Finding a balance between Mexican, American culture
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Abril Loya came to the United States from Mexico with her parents and her little sister when she was 5. Last spring, she graduated from Glenwood Springs High School with honors. She was offered scholarships to attend Dartmouth, Brown and Princeton. She chose Princeton.
Loya: My family came here because my parents thought it would give us a better chance at doing great things with our lives. They have always tried to give us as many opportunities as possible, so we came here. And it has been an incredible opportunity.
We came from a little town in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. And I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if my parents hadn’t made the decision to leave everything they knew behind.
Gallacher: What did they have to leave?
Loya: Careers, family, the language they had always known, their hometowns, everything. They just picked up and started over from scratch.
It was especially hard for my mom. She is really close to her sisters and the rest of her family. She was a teacher there and that wasn’t validated here.
Gallacher: Why wasn’t it validated?
Loya: She would have had to take a lot of new courses in order to qualify to teach here. And, at the time, she was also busy raising my younger sister and me. We were still really little and quite a handful. So it just wasn’t feasible.
Gallacher: I’ve heard from a lot of different immigrants that you have to reinvent yourself when you leave your country.
Loya: Definitely. I feel like my parents handled it beautifully. I don’t know if I would have been able to handle it as well. But I’m really glad they did it.
Gallacher: How was it for your father?
Loya: My dad keeps his emotions inside more than my mom, but it was hard for him as well. He had to learn a new trade. He now has a painting company. In Mexico, the Loya family is involved in politics. My dad worked in the census department in state government.
Gallacher: Did you have trouble making the transition from one country to another?
Loya: Definitely. I have always been a perfectionist and a talker. But when we came here I couldn’t speak a word of English. I was put in kindergarten right away. And for the first six months, I didn’t speak a word in class. And then, one day, I just started speaking English.
Being away from my cousins was also hard. There is a joke in our family that we all come in pairs, each cousin has a cousin almost the same age. My cousins were my best friends, and I spent every second I could with them.
Gallacher: Once you adapted did you do well in school?
Loya: Yes. I know it’s kind of “cheesy” to say but I have always loved learning and I especially love to read. When I was little, I would skip recess to read. I really don’t like the cold so it was an easy choice for me to stay in and read in the winter.
Gallacher: Did you get teased for staying in and reading?
Loya: A little, but the kids here have always been pretty accepting of me and I’m really grateful for that. I have always felt just like any other kid in the school and the classroom. I know that’s not typical for a lot of Latino kids, but it was for me.
Gallacher: So how has it been to be equally present in both cultures, because I know it is often a real challenge for young immigrants like yourself to “fit in”?
Loya: It’s been really interesting. I didn’t really notice it when I was younger, but as I matured I began to realize it. We go to Mexico about five times a year, and over the last few years I have begun to feel like I’m just not part of it. I feel out of place there rather than here.
I’m really proud of my culture and my ancestry. I’m proud of who my parents are and who I am, but I feel more a part of here than there. That’s been hard. I don’t feel like I can hang out with my cousins like I used to. They speak so much slang that I don’t even know what they are saying most of the time.
Fitting in at school has been a challenge sometimes. There are these two groups, and sometimes you just don’t know where you should be.
Gallacher: The Anglo group or the Latino group?
Loya: Exactly. I have friends from both groups and I can mesh pretty well but, at the same time, I don’t feel as at home in either group at certain times. It’s a really weird feeling.
My sister and I were talking about it the other day. We’re neither here nor there. While we have assimilated quite well into this culture, for my parents it has been crucial for us to retain everything from our Mexican culture. But it’s kind of a give and take. It’s neither here nor there.
Gallacher: It’s hard to hold on to both cultures equally.
Loya: Yes, definitely. Especially when we are speaking English 10 or 11 hours out of the day and then we come home and Dad wants us to speak Spanish right away. But it’s easy for American culture to be the dominant one, because we have lived here for 13 years.
Gallacher: It’s difficult enough for a parent to watch their child grow up and change. It must be extremely hard for your parents to watch you adapt to another culture and change.
Loya: It is. They are always telling us that we have become Americanized. And it’s true, my sister and I and my little brother have really adapted to American culture. My little brother watches a lot of Dora the Explorer and he speaks much more English than Spanish.
My sister and I have this habit of using the word “whatever” a lot, and we’ll be talking to my mom in Spanish and inserting “whatever.” It drives my mom crazy.
In Mexican culture, parents demand a lot of respect, and in American culture you still respect your parents, but it is more of a friend relationship. My parents want to see us succeed in American culture and still retain our Mexican culture. I’m actually really glad that my parents have been so insistent.
As I get older I see how important it is. I have cousins here who can’t speak Spanish anymore simply because their parents didn’t push them to. Even though it was kind of hard, I am glad that my parents were persistent about the importance of our culture. I am grateful.
Gallacher: This fall you will attend Princeton and study family law. Why do you want to be a lawyer?
Loya: I love arguing cases in front of people and I love research so it seemed like a natural choice. I have volunteered a lot with YouthZone, and I have seen how kids are affected by divorce and the traumas of custody battles.
By going into family law I hope to be able to help kids make an easier transition. I love helping people and I love arguing, and family law seems the best of both worlds.
Gallacher: Are you looking forward to leaving?
Loya: It’s really bittersweet. I’m looking forward to the new experiences, the classes, meeting new people and having a little bit more freedom. But it’s hard to leave a community like this, a community that has been so welcoming, so loving and so nurturing to my family and me. It’s going to be difficult. I’m looking forward to it but it’s also a sad milestone as well. It’s just another step, I guess.
Immigrant Stories runs Mondays in the Post Independent. To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com
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