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Learning English, working hard and saving up for college

Immigrant Stories
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

Antonio came to the United States with his mom for a better life and an education. (Antonio is not his real name. His name has been changed to protect his identity.)

Antonio: I came to the United States from Mexico, and like many others I came for a better life and an education. I came with my mother eight years ago when I was 10 years old.

Gallacher: What was life like as a little kid in Mexico?



Antonio: That’s a hard question because I barely remember things from Mexico. It was a good life. I had my family, and I always had food on my table and people who loved me and cared about me. But the place I am from is a very small town with very few opportunities. Most of the kids there get married at 16 or 17, and most teenage girls get pregnant. I think my mother wanted more for me, so that is why she brought me and my sister here.

My other sister stayed with my father in Mexico. I haven’t seen them since I left eight years ago. It was hard for my dad to let me go even though he knew I would have a better chance in the United States. I was always at the top of my class in Mexico, and he knew I would be a good student in the U.S. My parents argued about it, but in the end my dad let me come.



There were always problems between my dad and my mom, and they finally got a divorce. I only lived with my dad for three years, most of my life I have lived with my mom. We moved from place to place and from town to town.

Gallacher: Was it hard for you to do well in school when you were always moving?

Antonio: It was a little bit difficult, but I have my ways of moving on and not just staying in the past. Back then I was a really social person who made friends wherever I went. I was the kid who wanted to be involved. I even played soccer on two teams, one in the school and one in the community. Most people knew me there, because I was a pretty good player.

I’m not like that now. Now I am more of a quiet guy. I am still involved, but I try really hard not to attract any attention.

Gallacher: Can you tell me what that feels like to always have to worry about being discovered?

Antonio: My mom taught me since I was little to always be careful about the friends you hang out with. When I first came here I was hanging out with the troublemakers, but I finally realized that I had to stay away from those kind of people.

I started looking for the kids who were doing well in school and not getting in trouble, kids who would help me without making fun or expecting something back. I met some friends in middle school who are still my friends, but I only have two or three real friends.

Gallacher: What was it like when you first came?

Antonio: I can remember the day my mom came to the school to take me north. At first I was really scared and didn’t want to leave. But everyone encouraged me, and I finally decided to go. The next day we left for Mexico City and then traveled by bus to the border.

It was scary. We came hidden in a small car and there were 12 people in it. I was lying on the floor where you put your feet. Most people were lying on top of each other so it was very scary.

I remember that we almost had an accident. We were driving down the highway going really fast and there was a dead animal in the road. The driver saw it at the last minute and swerved to miss it, and I could feel that the car was only on two wheels. That was the day I felt like I nearly died.

Gallacher: What was the hardest part of your adjustment to this new country?

Antonio: I think it was the language. It was hard to figure out how things work here. One thing I noticed was that I couldn’t just go anywhere I wanted like in Mexico. As a kid in Mexico I could play and run around but in the United States my mom was more worried about me, so I had to stay close.

There were kids in middle school who teased and bothered me because I didn’t know how to speak any English. They knew that I couldn’t defend myself so they would steal my stuff. At that time I was afraid to say anything to the teachers.

Gallacher: So how did you overcome that?

Antonio: I just worked harder. I learned to speak English in two years. I got here when I was in fifth grade but they put me in sixth grade for some reason. That made it that much harder because I missed most of fifth grade. It was a tough challenge, but I learned ways to overcome it.

My mom and my sister couldn’t help me because they couldn’t speak English that well, so I always had my dictionary beside me when I was doing big projects or research. It took me two or three times longer than other kids because I was looking up all the words.

Gallacher: Some kids would have given up. What kept you going?

Antonio: When we first came to the United States we lived in a one-room apartment, and all three of us slept in the same bed. It was difficult but it made me realize that wasn’t the future I wanted for my family and that education was a way out.

Gallacher: How did you learn English in two years?

Antonio: Music helped me a lot. I listened to people like Usher. I would listen to the song and then look up the words on the Internet. That’s how I learned to pronounce words and make sense of how the language went together.

I had a really cool teacher who taught me a lot. He knew how to speak both languages so he was able to help me understand the word in English and Spanish. He used to ask the class questions, and the student who got the right answer got a candy. I’m a very competitive person so that candy made me try harder and I learned faster.

Gallacher: Do you stay in touch with your dad?

Antonio: No, I haven’t talked to him or my other sister in a long time. He has started another family, but I think he is happy for me. He knows that we are doing our best and trying to make a better future. I don’t think he is worried, well maybe a little bit but he knows it is for the best.

Gallacher: Has it been hard to not have your dad in your life?

Antonio: Yeah, it’s hard. But you have to move on. It is just life. I help my mom a lot. I’m kind of the man of the house.

Gallacher: What is it like to be a child and the man of the house?

Antonio: It can be stressful because I had to start working when I was pretty young to try and help my mom. But my mom made me quit when I was in school because she wanted me to focus on my studies. We argued about that for a while because I worry about her and I wanted to help but she wouldn’t let me.

Gallacher: What kind of jobs did you have?

Antonio: I worked on a ranch and I worked with my mom, sometimes, cleaning houses. I mowed lawns, worked in the gardens and managed an irrigation system.

Gallacher: What do you want to do with your life?

Antonio: I have always wanted to go to D.U. That is my dream school, and I am working hard to get enough money to go there some day. We’ll see.

Gallacher: What is it that you want to study?

Antonio: Computer or mechanical engineering, I’m kind of good at math. When I first got here I couldn’t understand any English, but when I got to my math class it didn’t matter what the problem was I could solve it. Math was a language I could understand.


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