the other side. El Norte that everyone talked about so much, where we were dirt poor by all accounts, but rich in comparison to the people living in our parents’ hometown. With every trip to the nearby pond to gather water for our baths in small galvanized pails carried over our shoulders with a wooden stick, we became more aware of our parents’ sacrifices. From our grandmother we learned how strong and beautiful the word Mexican actually is – not a term to be used derogatorily or in which any shame should be placed. She was our matriarch who prayed to the Catholic virgin everyday, who enticed us with chocolate-infused coffee every morning, who constantly reminded us that we were her grandchildren and needed to speak Spanish to communicate with her.
Upon our return we were no longer the same brood of speechless immigrants too afraid to make any waves for fear of being deported. We had been there and back as a family, and now we had finally found our voice. You don’t have a heart, all of you immigration people are heartless, my mother exclaimed at the judge after being told she would be the only one in our family not obtaining a green card, but as long as my kids and their father get legalized I’m happy. It was a gutsy move, but one that proved quite worth it. A few weeks later we found out that everyone in our family soliciting green cards would be getting them, including my mother. Almost as if in that instant, that immigration judge had seen past our illegal status, to the pleading heart of a desperate mother wanting nothing more than to remain with her children.
Yes, we were poor – uneducated and uncultured, as well. Our parents did speak mostly Spanish, very little English. And maybe our existence was pretty pitiful to outsiders, but we were on our way and now we knew that we were worth much more than what we had been told. We were definitely not stuck, just at a crossroad.
This post is dedicated to the new wave undocumented immigrants facing hatred and discrimination because of whom they have been told they are in this country. May you find your true voice and strength, and fear not what the result might be of standing up for what is right.
This story was originally published on May 18, 2010 on JuanofWords.com