More Than a Stereotype  

My grandmother immigrated to the United States for a better life for herself and her kids.

by Justin Sosa

Photo of Justin with his aunt and grandma. Credit: Marisol Sosa

Growing up as a Mexican-American, I’ve grown used to people reducing me to a stereotype (one teacher confidently called me “Jose”). I’ve even experienced people assuming that, because my family is Mexican, we’re criminals—that we’re a harm to the economy and to society and that we leech off of the US government.

Though people think we’re lazy and bring crime, I never believed that about Mexicans because of my grandmother’s story. If she was lazy, she would have still been in Mexico. Instead, she came “illegally” to the U.S. in 1981 to work hard and better her circumstances.

If she was lazy, she would have still been in Mexico.

My grandmother had to cross the border first, on foot, then my Aunt Marisol and Uncle Jesus came to the U.S. by plane. They were babies, so a chaperone working for the coyotes who were helping my grandmother accompanied them. 

My grandmother never spoke about the experience of crossing the border. It seemed like she didn’t want to speak about it and I don’t blame her, because I’ve heard the process is excruciating. In addition to the physical dangers of the journey, there was always the possibility of the authorities catching her and sending her back to her pueblo. She’d be sent back to Mexico and separated from her kids, who would arrive by plane only to find that they had to face this new place by themselves. 

As my aunt says, the very thing that scared my grandmother also motivated her. For her kids, she had to pull through and see it until the end. After her arrival, it took her some time to stand on her own two feet. In the meantime, she lived with our extended family.

During her first year in this country, a close relative became hostile toward her. She realized something wasn’t right; it was like the bitterness in agua de jamaica. You can try to fix it by adding sugar but that doesn’t change anything. One day, the two had an argument and the relative called ICE, the immigration authorities. He told them everything about my grandmother, aunt Marisol, and uncle Jesus crossing the border, being “illegal.”

ICE arrested her and her life of striving for opportunities took a turn for the worse. A clock was ticking in my grandmother’s head,”tick tock, tick tock”; the last seconds of her freedom closing in on her. 

The Interrogation 

“How long have you resided in New York?” 

“How did you get to the United States?” 

“Are you a part of a drug trafficking ring?” 

Immigration officials bombarded my grandmother with such questions in the interrogation room, as my aunt told me. My grandmother’s favorite show was “Law and Order” and now it felt like she was living the drama. But as stubborn as the immigration officials were, my grandmother put on a mulish face and didn’t budge. She was iron against iron.

But as stubborn as the immigration officials were, my grandmother put on a mulish face and didn’t budge. She was iron against iron.

My grandmother was then deported to her hometown of Chinantla, Puebla with both her children. I think it’s a marvelous place, but in her eyes, she was back to square one. Staying in Chinantla was not an option. She grew up poor and didn’t have the comforts that kids like me have in this country. As a little girl, she had worked with her mother selling salt in the mercado. As my aunt told me, to my grandmother, selling salt in the scorching heat was like climbing Mount Everest. In the same way that climbing Mount Everest is extremely challenging for travelers who dare to go, selling salt in the scorching heat was her difficult journey to earn an income for her family and put food on the table for her siblings. 

My grandmother once told me about her only pair of shoes, a pair of huaraches (sandals), which her mother gifted her. Because money was tight, she knew she had to take good care of her shoes. But, because of how hard she worked and how much she had to walk every day, her shoes gave way soon. She felt bad because her mother worked from morning to evening selling salt, and her father also worked in difficult conditions all day. She saw her parents struggle and didn’t want to stay in a country that wouldn’t give her children a chance to succeed no matter how much they tried. That’s why she decided to leave Mexico again and come to the U.S.

 She contacted the same coyotes who had previously helped her cross the border.

En Route to USA, Again

Not long before she was set to leave, her son Jesus, who was a toddler, died from an illness. It was horrible to bury my uncle Jesus in Mexico, but for the sake of her daughter my grandmother was undeterred from leaving the country. 

So she made another difficult border crossing. She finally arrived in New York City and managed to find a place of her own, which she called home and where she raised my uncles and aunt. I lived my whole childhood in the same household, surrounded by my loving aunts and uncles and as well as my grandmother who played a big part in raising me. My parents eventually found a place of their own and we moved there when I became a teenager. Our home became a beacon of hope for my family, reminding us of the challenges my grandmother faced.

I remember being little and being ignored by my schoolmates or pushed to the side because of my ethnicity, which upset me because I associate being Mexican with my grandmother, who I associate with struggling and striving for her family. My grandmother never became successful or rich but she worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known. She picked up extra shifts in the factory she worked so she could feed her kids. Watching her and others like her, I learned that immigrants have it extra hard. Most don’t work hard to get ahead on the corporate ladder but rather, just to survive. 

Watching her and others like her, I learned that immigrants have it extra hard. Most don’t work hard to get ahead on the corporate ladder but rather, just to survive. 

Because of my grandmother’s journey, I am growing up in a country where I’m given the opportunity to have an education and be able to fulfill my dreams without too many constraints. I’m one of the few fortunate individuals in this world who have that privilege. In poorer countries like Mexico, most children are made to face the circumstances their parents are in. If my grandmother was given a fair start and a good environment, she would’ve had a better life with my Aunt Marisol and would’ve had my Uncle Jesus alive with her. 

Justin is a senior at High School For Environmental Studies in Manhattan, NY. Justin loves writing and strives to be a journalist and have an impact on the world.

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