Article: Where we came from - The Puente Project in the News
Stories written by Ohlone College Puente students.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011—Reprinted from Tri-City Voice.
When Dean Mikelyn Stacey and Counselor Brenda Reynoso brought me in as the English Instructor for the Puente Program at Ohlone College, I had no idea just how close my Latino/Latina students are to their home country. Many of their parents crossed the border under the cover of night, through holes in fences, in the trunks of cars, guided by 'coyotes'-paid smugglers-and decades later their dreams are being realized as their children attend their first few years of college.
The students' stories reminded me of my forebears from Finland who, without knowing the English language, worked in kitchens and homesteaded farms in Northern Minnesota, a journey of sweat and endurance.
As my Puente students wrote their "Where we're coming from stories," I realized that theirs, too, echo the quintessential American story of struggling and working hard to make better lives for the next generation.
—Richard Flynn, Ohlone College English Instructor
By Juanita Bermudez
My dad was born and raised in Zacatecas, Mexico. In the late 1970's, at the age of 16, he immigrated to the U.S. He came here in search of jobs and opportunities, something that his home country was lacking. Before he came to the United States, he lived in a rancho with fewer than 300 people, where everyone knew each other from their first name - a place he called home.
In the evening young and old met in the cancha, a public square, after a long day of work. After mass everyone from the ranch gathered to chat and the young played volleyball.
But he had to leave all that to help his family. At home there was no running water or electricity. As a kid my dad attended only kindergarten before he had to help his grandpa in the fields, at the early age of seven. He remembered wearing hand-me-downs from his eldest brother, most of it patched up.
His dad was in the America working as a bracero (manual laborer) and the money he sent them back home wasn't enough to support his family. As the second eldest of 10 he felt responsible to help support his family and at age 16 he crossed the border, walking through with the help of coyotes.
He started out in Chicago, Illinois washing dishes, for two years, at an Italian restaurant. Later he moved to California. He worked in the fields of Fresno picking grapes, and strawberries in Anaheim during the months of February through March. Half of the money he earned he sent back to help his mom and his younger siblings back at home. At the age of 20 my dad went back to Mexico and got married to his long time friend, my mom. He had to go back to United States and took my mom along.
They crossed through the border in car in a hidden compartment of the back seat. Yet once they settled in California both my parents became citizens through the Amnesty Program in 1986. Both my parents promised each other that they wanted the best for their kids something they never had a chance at, - a promising career. At this moment, all of their five kids are in school, ranging from college to elementary school.
By Mayra Berumen
My mother was born in 1969 in Apatzingan, Michoacan Mexico. The youngest of thirteen kids, she lived with her family in a ranch. Her household was very strict and abusive; she was expected to do her chores and every demand that her mother gave her perfectly or else she would get beaten. She still wears the scars all over her body to prove it. She was forbidden to do anything fun a young lady could do, because she was expected to stay home all day and do her assigned work. The only thing she was allowed, was to go to school for a short amount of time, where she finished a small career as an accountant.
One day my mother's sister offered to pay for her to come into the United States. Seeing it as an opportunity to have a better life and to be free, she happily accepted the opportunity. Her journey coming into the U.S. was quite a funny adventure. She had to run through the hills which were very steep and she couldn't climb them. Weighing only ninety pounds she didn't have the strength to do it; her coyote became so impatient with her that he literally carried her everywhere. All he would say was "grab on," and scared out of her mind my mom held onto the man's back like a cat.
Between the hills, they came across a part that was very muddy and flooded. Some gangsters were sitting near it. When they were close by, one of the gangsters told the coyote that he had to pay in order for my mother to get across. As soon as the coyote paid the gangster, he pulled out a long piece of wood that a made a walkway though the mud. She walked over the piece of wood and the coyote carried her again and kept running. When she finally had the courage to ask the coyote why did she have to walk over the piece of wood? He looked at her and said, "If someone sees you running across and you're all dirty, they're going to know that you're crossing illegally, and the last thing we need are problems."
