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Personal Notation: Cecilia is my best friend’s mother. I met Cecilia during a party where we celebrated her birthday. During this gathering, I learned about Cecilia’s emigration from Mexico to the United States.
Mexico suffered a financial crisis in 1994-1995 that impacted the community’s conditions. Between December 1994 and November 1995, Mexico’s currency devalued from 5.3 pesos per dollar to over 10 pesos per dollar. (Musacchio, 2012) This was the most severe recession in over a decade. As a result, the employment decreased to negative 4 percent and unemployment rates increased to 6.5 percent (Business Frontier, 1999). As the lack of jobs and resources increased, people began fighting for their own survival, thus crime and violence rates escalated.
Cecilia was born on November 22, 1959 in Ocotlan, Jalisco. Due to the financial crisis, she immigrated to the United States because her family was victim of the violence that occurred in the streets of Mexico. A few years after she married in 1975, she and her husband moved into their own small home. They struggled to make ends meet. She sold lunches in the street while her husband worked at a textile factory. They had four children, three daughters and one son. In mid 1995, her husband witnessed a group of men stealing money from the factory where he is employed. The shoplifters noticed that he witnessed their actions and they decided to batter him and threaten his life if he chose to share what he saw with the authority. Although he promised to stay quiet, the shoplifters continued to beat him frequently and even began to threaten for their oldest daughter’s life. In the end of 1995, Cecilia’s husband decided to immigrate to San Jose, CA with his uncle. He thought that he would be able to protect his family if he moved away from Mexico. Unfortunately, the family continued to be threatened. As a result, the husband, Cecilia and her two older daughters raised money to immigrate to the United States with the help of coyotes.
One of the main businesses taking place on the United States-Mexico border is human smuggling. Migrants who want to cross into the U.S. pay thousands of dollars for guides, referred to as “coyotes,” whom use several techniques to bring them safely across the border (Llamas, 2010). Mexican drug cartels are also a part of transporting immigrants across the border. There have been many crimes committed by coyotes, often by Mexican drug cartels towards immigrants such as kidnapping and rape (Llamas,2010). Cecilia felt that it was urgent for her to immigrate in order to protect her family from the violence in Mexico, but she was extremely scared about the journey because she had heard of the injustices that many immigrants faced throughout their trip.
In 1998, she finally immigrated to the United States with her four children, ranging in age from six to fifteen years old. They took a plain from Guadalajara to Hermosillo, where they met with their first coyote. From Hermosillo they took a bus to Agua Prieta, Sonora. They were accompanied by 25 other immigrants, of which three were women including Cecilia. When crossing the border, the immigrants were separated with different coyotes, and Cecilia and her children successfully crossed the border in a van. She regrouped with the other immigrants and they had to travel by foot through the Sonoran Desert to reach Phoenix, Arizona. While walking in the desert Cecilia was not able to sleep at night because she was afraid that her children would be raped or kidnapped by the other immigrants or by the coyote. Cecilia said, “I was not even concerned about my own safety because I was so terrified that my children would be sexually harassed”. From Phoenix, Arizona Cecilia and the other immigrants took another bus to San Jose, CA where her husband was located.
California is the state with the most Latino immigrants. The total population of California in 2000 was
33,871,648, and 4,926,803 of those people are foreign born from Latin America (U.S. Census, 2000). Many of these immigrants reside in San José. The population of San José in 2000 was 893,889 and the number of foreign born from Latin America was 114,300 (U.S. Census, 2000). The first few years Cecilia lived in San José, she was relieved that her family was no longer in danger. However, she had a difficult time trusting her new community because she felt that she would find the same dangers that she was escaping from. Nonetheless, she knew that her children would be able to find better academic, career, and financial opportunities. Cecilia and her husband enrolled their children in public education right away, and she also attended English classes that were offered for adults at Independence High School. It was important for her that her children pursue a higher education because she had only attended school through first grade and this limited her career aspirations.
Mexicans are the largest foreign-born group that has the lowest level of schooling. This is due, in part, to the dearth of low-skilled and semi-skilled occupations available in the U.S. and in California (Immigrant America p.70, 2006). Cecilia grew up in modest origins along with eleven other siblings. Her father and her older brothers would continuously cross the border in search for a job, while she, her mother and sisters would attempt to find ways to help the family financially. Because of Cecilia’s family struggling economic situation, she did not have the option of focusing her energy in school. Even in San Jose, she was only able to attend English classes for the first two years after their arrival to the United States. She soon found under the table jobs from her community members as housekeeper, custodian, and babysitter. Consequently, Cecilia speaks a bit of broken English and she also understands it. However, she has not had to prioritize learning English because most of the community services in East San Jose are provided in Spanish.
Immigrating to the United States has been an extremely rewarding and a necessary experience for Cecilia. She currently volunteers with Somos Mayfair, a nonprofit organization that speaks out for justice in Silicon Valley through cultural activism, social services, and community organizing. Within this organization, Cecilia participates in Somos Mujeres Somos Vida, a group that shares stories of domestic violence and immigration through theater. By volunteering in these efforts, Cecilia has been able to develop relationships of solidarity with other immigrants from different Latin American countries. Within these communities she is able to share and learn about experiences of discrimination. She knows that her children also experience discrimination especially at school and in their careers. Cecilia states that the United States may not be the perfect Promised Land, but it has provided safety and an opportunity for her family that otherwise would not have been accessible in Mexico.
Frontier. El Paso Branch. 1999.
Gibson, Dave. “Evidence of Massive Number of Rapes being Committed along our
Pourous Border.” Immigration Reform Examiner. January 2012.
Joffe-Block, Jude. “Women Crossing the U.S. Border Face Sexual Assault with Little
Protection” PBS NEWSHOUR. March 2014.
Llamas, Blanca. “Human Smugglers: Coyote.” Mexico Human Trafficking. December
Musacchio, Aldo. “Mexico’s Financial Crisis of 1994-1995.” Harvard Business School
Working Paper, No. 12–101, May 2012.
Portes, Alejandro and Rumbaut, Ruben. Immigrant America. University of California
U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary, File 1.
U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000 Summary. File 3.
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