Mexico is the country with one of the largest economies in the world. Nevertheless, it deals with multiple problems which force people to leave the country and migrate abroad. Though some Mexican immigrants move to Spain, Canada, and Guatemala, a majority moves to the USA. People hope to start new lives, free of economic struggles, drug-related problems, and pollution. As Mexicans constitute the largest unauthorized immigrant group in the U.S., they have a rich experience of living in a different country. Therefore, interview with a first-generation immigrant from Mexico can shed more light upon the life of Mexican immigrants in the past and the present. In particular, a woman named Sofia Gonzales would be of particular help to those who would like to take a glimpse of immigrants’ life.
Sofia Gonzales was born 15 March 1965 in Monterrey. When she was two years old, her parents moved to the United States because of the poverty and economic crisis. As her family left Mexico when she was a little child, she could not recall anything from her previous life there. Her father Lorenzo Gonzales was a carpenter. He could earn good money, as long as the economy of the country was stable. Nevertheless, as the economy fell into crisis, her father lost all his clients. The latter would rather keep from spending money on the décor and new furniture. Instead, people worried about how to survive and get money for the basic necessities. Being deprived of the source of income, Sofia’s father spent time with his little daughter, while her mother worked. Sofia’s mother Selene worked in a maquiladora factory. Maquiladoras were the property of the U.S., and they promised good salaries at that time.
However, it turned out that the actual wages were miserable, even by Mexican standards. Though Selene was devoted to her work, she could not afford to work long hours, as Sofia was a little child, and someone had to look after her. With no better prospects in the homeland, my parents decided to move to a foreign country to live their dream. They did not have higher education, but they wanted their children to have one. Therefore, they joined border workers, especially from the south of the country, who decided to move to the United States for better work and life conditions. When Sofia’s parents moved to America, her father became involved in construction, and her mother became a salesperson. They could not afford a better job, as they did not have higher education and they belonged to an unauthorized wave of immigrants.
Like many of U.S. immigrants, Sofia’s family were isolated from native-born Americans. Her parents moved to Los Angeles County in California and joined the community that consisted mostly of Latinos. They inhabited one of the low-income households together with another immigrant family. On the one hand, housing and language barriers reinforced their isolation from native-born Americans. On the other hand, Gonzales’ was lucky to meet many Mexicans in their neighborhood. They helped Sofia’s family to adjust to the realities of American life in a new country. At the same time, Spanish was the language Sofia’s surrounding spoke, and she knew no other languages. Since her childhood, Sofia learned many Spanish traditions and absorbed Spanish culture into her soul. Sofia’s friends were other children from the neighborhood. Her best friends were two girls, Lisa and Juanita. When they got together, they usually played Calabaza, La pirinola, and other Mexican traditional games.
Besides, they played with old dolls, as most of the girls do. Sometimes they acted like Indians and White people and arranged some kind of competitions. In her childhood, Sofia Gonzales did not worry about living in another country. In fact, her parents did not become naturalized citizens. Instead, they chose to live as permanent residents and kept their original nationality. Therefore, Sofia Gonzales identifies herself with Mexicans more than with Americans.
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Growing in the Mexican culture had particular consequences on the life of little Sofia. She went to one of the high poverty schools that were closest to her neighborhood. She was enrolled in a large school with large class size. At first, it was awkward to her, as she did not know how to behave among a huge quantity of other children. Nevertheless, different games and activities made her fond of learning and attending school. Sofia was the one who never missed school. She liked her teacher, as well. According to Sofia’s words, it was a very kind and patient woman, passionate about teaching others. Still, the English language was Sofia’s main issue at school. Her parents and family were never proficient in English, and acquiring a new language was a difficult task for them, especially when working long hours. At home, they spoke Spanish, and their occupations did not require much knowledge of English. Still, school posed that challenge to a little Sofia. She did not quite understand the curriculum and teachers referred to her as an English-language learner. Thanks to her persistence, the girl managed to master English, which made her parents extremely proud of her.
Talking about the importance of education to Sofia’s family, the woman admitted that literacy was very important. Nevertheless, she cannot say education was very important in her family. Her parents have always told her that education does not make one better and does not make one worse. According to Sofia’s parents, education can be helpful, but the main contributor to one’s success is hard work. The woman thinks she passed the same values to her children and grandchildren. However, she realizes modern generation believes education is extremely significant to have a well-paid job.
Success is not in financial welfare to Sofia. To her, being a successful woman is fulfilling the role of wife and the mother. She got married when she was 25 and gave birth to four children. Probably her outlook is affected by her culture. Gender plays a significant part in role distribution in Mexican society. In this culture, all members of the family have clearly defined roles. Mexican men are expected to provide for their families and protect them, and women are expected to cook, clean and care for the children. Fathers are responsible for making family decisions, and neither mother nor children can challenge their authority. Today, at her fifties, Sofia is glad she gave birth to four children, and she is proud she managed to raise them. In her opinion, women should always remain feminine. In her view, being like a man does not guarantee one success.
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Apart from that, faith is an important factor in success in Sofia’s life. Her parents taught her to pray in all circumstances. They often used to say that God led their way and helped them to start new lives in the United States. Sofia claims that religion is important in her family, which follows the Roman Catholic tradition. As long as Sofia remembers herself, the church has always played a large part in providing spiritual support to her and her parents. Due to religious ceremonies, Gonzales’ met other Mexican families, so the religion served as a catalyst for making friends with other immigrants. At the same time, there are some non-Catholic beliefs that her family holds. In particular, parents taught Sofia about “bad eye” (Mal de Ojo), the result of someone’s admiration or jealousy. Bad eye causes the person looked upon severe headache, and there are some unusual remedies for that.
Sofia said that Mexicans are quick to take offense by American standards. The reason for that is hidden in cultural differences. What Americans consider normal behavior can be offensive and disrespectful from a Mexican perspective. To start with, the notions of respect differ in both cultures. While Americans think respect has to be earned, Mexicans believe it is absolute and fundamental. Mexicans are persuaded that everyone deserves respect because all people are children of God. Meanwhile, newcomers to America have a strong sense of personal honor and do not allow anyone to violate their set boundaries. Besides, there are some gestures Mexicans consider disrespectful. These include pointing people with an index finger. In their view, pointing is reserved to beasts but not to people. Another gesture is looking in the eye, as respectful people are not supposed to maintain eye contact.
To conclude, as one may see immigrants’ life is full of challenges. In the early twentieth century, there was a large wave of Mexican migration to the USA. The main aim was to find employment and escape from poverty. People who strive for a better life and try to escape problems may find it in another country. Though immigrants receive better wages in the U.S., the English language can become a serious challenge for them. Another challenge is cultural differences and notions of proper behavior. Still, immigrants realize that their homeland will not provide them with better opportunities. Contemporary life in Mexico is full of corruption, political mishaps, increased poverty, pollution, drugs, violence, and many other problems. Thus, immigrants choose the lesser of two evils by moving to the United States.
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