They came across a freeway, where the coyote finally put her down. He said when there were no more cars coming, they were going to run across to the other side. As soon as there were no more cars, she literally blinked when her coyote was pulling her across the freeway. Her feet were barely touching the ground because of how fast they were running. When they got to the other side, there was a small shopping center and big parking lot. The coyote told her to keep walking straight and she would know where to go. Doing as she was told, a parked car flashed its lights at her. When she walked towards it she realized it was her sisters waiting for her.
Over the years, my mom held a lot of different jobs such as a babysitter and waitress, before eventually landing a very good job at an electronic company called Syntrom. That is where she met my father and married him four months later. They had a very tough time raising me because they had nothing to fall back on. They rushed things, without thinking things through. Now they both have steady jobs and a home to call their own. Because of their struggles they are constantly reminding me of how I need to go to school and become somebody, so I won't struggle the way they did.
By Irina Trigueros
My parents came from Santa Tecla in El Salvador. My mom's family was middle-class, and ran a slaughterhouse. At 21 she was forced to come to the United States with her aunt to live with her cousins due to the civil war in El Salvador. On her trip across the border she crossed through mountains, and got separated from the group, when the coyote and rest of the people including her aunt left. She and the other women kept walking, hid from a swarming helicopter, and found men who pretended they were sent back to find them.
They found an old man who was also left behind. They wanted to take my mom across first, but the old man told them it was all of them or nothing. Once across the border, the men met and argued with the coyotes that my mom had first used. The coyotes made an arrangement for more money from her cousin in America, who agreed as long as my mom was put on a plane.
My mom and dad dated in El Salvador and broke up, yet they were still friends and so she helped pay for him to get across. In 1989, being 20 years old, my dad did not want to get recruited and fight in the civil war, so he came to the U.S. My parents have been together ever since. They both entered the country illegally, and at first my mother worked at a beef jerky company and my dad worked as a painter. But now, both are legal and they currently work at hospitals. It was hard for them to adjust to life in the U.S. My mom went back to El Salvador in 2001 to help victims of an earthquake, and my dad went back to bury his father in 2009, having not seen him in 20 years. By avoiding the civil war, they lost touch with their families.
By Joaquin Mendez
My father, from Ecuandureo, Michoacan, always wanted to come to the U.S. since hearing that many of his elementary school friends had gone there. In 1979, at age 18, he had an accident at work and with a week to recover and think, he decided to leave for the United States. He took a bus to Guadalajara and from there to Tijuana. By the time the coyote came, my father ran out of money and been staying in a hotel with a stranger. The coyote took them near the border and they crossed through a hole in a fence.
The coyote was guiding them for two days until another coyote picked them up. The coyote was the only one who knew the way, so the migrants needed to stay close to him. They walked for the rest of the day until they got to a tree with a large dome shape, up on a hill. They rested there for the night. The next day they did the same thing. On the third day, while they were walking, a car approached. Since they had left from the hotel, they had only water from dirty creeks and streams. The people in the car brought them a piece of bread and clean water. The car left and another came a few minutes later to pick them up. My dad's brother received the call to give the address and the payment of 300 U.S. dollars.
My dad took various jobs with an average of $ 3.10 per hour. He struggled here and in 1986, when Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act granting amnesty to all illegal immigrants who had lived here since January 1, 1982, my dad applied for the residency which he received in 1990.
By Jessica Anguiano
Born and raised in a strict traditional Catholic home in Aguililla, Michoacan, my grandmother's family was considered wealthy. They were owners of a very successful produce store in town and rancho. They had a fully operational "rancho" with living corridors for their employees. My great grandparents were politicians and fully devoted members of the church. My grandmother was a very sharp student who spent most of her free time helping out the employees on the rancho or at church, not because she had to, but because she enjoyed helping out.
