The New Latina Guide to a Fabulous 2011 Year! is a collection of insights and tips from a group of talented Latinas (and one Latino) on how to live life to the fullest. Today, we feature Silvia Martinez’ piece, on adjusting to this country as an immigrant from Mexico. To download the free New Latina Guide, click here.
In September 2001, I crossed the border between Mexico and the United States. My fiancé and I walked across the bridge separating Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, and El Paso, Texas. We were carrying a couple of large suitcases, my laptop, and my wedding dress.
After 29 years in my Mexico lindo y querido, I left, and with it, my family, friends, job, and, let’s not discount it, my lovely Mexican cuisine. What can I say? I fell in love!
My now husband and I met in January 2000. It was fate; it was supposed to happen this way. Neither spoke the other’s language but that was not an impediment. In time, he learned Spanish and I learned English.
I was not afraid to move to the United States; I was excited. I moved so many times when I was a child, I didn’t think much about it. And I guess I’m a little adventuresome, I was the first person in my family to get a master’s degree, to travel to Europe, to date a “gringo,” to move out of the country.
The move was fairly easy: no I didn’t need to swim. Fortunately for me, my husband and I applied for a fiancée visa and with that, I entered the country legally and the only requirement from the government was that we get married within 6 months, easy right?
After 10 years living in this wonderful country I can look back and see what I’ve learned, what I’ve suffered, and how much I’ve grown. Here are my 11 thoughts:
1. Immigrating is not “a walk in the park.”
It may look straight forward, but it can have psychological and sociological implications. The border is more than a line in the sand. I didn’t know until it passed, but I was depressed for almost 2 years.
2. Language is the first and biggest barrier of all. Yes, I spoke a little English. Yes, I have the most supportive husband and in-laws. But still, for the first 3 months, my mind couldn’t take any more English after 4 p.m. At that point I just ran to the TV and turned on the first Spanish channel I could find, it didn’t matter to me if it was showing a telenovela or a “programa amarillista,” I was happy to hear Spanish.
3. The gift of bilingualism.Eventually I learned English. Yes, now I’m fluent. I have confidence. I can walk anywhere knowing I can communicate. Hey, now I can communicate with twice the people. I’m bilingual!
4. Ni de aquí ni de allá. Even though the USA is my home, and Mexico my home country, I don’t feel like I belong to just one or the other. It seems I’m from… well… here! Depending on where I am. I’m in the USA and love living here, but I miss my family, friends, and my native food and culture. But when I’m there, enjoying everything I’ve missed… then… I miss my home, my American life. I wonder if these feelings will ever go away.
5. When I moved to the USA I became professionally, well… nobody. I was a Human Resources Executive, I was a College Instructor, I was an MBA recipient, and yet, I couldn’t get the job I needed to keep growing in my professional path. Frustration, sadness, depression, resulted. I lost this part of my life.
6. Barriga llena, Corazón contento. Yes, but only when the portions are correct and the food is like home. Mexican food in the USA is not the same as Mexican food from Mexico. The portions here are amazingly large and the calorie content higher than ever. I gained 10 pounds in my first three months… I gained a little bit more after that… a little bit more after my pregnancies… I want to be the woman I was when I moved! Is it possible?
7. Discrimination: Not fun. Honestly I can count with one hand the times I felt this way. But once is too many. A person stopped me one day on the street and asked me how I could have dared marry an American and move to California. My husband and I were so shocked; we just looked at each other dumbfounded. We ignored it; it passed. But now that I’m remembering it, it makes me so mad!
8. I learned about freedom.This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve learned from my great country, the USA. In this case, I’m not referring to the freedom of speech, or the freedom of assembly, or freedom of the press. I’m talking about something more intimate. I learned to be free within me. I’m no longer only the person my mom, or my dad, or my grandmother wanted me to be. Nothing can stop me from being what I want to be. Can I change careers? Yes, I can. Can I go shopping in my pj’s if I want to? I don’t and I’d never, but I could. I can say, “no,” without feeling guilty. I can establish limits and know people will understand and respect them.
9. When in Rome… It took me some time to learn about cultural differences. I’m still learning. Thank you notes, for example, are not something we send in Mexico, a “gracias” is enough. Here, I’ve learned it is rude not to send a note. I’ve learned I need to call before visiting other people’s houses. In Mexico, you just show up!
10. Get ready for retirement. This is huge! I come from a country where savings are almost non-existent (with devaluations of the peso every now and then, people prefer to use their money while it still has value), investments are hard to understand, and if you get to retirement age, you move in with your children or other family. I’ve learned savings are a financial pillar, investments are a must, and retirement savings are what will sustain me when I’m old.
11. Everything will be ok. Change is a part of life, some of us will experience bigger changes than others. Change is good: Change makes us grow. I’ve grown, I’ve made very good friends, and because I said, “yes,” to change, I married the best man in the world, I have two amazing boys, and I’m happy.
I’m happy and that matters…
Silvia Martínez: Born and raised in Mexico where she worked as a Human Resources Executive and College Instructor, Silvia moved to the California Central Valley 9 years ago, where she lives with her husband and two very active boys. In 2009, Silvia started feeling the need to express herself, not just as a wife and mother, but also as a multi-faceted Latina woman, and she discovered in the blogosphere the perfect way to do it. She is the founder of MamaLatinaTips, a bilingual blog with topics of interest to mommies, including, among others, children, food, books, beauty and entertainment. She also likes to inform mommies about events, recalls, and offer giveaways constantly! She is also partner and editor in chief of DisneylandiaAlDia, the first Spanish blog about the Disneyland Resort in California. She loves dancing, cooking, watching movies, throwing Mexican parties and spending time with her family and friends.