Beyond Trump's Wall
By Kaitlin Wheeler
*Note: This conversation has been directly translated from Spanish to English. Names and location have been changed to protect identity.
Two middle-aged Mexican women pulled up chairs to join me at a wooden table where I was sitting. Outside, the sky was dark and crisp leaves blew down the barren street in mid-November. Inside, the warmth surrounded me, as I spoke with Consuelo Rodríguez and Letty García. For an hour and half in the Santa Clara Public Library, I learned about two separate lives that opened my eyes to a whole new world perspective. For eight weeks, I had been teaching these mothers English, so that they could function on a day to day basis in the United States. Rodríguez had now been in San Jose for eight years, while García had only been here for two years. Even at 8 p.m. every week, both women were always eager to begin their English class after a long day of work.
Rodríguez spent her time in a bakery selling cakes to customers, while García cleaned houses for a living. Rodríguez left Mexico to join her husband in finding him a better job and to create a more comfortable life for her family. García, a refugee, told a much different tale about leaving her hometown. Some of their families came with them, while most stayed behind. During these eight weeks, I had never asked them about their personal lives, since time was so limited during the class. Today though, the lesson was directly focused on giving them the opportunity to tell the tales of their lives, one as an immigrant, and one as a refugee. Without knowing where the conversation would take us, I left with a broken heart, but with hope for these resilient women to tread along through the intertwined chaos of past traumatic emotions and present swarming hardships. To begin the conversation, I started with a simple question:
Where are you originally from [to Rodríguez]?
Rodríguez: I am from Michoacán, which is near the capital. The capital of Michoacán is Morelia and Morelia is twenty minutes from where I am. I have two kids. One girl and one boy. They are married.
Do your kids live in the United States?
Rodríguez: The girl is here and one boy in México City. My son studied computer science and he did come but he didn’t like it here. He has a better life in México than here because the life here and he said that the title that he has, he could not use it here, he would need to offer a lot more. I do not know how, but he found that now he’s doing very well in Mexico. He is sent to Japan, Rome, different places. Different from my daughter. My daughter did not want to study.
What does your daughter do?
Rodríguez: She works as a dry-cleaner, but she didn’t want to study. I always told her that a person should be prepared even it it was a short career for three years.
Where are you originally from [to García]?
García: I am from Uruapan, Michoacán.
What is a tradition that you have brought from home here to the United States?
García: I like to celebrate Christmas the same as I do in my hometown.
And you [to Rodríguez]?
Rodríguez: The tradition I brought with me is Mexican food. For me, it brings me love and especially how I wish Christmas to be. To be in a family, to be together because in Mexico the family is united and here I see that much has been lost in families. It is true that I have tried to keep the family together here for Christmas.
Yes many families are separated here.
Rodríguez: When I arrived here, for me it was difficult and the new thing was that lots of time was dedicated to work and you eat at the time that you want, but I did not. People ate at different times, but I did not give into that. I always had everyone eat at the same time in my family.
That’s the same with my family. What has been the best part about coming to the United States [to García]?
García: Well for me, things that we could not have there [Mexico], for example, a computer. It would be very difficult to buy a computer for children for school or have more clothes or shoes and that gives me pride. They would have a notebook or a little change for clothes or shoes and here you can have two or three pairs of shoes.
And you? Any similarities or differences [to Rodríguez]?
Rodríguez: The difference for me, unfortunately is that the children will finish their studies and at this moment we have a good opportunity to work. What I did not like, that I think I will not overcome is that I brought the mentality that I was going to return [to Mexico] in a year, but since I came here to this country, I do not like it much. I do not like it much, but since my husband is here, I stayed. Now I work, but before I did not work when I first came. But also it was difficult because half the family is here and half the family is in Mexico.
That is very difficult.
Rodríguez: It is difficult. It was not like that [in Mexico]. We do not have much family here. I don’t know about you [to García], but I do not have many relatives here. It is a small family.
And you [to García]?
García: Well I do not have a family here, but my husband does and they are very sweet.
Rodríguez: I say how sad I am and I say to my son that he has the whole family [in Mexico].
García: On the one hand I feel proud to come here, but on the other hand I feel sad.
Rodríguez: It is not completely good, I say for me I am not completely happy because for years I have been here. I wanted to be with my family. But I could not give half and half. I could not keep going back and forth.
I see. Explain how you came to the United States.
García: I was in a reception area asking for asylum. I was put in a car and taken to San Jose. I don’t know what towns I went through.
Rodríguez: I came with a Visa. My husband was here first. He did not help me get the visa at all. I was working in Mexico and he was here [in the United States] and he told me to come and he told me that he would pay for a Coyote [someone who helps a person illegally cross the border], but I told him no. I would not. I had a great job in Mexico. Then I got a visa and a passport and they gave me references at my job and gave me the visa in 10 years.