At the age of fifteen after my grandma's coming out party (quincenera) she became engaged to the town's wealthiest heir, a young man that she once disclosed as "the love of my heart". Both families had come together in agreements that both their young teenagers would wed in months to come. Unfortunately, her dreams of a happy ending were soon to be abruptly destroyed.
One day as she went on her daily routine to fetch the laundry water from the nearby river, she came across a man that according to her was awkward looking. He uttered to her, "You're going to be my wife one day." After ignoring his advances, she walked away from the river not thinking she would ever encounter him again.
Weeks later at that same river, at that same time, she again encountered that man, but this time she would go home with more than just water. When she got home he introduced himself and informed her parents that he had made her his wife: "me la robe," which in Mexican culture means kidnapped by loss of virginity. The family was mortified and cast her out. They wed in a private ceremony and nine months later she gave birth to the first of seven children.
Later, in the 1950's, she convinced her gambling, alcoholic husband to immigrate to the United States, where she obtained work as a nanny in Redwood City. She spent many hours away from her children, working for a wealthy family as a nanny, supporting her children and sending money home to her drunken husband.
Her employer helped her apply for citizenship, and leave her husband. With their help, she became an independent single mother. By the late 1980's she had bought her own home in her hometown, opened a produce store, and bed and breakfast by the beach. She was queen of her kingdom in Mexico and yet a tenant in the ghetto projects of Redwood City. But in 1993, after 24 years in the States, she passed away from breast cancer. A month after her passing, she was granted citizenship. She wanted the American dream not just for herself but also for her grandchildren. Her dream lives on in me; I am a first generation college student, an American citizen who is very proud of her Mexican roots.
By Maria Espinoza
My parents came to the United States with the hope of accomplishing the "American Dream." My family originated in Michuacan, Mexico, where my parents married a year before I was born. My father had been coming and going to the U.S. since the early 1980's, and even spent some time in jail after being caught trying to cross the border through the desert. First, he lived in Napa Valley and worked in the grape fields, where he had my mother and I smuggled in, after my second birthday.
The process was not easy; my mother and I met with the 'coyote' who decided we had to be brought in separately. My mother crossed over inside the trunk of a cherry colored Cadillac DeVille, in a gap between the back seats and the trunk, made for the purpose of smuggling. The gap was big enough to fit a petite woman, like my mother, with extra baggage and other junk. Afraid and breathing the gasoline fumes that kept creeping up through the cracks in the gap, she got light headed and eventually passed out.
A few hours later she arrived at a border town and had to wait for the coyote in a shopping area for me. But I wasn't crossed until noon of the next day, and my mom was terrified that I had been taken from her. Luckily, the coyote crossed me at noon in the same gap my mom had been placed in. To make the smuggling easier, the lady had me drink a bottle of Coca-Cola with medicine that put me to sleep.
When my mother and I were finally brought together I was drenched in water and anti-freeze that had been leaking into the trunk, so my mother removed my clothes and wrapped me up in the only piece of clothing she had. We were then united with my dad who drove us all the way to an apartment in the community of Decoto (Union City), where we have lived ever since.
My father now has become certified as a dental assistant, but being the man that he is, chooses to work as a custodian for the New Haven Unified School District. My mother is also certified, but in beauty and cosmetics, yet continues to work for a uniform distribution company named Aramark Uniforms. Living here, my family has come to grow in many ways, one is by the birth of my two brothers, and another is economically. Though we do not actually own a house here, we are happy to be here and do not need to worry about what we will eat the next day, like many other Hispanic families.
By Alejandra Segura
My mother was born in Michoacan Mexico. She immigrated with two of her brothers and one of her sisters. While crossing the river she had to be very careful as she didn't know how to swim and could not slip or fall while walking on the wet rocks or get close to the seals that frightened her.
