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Coming to America

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By REYNA SANCHEZ  |  Moonshine Ink

In 1997, at the age of 21, I made the journey to America from Juarez, Mexico with my older sister. This is just one of thousands of immigrant stories, but it is my story of why I came to the U.S. and how I made a life here. Almost 20 years later, Truckee is truly my home, and I am grateful that my children have all the opportunities that living in this country brings and, most importantly, that they feel safe.

Like most middle and high school students in Juarez, I worked in a factory after school to help support our family. I made 300 pesos ($15) a week. When I was 16 my older sister paid for me to take night classes to become a medical assistant. When I finished, I got a job assisting a local doctor and attending to his patients. The wages were twice as much, and I earned 600 pesos ($50) a week. In my factory job I could wear jeans, but in the doctors office I needed professional attire, which was expensive.

At the same time, many young women in Juarez were being murdered, their bodies dumped in the fields outside the city. The murdered women all had three things in common — they had a slender physique, were factory workers, and were poor. The statistics of female homicides per capita in Juarez is significantly higher than any other major city in Mexico or the United States. Our entire family lived in fear. For a year, my parents helped my sister and I plan and save money for plane tickets to the U.S.

Amazingly, the day for us to travel to America finally arrived. As my family drove us to the airport in El Paso, Tex., I cried as we said our goodbyes, knowing it would be a long time before I saw my parents again. This was our first visit to the U.S. and we planned to journey from Reno to Truckee where our cousins lived and could help us get started, but leaving my parents and five brothers and sisters was painful. I cried because I knew I was not returning to Mexico, but I never had second thoughts.

I had no idea that Truckee was a rural, snowy place. I did not think about what I would do once I arrived, I just wanted to get there and feel safe. We packed minimally, with only a few clothes and a small bit of money. My cousin’s neighbor in Truckee gave us her extra warm clothes since we had none.

We happily lived with seven family members in a small trailer in Donner Creek Mobile Home Park while we searched for work with our freshly minted work permits. I knew a little English, but because of my shyness I didn’t want to speak at all. I got a housekeeping job at the hotel where my cousin’s friend was a supervisor, and was happy to be making $5.25 an hour (10 cents above minimum wage in 1997), eight hours a day, 40 hours a week.

Not being fluent in English was something I had to overcome to improve my work opportunities and be a part of my new community. I constantly read as much as possible, went to the Truckee Library religiously, and signed up for the READ UP Adult Reading Program. I am forever grateful for the people who volunteer to teach reading to adults, and I am now a library volunteer who holds story time in both Spanish and English.

Moving to America was hard but well worth the effort. I am now a mother, and my husband, who is also Mexican, and I are happy that our two young children are getting a quality education and don’t have to work nights. I am able to pursue a college education in social work, learn English, help support my family, and volunteer in the community. I have my green card and social security card, so now all I have to do is study and take the test to become a citizen.

I still miss my family, my friends, and my culture. I am sad that my parents, my siblings, and I could not find opportunities in our homeland, but I am grateful that thanks to hard work, my children can successfully rise above poverty, have food, clothing, and a good education in the safe and welcoming community that is Truckee. The opportunities that eluded me in my childhood in Mexico await my young children in Truckee, the town we love and now call home.

This column is a partnership between the KidZone Museum and parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and Moonshine Ink. The purpose is to hear the voices of families and their funny, wondrous, difficult, and adventurous life experiences. Do you have a parenting story to share? Contact Carol Meagher at director@kidzonemuseum.org. To learn more about KidZone Museum’s summer camps, programs, and events, visit kidzonemuseum.org or call (530) 587-5437.

 
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September 14, 2017