An Immigrant’s Journey

Isha Chitre, Features Editor & Reporter

“My dad came here when he was 15 and he moved back with my mom. It took him 10 years to get his papers to come here. When he first came here, he lived with fifteen people in one apartment. He experienced really bad conditions for us to have the good conditions that we have now,” said a student at Presentation, who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 9. She was asked about  her family’s story, in order to shed light on the challenges of a recent immigrant.

For the purpose of protecting her anonymity, she will be referred to as “Sarah” in this article.

It’s not uncommon for a new immigrant to believe that the streets are lined with gold in America. ‘The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave’ has long enjoyed a reputation that continues to drive young, starry-eyed immigrants to the country in order to achieve prosperity and success, regardless of their origins.

In other words, America is a reset button of sorts. “The land of opportunity” has become home to individuals of diverse ethnicities, many of whom have fled from persecution and violence in search of  a better life.

However, the majority of immigrants are motivated by their search for well-paying jobs. According to Pew Research, in 2016, 28 million immigrants were working or looking for work in the U.S., and made up 17% of the total civilian labor force.

Similarly, Sarah’s family immigrated to the U.S. in order to seek better opportunities.

“We came here as a family because we wanted to build a house there [Mexico], but we didn’t have the money, so we came here. We stayed here for the education and opportunities,” said Sarah.

Prior to Sarah immigrating with her family at the age of nine, her father arrived at the age of 15, but was forced to return to Mexico, as he was unable to obtain documentation. After a struggle to obtain documentation, he returned, years later, with his family.

However, approximately 67 percent of Mexican immigrants are in the United States, illegally, according to the Migration Policy Institute . While a large percentage of aspiring immigrants make several attempts to “cross the border” by train and foot, many attempt   to be smuggled by “coyotes,” or smugglers that operate on the border.

Immigrants often come to the U.S. to live a better life, but the transition to a new country does not come without its challenges, as they are pressured to adapt to a new culture almost immediately.  Perhaps the earliest obstacle an immigrant faces is the language barrier.

“It was definitely hard, because I didn’t know a word of English. I could not understand anyone. It took me six months to learn English and to be able to have a conversation,” stated Sarah.

Language is essential to adapting to a culture, as it can enable an individual to comprehend the nuances that define the values of a particular country.

In a study conducted by Pew Research, “Immigrants from Mexico have the lowest rates of English proficiency (32%), followed by Central Americans (33%) and immigrants from South and East Asia (54%). Those from Europe or Canada (76%), sub-Saharan Africa (72%), and the Middle East (61%) have the highest rates of English proficiency.”

“Sometimes I still don’t know if I’m speaking Spanish or English. I feel like that’s an embarrassing thing for me, because I want to show that I’m here and I’m American.”,  said Sarah.

Additionally, Sarah suggested a change to the educational system. “There should be a seperate class …[in schools] to learn English. Not being able to communicate with many people is very hard,” she said.

Despite the challenges brought by her transition, Sarah expresses that she was able to appreciate her life in America from an early age.

When asked about living in the culturally diverse Bay Area, she said, “It feels really nice. When I came here, I was introduced to all these people, who I didn’t know the cultures of.  I learned so much more about different people.”

In fact, Sarah’s sentiments are similar to the majority of immigrants. With a reputation of being a “reset button,” America is inclusive to people of all ethnicities. Reflected in simplicities, such as the myriads of world cuisines that define “American food,” as well as the celebration of a variety of cultural festivities in schools. America welcomes all.

Or at least, it’s supposed to.

It’s no secret, that the current Presidential administration is not supportive of immigration. With talks of a wall being built, immigrants often feel as though they are unwanted.

“It feels like it’s hate coming towards us, and we don’t deserve it. I just try not to listen to it,” said Sarah.

‘The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave,’ is characterized by one principle: freedom. By allowing immigrants to enter the U.S. and restart their lives, we are maintaining this principle. Therefore, by restricting immigrants from entering America, we will no longer be operating on the principle that inspired the founding of our nation.

That is certainly problematic.