Having to be family translator for mother, brother
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Jessica: Ten years ago we came from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, to be with our family. Most of my mother’s relatives were here, and she wanted to be with them. I was 9 years old when we left Mexico, so I have spent more than half of my life here.
Gallacher: What are your memories of Mexico?
Jessica: Candy. They have these candies there that are like strings. They have chili in them so they are sweet and spicy and they come in many flavors like pineapple, cucumber and orange.
I remember my school. It was really different from schools here. There isn’t a lot of money over there so when I had lunch I would buy it from a lady who sells from her lunch cart. The school didn’t have a lunchroom so I would get my food and sit wherever. The classrooms there are really packed. There are a lot more students and the teachers are much more strict.
When I started school here it was like a dream. It was like something I had seen on TV. When I was in Mexico I would watch novellas (soap operas), and I remember seeing these rich kids in Mexico in these really nice private schools with cafeterias and nice classrooms. So when I came here I was amazed to see that all of the kids went to schools like that. It wasn’t just for rich kids. I thought that was so cool.
Gallacher: Were you able to speak English?
Jessica: No, but I learned really fast. I came here for the last two months of third grade and when I started fourth grade I could speak English. I had an American friend and somehow we would communicate. I learned, thanks to her.
We were neighbors, just two little girls who didn’t have friends. So we just started talking. I learned English playing with Barbies and watching American TV. Cartoons, that was all we watched.
Gallacher: Have you been back to Juarez?
Jessica: No, it is horrible there right now. There are usually five people killed every day. The drug cartels are ruining the country. Even if you have a decent job there, you have to pay them so they won’t kill you. The people are really suffering. That’s all you see in Juarez. You can’t even walk the streets alone.
Gallacher: So what would it be like if you had to go back there?
Jessica: I wouldn’t like it and my little brother really wouldn’t like it, because he is just American. I understand both cultures, but he doesn’t. He can barely speak Spanish, so it would be really hard on him. I wouldn’t like it because I am used to the life here, but I would deal with it. My little brother wouldn’t.
Gallacher: How old is he?
Jessica: He’s 14. He was 4 when he came here. His first language was English. That’s all he speaks and writes and reads.
Gallacher: Who is your family?
Jessica: It’s just my mom, my grandma and me and my little brother. My mom and dad got separated when we came over here. It’s not that hard living without a dad. I see him once in a while. He came to my graduation, and that was good.
My mom doesn’t speak English, and my brother doesn’t speak Spanish, so it is really hard for them to communicate. They don’t understand each other. So I am the one who talks to both of them. When my mom wants to yell at my brother or tell him not to do something, she tells me and I tell him.
I have to go to all of the parent conferences at school. I have to talk to the teachers, and my little brother hates it. He doesn’t want me anywhere near his school. He’s at that age.
So we’re all in that age in some way. I’m barely leaving it, my brother’s starting it, my mom is going into menopause. So our house is chaos. The only one that is calm is my grandma. She just works and sleeps. It’s a good environment. I like my family.
Gallacher: What is your mom like?
Jessica: She’s really cool. She’s my hero. She knows how to get her way like moms usually do. She works in a hotel cleaning rooms. She works constantly so that we can have what we need. She is a really mature woman and I’ve learned a lot from her.
Gallacher: Has it been hard for you to be the person in the middle?
Jessica: Sometimes it is. When my brother gets mad at my mom and says something mean, my mom wants to know what he said. I have to decide if I should tell her, because then my brother gets mad at me and my mom gets hurt and offended.
Usually I go my mom’s way, and my little brother just has to deal with it. He hates living with three women. He’s the mess in the house. We just let him be. He spends a lot of time in his room.
I was really different. I think I had to be more mature for my age. I think it was because I knew my mom was on her own and I had to help her out more. Even in Mexico I helped her because my dad wasn’t with us for a year or two.
My little brother was just little then, and he stayed with the neighbors while my mom went to work and I went to school. I would get out of school at 12:30 and catch the bus home, make lunch and go pick up him up and take care of him until Mom got home from work.
Gallacher: Did you ever feel like it wasn’t fair?
Jessica: I never thought of it that way, because I knew what my mom was going through. So I would just do it. But now, I have graduated from high school and I am getting ready to leave home. And I feel like it is time for them to get together. It’s hard to think about leaving the two of them. They can’t communicate, but they’re going to have to learn.
Mom is taking English classes. I hope she learns fast because I’m out of here. My brother does speak some Spanish but it’s horrible. So my mom and grandma can’t really understand him. Everything he does is in English so now he doesn’t know our language. He would rather be American than Mexican.
It’s not just about learning a language, though. They really have to learn how to get along. They have to have patience with one another. They have to learn that first.
I need to go to school and start living on my own so that I can make money. I can’t keep living off of my mom. I need to start giving back to her.
Gallacher: Where are you going?
Jessica: I am going to New Mexico for a year and work. I’m going to try and get into an art school over there. I want to be a fashion designer. I can’t get into the art school I want here because I’m undocumented. My dad is getting his citizenship soon, and when that happens I can become a resident and apply for a student loan. That’s going to make it so much easier.
Immigrant Stories run Mondays in the Post Independent. To read other Immigrant Stories go to http://www.immigrantcolorado.blogspot.com.
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