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I know Rodolfo Enríquez because he is my mother’s brother. I had never had a conversation with my uncle about his journey to the United States, which is why I chose him to write about. After interviewing my uncle, I realized that although his experience is unique, it is also part of a larger immigrant experience. Interviewing my uncle made me proud to be part of an immigrant family and it also motivated me to be successful and fulfill the American dream.
In 1986 Congress passed a bill under the Reagan administration with the intention to reduce the amount of immigration to the United States, but instead the number of undocumented immigrants increased from five million in 1888 to about eleven million today. This new law included amnesty, which gave undocumented immigrants permission to be in the United States after paying a $185 fee today (Plummer). In 1988, in Mexico, President Salinas was voted into office. The previous party that was in office saw the country in an economic crisis (Mexico: The 1988 Elections). Two years later Rodolfo Enríquez immigrated to the United States at the age of twenty-seven. Although many people immigrated to the United States in late 1980’s because of the amnesty and the economic crisis, these were not Enriquez’s reasons.
Rodolfo Enríquez migrated to the United States in 1988 from Zacatecas, Mexico soon after meeting his wife and in fear of losing her; he came to the United States with her. Enríquez explained that he was better off than most in Mexico. He graduated from college at the Unidad Académica Medicina Veterinaria y Zootecnia as a medical veterinarian, but in the United States he was just a manual laborer. In the book Immigrant America, the authors state that many people who come to the United States from Mexico are not professionals. The text states that many of the Mexican immigrant population in the United States are workers who are not professionals in their home countries”(Portes, Rumbaut 70). This was not Enriquez’s case because he was a professional in Mexico, but one of the reasons he may not have been able to develop himself as a veterinarian in the United States is because everyone coming to the United States was not a professional from Mexico. This means that there was not a group of people that could have guided Enríquez or that was already established here in the United States as professionals. Enríquez left his career as a veterinarian in Mexico for a country that only allowed him to be a labor worker.
Enríquez settled in Santa Maria California, at the age of twenty-seven. Enríquez got his first job through his wife, who worked in the strawberry fields. At this time many immigrants who arrived in Santa Maria worked in the strawberry fields. Most of Santa Maria was agricultural land producing a significant amount of vegetation. From 1985 to 1991 strawberries were the uncontested top-value farm commodity of Santa Barbara County. Its current spread of 5,280 acres is located entirely in the Santa Maria Valley. In both 1989 and 1991 strawberry value surpassed the $80 million mark, accounting for nearly 18 percent of the country’s total farm value extracted from only 4 percent of the farmland (“Immigrant and Migrant Farm Workers in the Santa Maria Valley, California” 5). This means that Santa Maria had a very large demand for labor workers in the fields and it also explains why Enríquez’s community was mostly Mexican and Latino. Although Enríquez did hold other positions, such as a dishwasher in a restaurant, he spent most of his time in the fields working with broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and grapes. Enríquez shared his experience working in the fields versus working in his recent job, “My first job was picking strawberries, it starts in February and ends in August and from there I would go work on the grapes. There are three stages to the process. Then, I bunched kale, cauliflower, and broccoli. I did not like that job because workers were around water. My favorite job so far is the job I have now in landscaping. I put sprinklers, plants, irrigation systems in the houses and the freeways in everything. My job is well paid and it is a good job because it is year round.”
Enríquez saw Santa Maria grow. By 1990 Santa Maria already had a population of 61,552, which was almost double the population it was in the 1980’s (City of Santa Maria). However, he has also seen the ways in which White families moved to the edges of Santa Maria. Enríquez explains, “When I arrived to Santa Maria the majority of people were Latino. The difference now is that there were more Americans (white folk) then, but they began to move to the edges (of town) because they have never liked us and if they like us it is only for their convenience. ” Enríquez explains that there has always been discrimination in the United States. Enríquez states, “ At work if an American (white folk) man came into my job they would give them preference, even the supervisor. They gave them the easier jobs and to the Mexicans they always gave the more difficult jobs. Now they just want us for their convenience because the Mexican works more hard than the American. They always look for the Mexican for the more difficult jobs. You never see an American in the fields picking the vegetables you always see the Latinos because we are used to difficult jobs and they are not. ”
Although Enríquez faced discrimination in the fields and at work, Enríquez was able to enjoy the festivities in his community. His neighborhood celebrated important dates based on the people from various pueblos from Mexico. He explained that one always knew there was a celebration because there was always a Mexican flag that indicated there was something going to happen, or solely based on the dates from the traditional dates of their pueblos fiestas. Enríquez explained that there were many celebrations and that people from different states and pueblos had different celebrations. Each pueblo had their own unique festivities, but in the end they were all Mexican.
Enríquez does not see himself as an American but is very grateful for everything the country has given him. As mentioned in the text Replenishing Ethnicity, “Long gone are the days when Americanization stood as the dominant ideology guiding nonwhites’ forced homogenization. Instead, Americanization now stands alongside the formidable ideological contender of multiculturalism, which values, however superficially in some cases, a strong connection to one’s ethnic origins” (Jimenez 103). This means that people are no longer interested in leaving behind their culture and heritage. Although Enríquez has thoughts of returning back home, he has realized that he has set roots in this country. Enríquez expresses that this country has given him so much and that he owes a lot to the country because it has given him and his family well-being. Enríquez reflected on his journey to the United States and stated that this country would be better if there was no discrimination. Enríquez stated, “Do not discriminate, you can clearly see the reflection of the American and the Mexican. Do not distinguish the color of the skin of an American and Latino. Just like there are bad Latinos there are bad Americans. We see Latinos that dedicate their time to work and make this a good country and they always have Latinos as the worst but we’re are not all the same. Mexicans are hard working people and we have put work in this country as well. We are not all the same. I have left 20 years of my life here.”
Karen Correa wrote this story as a student in Professor Maggie Hunter’s Sociology of Immigration course at Mills College
City of Santa Maria California. About Santa Maria California. City Hall Online. 2014.Web.1 April 2014.
Jimenez, Tomás R.. Replenished Ethnicity: Mexican Americans, Immigration, and Identity. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010. Print.
Plumer, Brad. “Congress tried to fix immigration back in 1986. Why did it fail?”. The Washington Post. 30 January 2013. Web. 1 April 2014.
Portes, Alejandro, Rumbaut, Rubén G. Immigrant America: A Portrait Third Edition Revised, Expanded, and Updated. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006. Print
“Immigrant and Migrant Farm Workers in the Santa Maria Valley, California”. Center for Survey Methods Research Bureau of the Census 1994. Web. 2 April 2014.
“Mexico: The 1988 Elections”. Photius Coutsoukis 2004. Web. 2 April 2014.
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