What job did you have in Michoacán?
Rodríguez: I worked in Mexico City. I worked for Television channel 13. I did not finish studying, but there were courses I took and I started a job at Channel 13. I had a great job. When I came here, I was not satisfied because I had a good job [in Mexico]. The people that we lived with here, even though my husband worked, we lived with many people in one apartment. I had a house in Mexico paid for. [In the United States] we lived with people who immigrated and we lived in sorrow situations. There were 10, 20, or 15 people that lived in an apartment. So when I got here, this terrified me because I had never lived like that. I feel sad and they say that this is the land of opportunities. I don’t know what happens, but on the corner of the street, there is a family of four that lives in a car and it makes me sad.
There is so much wealth discrepancy.
Rodríguez: I am in a country of opportunity and right now I see how many people are living on the street and how this city is very dirty and how they are deteriorating. I do not know. I see so many people living on the street and a lot of drug addiction.
García: I have a similar situation. One day I was changing the sheets of the bedroom because it was already late and I told my son to get up and wait downstairs. But the son said I don’t want to go downstairs because they want to give me drugs. A boy had offered them to him. My kids are not used to being around drugs. When we were in Mexico it was not so evident.
Rodríguez: I have noticed that a very young age, they are offering drugs to the children at schools.
Did this happen in Michoacán?
Rodríguez: No. Here.
García: No. I never lived in a town, I always lived in a small ranchito (in Mexico) with houses and they’re away from the city.
Rodríguez: I do not understand because here it is true in good school with a good education you do not see drugs. But in a lower education school there is. Do you see drugs in a school in a large population with white Americans?
In some schools with wealthy people, people use their money to buy cocaine, but we don’t see gangs. In a low-income community, that may be someone’s only option, but in a wealthy area, people are not forced into this.
Rodríguez: I don’t know. For the circle that I am in, most of the people are Latino. Most have children in drugs. My friends have children in drugs. They’re coming for the American Dream. They came with their kids and they grew up to be 20, 22, 23 year old. The sacrifice is to come here and to see things happen to your family. To see that you have a large family and to see them get killed. Why have these people gotten into drugs?
If you’re in such grave poverty, you don’t have any other option, if those are the people you are surrounded with in your community. It’s that age at which a kid is finding themselves and they want to be part of something.
Rodríguez: I think that education can help them focus. I mean, it is worth it to come to this country and many times I thank God that I have taken my kids forward, but I see this. I come to be better, for a better dream because we say it’s the American dream to work. We focus on working and working and we give the children to caretakers with whom we don’t know. We do not give them the love, we do not give them the love, we do not give them the love that they need. Then the children get lost and are destroyed.
The U.S. is just focused on working and money. I think the whole American dream is just false. It’s not possible to even maintain a family when you are working so hard. I think the gang members go for the most vulnerable people.
Rodríguez: That's why I tell my husband that I do not believe that he has achieved the responsibility he has. We work and we leave them and that's not the most important thing.
Do you think it’s worth coming here to work so much more [to García]?
García: In Mexico there was no security, but here there is more. My husband would take care of the ranch [in Mexico] and he would get paid. If they need someone to take the drugs and deliver them, they will take you from your job and force you. People were getting killed. Everyday they would kill someone. The girls could not go to school because they would kidnap them. These are the reasons I left because they were forcing people to be involved in drugs. There was only work for the men. I didn’t work. I would take care of the house, feed the kids, and take them to school. If I see someone getting hurt, I do not say anything, because I would be killed [in Mexico].
Rodríguez: You see your future, you see what future awaits us. We have to see the future. But when I came here I question if it was worth to come. It is also a matter of seeing things that I am not completely happy. I do not feel that security and I do not feel that happiness as a human being. Because I have half of my family there and half here. But I like to see well-educated people and I admire the education you know you have and move on and prepare. I congratulate you. Thank you for helping us.
Thank you so much. You give me great joy.
García: I also wish you the same and I admire you that since you were a child living you made a very big effort to not to fall.
Rodríguez: To this day though, I am not happy here. I blame my husband because he makes fun of my English.
We ended with laughter as Rodríguez jokingly explained that she needed a new husband. There we sat at the table in solidarity, the women shared their deep emotions, while I listened with my full attention. As the conversation died down, I thanked them for opening up, something that I knew was not an easy task when many of these thoughts were suppressed for so many years. I stood up and left waving my last goodbye. The library doors closed behind me. A gust of wind sent a shiver down my spine as I replayed their words over and over in my head. As I got into my car, I watched the leaves blow down the street, dragging along the ground as the wind forcefully pushed them further. I stared at the leaves for a while as I sat in my car in silence. With long gulp, I turned my car on and all I could hope for as I drove down the street was for these women to stay safe in this relentless world.