“I never knew I was illegal.”
Hold a Conversation
In addition to the questions below, please see How to use the questions for reflection.
- What do we learn about the storyteller’s family?
- How does the storyteller feel about his family?
- What was the storyteller’s early experience of America like?
- What were his early experiences of college like?
- What does he mean by “being on a treadmill?”
- What does he mean by “people just don’t know, and if you let them know, people will start to care?”
- What does it mean for the storyteller to be “illegal?”
- How does this match up with or differ from the way media often portrays undocumented immigrants?
- What do you notice about how the storyteller moves back and forth between English and Spanish?
- Why do you think he does this? How does it impact you?
- What is it you “just don’t know” about student/faculty experience (whether immigration or another identity category)?
- How might you learn more so that you can “start to care?”
Let us know how the conversation or self-reflection went. Email us or discuss the experience in our comment box.
Transcript for First Generation
My village was very small about 2000 people. Then we lived about an hour away from Guadalajara. Some people knew of my village, but many did not. Ah, mi familia, well, my family, where to start. Es muy grande, it’s really big typical mexican family. I got 35 cousins on one side and 43 on the other. Mi mamá has a family of, I think, she has 11 brothers and sisters. Mi papá son una familia de diez. So he has ten brothers and sisters. Um, my dad’s side of the family is fortunately here. All of them are here. My dad has one sister in Los Angeles, and then my mom’s side of the family. All of them are in Mexico unfortunately. She has one sister here. I trust her a lot. She’s like my second mother. She’s like my second mom here.
It’s actually very funny. My mom’s side of the family, my mother is the shortest one in her family. Uh, the shortest one in her family and then all my uncles are very tall. They are like six foot, and then my dad’s side of the family, he’s the tallest one and he only reaches me up to my ear so my mom will always tell me, “Dear, I’m short for a good reason. If I was tall I would have never married your father.”
So, yeah, that’s my family there and then, uh, my dad’s side of the family looks a lot more legit like your typical Mexican. Your typical Mexican. Short, dark, and chubby. Many say that mother’s side of the family looks more European. My grandfather, Lupe, has blue eyes and blonde hair. And he is short.
When I came to the United States, I never really thought I’d see my mother’s family again. I never really thought I’d see them again, but, um, it transitioned well just cause I knew my dad’s side of the family was here. I had family here. Tenía familia aquí. When we moved to the United States, I really didn’t know much. I would watch cartoons, but didn’t really know the language. I would watch cartoons and I wouldn’t notice anything.
Um, I went to kinder… I went… I ended up going to, yeah, I ended up starting out in first grade I think I believe over in Posen, Illinois which is where we started out. My parents took me there. I was really nervous. I mean at first I did have an accent. I didn’t really know English. I didn’t know the language. When I went to school many would make fun of me. Kids didn’t know how to be my friend. Many didn’t know how to communicate with me.
Then around the age of 10 or 11, I had no idea I was illegal. I didn’t know what that was. It wasn’t until later that my parents told me I couldn’t see my grandparents in Mexico because they told me we couldn’t return there.
The language barrier growing up was a little bit difficult just because I would go to the doctors with mi mamá. My mother would look to me to translate what the doctor was saying. Or translate at the store. Sometimes I was afraid. I was afraid to translate some things because I almost felt like “Shouldn’t you be doing that?” So definitely the roles growing up, it was, uh, a little bit, I would say a little bit more difficult for me than my younger siblings cause I was the one that knew both languages fluently.
In households like mine, we benefit from having our mothers around. They make us food, they wash our clothes. They take us here and there. They’re like our support that we go to everyday. I know this from growing up in a big Mexican or Hispanic family that family is important. Family is just so important. Here you are in shock because you don’t get to see them every day. Armando, you’re going be expecting that but definitely something that I thought when I came here Valpo needed a bit more color. When I arrived here there were very few minorities. Or there wasn’t enough minorities. But it brings me joy to see that has changed.
I remember when I came here that people were just so nice and so very kind with my parents who… I didn’t know what Financial Aid was. The people in Financial Aid were very kind. I brought my parents here and it didn’t matter to them that they didn’t speak English. They weren’t frustrated with my parents. They went step by step by step and explained everything. The admissions counselor who would go over, he was just so helpful, I mean, he would talk to my parents. He spoke with my parents and explained the process. I would definitely look into Financial Aid. One thing that I didn’t know about Valpo is that, um, or the financial aid that wasn’t explain to me very clearly. They give you financial aid which is basically the same amount every year how much it actually costs to attend school tuition goes up. So it’s like, and she explained that to me: it’s like you’re on a treadmill. It’s like you’re on a bicycle where the street is long, but you are always in the same place. It’s like you’re on a treadmill, you’re not really going anywhere, you’re kind of stuck.
Talking to other students about my activities here to first generation students and making them feel welcome with LIVE even though sometimes we swayed away we came back but definitely making them, making them feel sure that Valpo is here to help, here to help you even though sometimes along the way the translation gets wrong or you feel like you’re not really accepted. They are here to help you, it’s just the way people just don’t know, and if you let them know, people will start to care.