Once in the U.S., my mother met my father who also had come here in search of work. She had four children, my older sister, my twin and me and my younger sister. My mother had to find two other jobs in order to support the family, when my father was first in jail. Afterwards, she took on three jobs, taking care of four children and her sister, and the stress that her significant other put upon her because he would gamble, womanize, drink and do many other things. Even though the many stresses almost put her in a depression, she stayed strong.
My father ended up going to prison for good, forcing us to live in a garage ever since. She continued working three jobs to put food on the table. While working very hard for seven years and moving into a house with her sister and brother, she came to realize that she could not wait for the father of her kids who had been sentenced to 20 years.
While working at a McDonald's in East Palo Alto, she met a policeman. They ended up falling in love. He would always bring gifts to us and be very good to her. They married and moved to a much better place in Newark and had one baby girl together. He helped my mom with her papers and me with my schooling, and he gave us a much better life.
By Mayra Guardado
When my mother was seven, her parents were divorced after her 27-year old mother cheated on her 76-year-old father. They had three girls and her husband had three girls and one boy: Emilia, Pepe, Maria del Refujio and Yolanda all from his first marriage. At first, my mother and her two sisters lived with their father and Yolanda who treated them very kindly. But soon Maria del Refujio demanded that my mother help care for her 10 children.
When my mother was 12, Yolanda married and my mother and her two sisters were left in the care of Maria del Refujio because their father was too old to care for them. Maria del Refujio forced my mother to wake up at 3 a.m. to get water for the day. A few times men would try to follow her to the well. By 7 a.m. my mother would finish cleaning the whole house and making 10 pounds of tortillas before leaving for school. Her stepsister would beat if she didn't do all of her chores.
My mother never considered leaving her two sisters and her current life to go to America, but in the end she was forced to leave. At 14, her father passed away and he left her and her two sisters in the hands of Maria del Refujio who sent my mother to America to send money to support my mother's sisters. The oldest step sister Emilia came from America to Mexico to take her back. First, she babysat a little girl for $60 per week and lived with her stepsister, whose house she was forced to clean. Later on she became an in-house maid for a kind doctor who paid her $200 per week. In 2 years, she hired a coyote to bring her two sisters to America. They were poor yet happy to be together.
My dad grew up in Nochistlan, Zacatecas on a dirty ranch and was forced to work like all his five brothers and six sisters. Each day he would wake up at 6 a.m. and eat quickly and then leave for school. His ranch was on the top of a big hill, two miles from school. Every night he fed the pigs and chickens and milked the cows. He dropped out of school by fourth grade to work at the ranch and during these harsh years, he and his brothers dreamed about a new life in America. In 1978, after his required year of military duty for Mexico, he left for America.
He paid a coyote to take him and spent the first two nights crossing hills. On the first day, he hid in an avocado field and on the second he hid in a lemon field. Soon after, a truck then met them and drove him all the way to Palo Alto to his older brother, Polo. After two weeks, my father finally found a job as a gardener at $3.75 per hour. Shortly after that, he worked as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant for $3.80 per hour.
My parents met during a Tupperware party in 1980, but never once spoke to each other. My dad got my mom's phone number from her step sister and after one month of constant calling, my mom finally agreed to date him. Shortly after six months of being together, they wed. She was 19 and he was 21 years old. Life was hard during those first few years because their jobs paid little and demanded so many hours.
At first, they were taken advantage of because of their illegal status, but childhood had prepared them for hard work. But once they gained citizenship, they were able to do better. Reagan's Immigration and Reform Act helped my parents become U.S. citizens. My father could then earn a general engineer license after 6 months of studying. Each day after his eight hour job, he would study a very large book for two or three hours. He kept this routine until he passed his test.
And from then on, they bought a house and raised our family of four. Even with some success in America, my mother and father still dream of retiring to Mexico. They rarely talked about their childhood because they felt that I would never have been able to absorb how hard it was for them. Now I'm old enough to understand and fully appreciate them for everything they've done for us.