Came to the U.S. for some adventure and never left
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Suarez: I came to the United States, 14 years ago, from Mexico. I was on a quest for adventure. I really wanted to meet new people and see new places. I was planning on skiing with friends for a few months and then moving on to Japan to make a living. My parents were in the process of leaving Mexico City and moving to Japan, and I was going to join them there, but I never made it.
I came with a couple of friends and, after two months, they left and I stayed, all alone. I had decided to stay for six months and work on my English and my independence.
A week after I got here, I found a job as a nanny. I was doing that for 40 hours a week and also working at McDonalds’ for 40 hours a week. I was exhausted, but it felt good. I had never done anything like that so I was pretty proud of myself. I was thriving on that high-speed energy and pace. I couldn’t do that now, but I was young then.
Gallacher: You said that you were lonely. Did you have a hard time adjusting to the United States?
Suarez: It was hard for me because life in Mexico City was so different than here. I missed my friends and the pace of the city. There was always something to do: concerts, movies, going to a museum with friends. It never stopped. But here I felt very isolated. I met many people who spoke Spanish, but I couldn’t relate to them very much. So, I surrounded myself with people who spoke English. Most of my friends were English speakers.
Gallacher: Was that because you were from the city?
Suarez: I think that had a lot to do with it. We didn’t have a lot in common. I admired them for many reasons. They had come here to make a living, to send money to their families. I was here just for the thrill. In a way, I was just a kid playing grown-up. They had a much greater responsibility and real need for a job.
Everything came easy for me. I came knowing the language. I listened to a lot of American music growing up and went to a lot of art films.
Gallacher: I have heard that life in Mexico City is very different than the rest of Mexico.
Suarez: Yes. It is such a cosmopolitan place. You have access to everything: films, music, art in all its forms. It’s a culturally rich place. It was always life in the fast lane, and I really enjoyed that pace. But then, I moved here and learned about a side of me I didn’t know. Gradually, I learned how to go for a walk and enjoy the outdoors. That wasn’t possible in Mexico City. It was all smog and traffic and crowds of people.
Gallacher: How long did it take for you to develop that appreciation for the outdoors?
Suarez: It took about a year. I went back to Mexico after being here a full year. I was going to reconnect with friends and make a decision about what I really wanted to do with my life. I remember when I landed in Mexico City I was shaking. It was such a cultural shock for me. I remember thinking, “I still have money in my pocket. I’m not getting off this plane.” It was then that I realized how much I had changed. I could never live in Mexico City again.
My friends all thought I was crazy. “Just give it a month, and you will be your old self again,” they said. But I just couldn’t fit in anymore. I got so used to living in the mountains and I wanted to come back so bad.
Gallacher: You said you were on your way to Japan when you came here. What was that connection?
Suarez: My dad is Japanese and a naturalized Mexican. He and my mom wanted to get out of Mexico City and away from all of the noise and congestion. My sister was still very young, and they were looking for a safer place to raise her. My dad’s family had invited us back to Japan. I was supposed to join them there. They moved to Japan a month after I came here. That was 14 years ago.
Gallacher: How did your dad end up in Mexico?
Suarez: My grandfather was the second of six children. His family had a major debt and, traditionally, it is up to the eldest son to take responsibility for paying it off. My grandfather’s brother had traveled to Peru to work and send money back. But shortly after he arrived, he got very sick and was unable to work. That meant that my grandfather had to take his place.
He had just gotten married and was expecting his first child, but he had to leave his family and move to Peru and work on a ranch for about 10 years. He didn’t get to know his daughter. So, after 10 years, working so hard for somebody else, he didn’t have anything for his own family. That’s when he decided to come to the United States to work and save some money and return to his family in Japan.
He worked at various jobs in the United States for about a year and was working his way back through Mexico when he stopped at a ranch in Chiapas. He stayed there and worked for a family and finally saved enough money to buy a ranch of his own. That’s when he went back to Japan to get his wife, meet his daughter and bring them back to Mexico with him.
Gallacher: So he was a Japanese cowboy.
Suarez: Yes, people say he was a “horse whisperer.” He had a real special touch with horses.
Gallacher: How did the family acquire this debt that he had to pay off?
Suarez: It was just after the First World War and the Japanese government was very unstable and so was the economy. Thousands of Japanese people were leaving the country and looking for work. They established huge colonies in Mexico, Peru, Brazil and other Latin American countries that are still there. They are very closed communities. My dad attended a Japanese school all the way through high school.
My grandparents eventually sold the ranch and moved to Mexico City where my dad was raised. My grandfather went into the grocery business and eventually owned a chain of convenience stores.
My dad decided to do something different. He opened his own office supply store where he also sold gifts and novelties. That’s where my dad met my mom. She came to work for him. They got married and worked very hard to build up the business. At one point, they had six stores.
My dad was leaving home at seven in the morning and returning at nine o’clock at night. It was exhausting work that started to be too much for my family. Chain stores were moving in and our stores were being broken into. My parents had had enough. They sold off the stores and began to make plans to leave for Japan.
Gallacher: So it was back to Japan, where your grandfather had started. Did you ever get to visit his ranch?
Suarez: Actually, I went there with my parents, when I was about 4 years old. I remember it was full of butterflies. It was a magical moment. I don’t know why, but there were tons and tons of butterflies. They were everywhere. I remember my mom saying to me, “That’s your grandfather. He has come to visit you.” I thought that was the most magical thing ever.
Note: Andrea lives in Carbondale with her husband and her two young sons.
Immigrant Stories runs Mondays in the Post Independent. To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com
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Imagine Glenwood and The City of Glenwood Springs is slated to host a virtual town hall at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 11.