Lily, Mexico

I am from Guadalajara, Mexico and I was born in 1988 to a single mom.  For the most part I grew up in a household with my grandma and my mom and her youngest siblings.  Back then it didn’t used to be in the city.  It was Guadalajara, but it was so far away that we were building the house.  It seemed like miles away, but I realize now that it was one and a half miles from downtown.  My dad was in Mexico City.  He was eighteen and my mom was nineteen.  They didn’t have interest in each other outside of that one moment.  I appreciate the honesty from both of them because I value the idea of not having a flawed idea of what is love.

The only person in our household who was male was my grandpa, but he was not my grandpa from blood.  He was the husband of my grandma.  Most of the things that I remember, that I value education-wise, like curiosity, really come from him.  I always remember growing up in the house having books everywhere.  He would tell us about history and he would tell us the truth and we would go to school and tell them and they would tell us it wasn’t true because it is not what the book says.  But now in retrospect I realize how right he really was.  He was not educated institutionally, but he believed in reading.  He believed in picking up a book and learning something about it and from there getting another idea, on to the next book and the next book and the next book. I appreciate that he passed that down to all of us, to all the women.  I think that is why we had some more masculine traits to a certain point because we never saw ourselves as being women and needing help.  We were taught how to lay flooring, we were taught how put cement on the walls.  We would do everything with the plumbing and electricity.  If we didn’t know, he would help us.  Most of my life was that way.  We were always always independent.  It is very interesting now that I see these families that most of the time have this idea that women don’t do that, or they don’t learn to do that because that’s a male thing.

What I love is how my grandma taught me how to cook, but in a very weird way because it was not just cooking, it was how we should love all of the people.  And not just my family but the rest of the people on the block.  Sometimes they would come to my house and my grandma would say, “Come on, let’s eat, get a plate, get some food, have some tacos.”  Everyone from a few blocks around knew my grandma for that.  I think that humility and finding ways that are not necessarily monetary to show appreciation and love gave me a sense of valuing love, not the material.

We were very poor, but we weren’t as poor as other people.  I never grew up with the idea that we were poor, until I went to a boarding school and they told me that only poor girls went to the boarding school.  It was a Catholic school with nuns and a church inside. It was a mixed school.  They had two parts.  They had girls who just go to study and they leave just like a regular school and then you had girls who would stay there.  There was frowning on them because they didn’t have both parents and that’s why they had to be there because one of the parents had to work.  Other ones, I don’t know if it is true or not, people said that they were abandoned.  In a way it made me feel that way, that I was being abandoned because we were poor, because I didn’t have both parents, that there was a flaw in my upbringing.

My school was interesting because part of who I am and what I have grown to be is from the things I learned that I do not want to be. I was very outspoken and I often had the nuns coming to me and telling me that I was being disruptive to the other girls. I was like an indentured servant in a way because in order for you to be able to read, you had to do chores first. It was our duty to clean the whole school for the girls who actually paid money to be going to school. It was a very big division in the school.  There was one experience that is so stuck in my head.  I remember one time I was feeling sick and I woke up and I was supposed to shower at five in the morning but I didn’t.  I went to Mass but I didn’t have enough time to clean my area before it was breakfast time.  And the nun came to me and said, “You cannot eat because you haven’t done your chores.  You have to stand up right now and do it.”  It was really humiliating because everybody was eating and I was outside cleaning.  I didn’t have breakfast that day.  I think that is what marked me the most, to feel separate.  It was very difficult and hard.  That’s the part of it that kills me the most, whenever people make differences between the kids

My mom decided to send me to that school because my mom had always worked outside.  I didn’t have a strong relationship with my mom growing up.  I would see her every couple of months, for a week or two when she came back.  I always knew that she was my mom, but I called my grandma “mom.” My mother was up north in Mazatlan, about eight hours drive.  It was far.   I’m not sure if you want to put this in, I don’t necessarily care, but now talking with my mom I understand now that she was working in the sex industry.  So for her it was important to go as far away as she could so that she could do what she did.  But that was not the only place.  She used to go to Tijuana and other places, but mainly because she wanted to give me more than what we had.  She saw that this was a better way to make more money than working at a factory.

Now I talk to her and I tell her, “I don’t judge you.  I appreciate you.  I appreciate what you did.  I’ve read and I know it is not easy.”  I never knew it clearly at the time, but I think that I suspected it was weird.  When she would come back home she would have suitcases and she would have clothes, clothes for me and other people and she would have her work clothes.  She would take things out and they were shiny and bright and at that time I might have been seven or eight years old, maybe a bit younger, but they looked like the golden era of movies in Mexico, like cabaret.  So for me the idea of my mom putting on these clothes was similar to the clothes in the movies.  I remember asking her, “Do you work at a cabaret? Because if you do, I don’t care.”  And I remember her saying, “No, I don’t.”  But I think I knew it was a lie. I never really asked her again, until later on. When I was growing up it was just something that we didn’t need to say, we just knew.

When I went to middle school my mom was pregnant with my brother. The father of my brother was helping her economically so that she wouldn’t work anymore, so my mom came back home. She would stay there, but then it changed.  I didn’t know my mom.  I realized that I didn’t know my mom.  She seemed to want to be a good mom, but the way that she did it was very aggressive. She was very disciplinary.  If your shoes were dirty, well then come over here and bend over and she would spank you.  Or if you didn’t study well enough.  I remember that she would reprimand me a lot, even though I had really good grades.  Ninety or below was a bad grade for her.  I had to be excellent.  All these expectations got put on me.  It became really difficult.  She blamed it on me being a teenager, but I think that it was a combination of both.  It was not just me, I think it was both of us.  We never got to know each other.  I didn’t know her, I only knew her when she was happy, coming home and bringing things because she had money.  I never met her in situations in day-to-day life.

When I look back I think, “How was it that I ended up pregnant?”  I think it was because I wanted to be loved.  I think that when I was with my mom I didn’t necessarily feel that way. I wanted to have someone of my own to take care of.  I wanted to have my daughter to have a good mom, to give her everything I didn’t have.  I was sixteen when I got pregnant and I had her at seventeen.  My mom didn’t let me leave when I had just had my daughter because she said that now we needed to support her because she was going to support me. I didn’t necessarily like that.  This is not what I want.  I get that I have a kid and I’m probably going to have to work or do something, but I would rather work than just feeling like I’m going to be home being her servant.

Because she had my brother she seemed to put a lot of her emotions on him.  She protected him.  He was her kid.  Part of that too was because through him she exited working.  Everything that she had, all the money that she depended on was because of my brother. And he was a male in an all female house, so he had that added weight of being the provider of the house.  She made a lot of difference between the two of us. My brother’s father continues to support her up until today. He doesn’t live with her.  He is married and has another family.  My brother just graduated from high school.  He is going to university next year in the fall.  His dad is going to pay for it. I tried to recommend books for him to read so that he can read on his own who he is and what is his role instead of just seeing himself as just a bastard.  I can see that he feels that way. His dad is married.  He knows him.  I can imagine he is having a struggle.  I try to do the best I can with him.

When I told the father of my child that I was pregnant, he said, “I’m too young.  I don’t want a child.”  I said, “I’m not going to obligate you.” My mom wanted me to marry him.  I told her, “I really don’t think so.  And I don’t think my daughter should have his name.”  Ultimately the name didn’t mean anything to me.  You have the name, what does that matter? It is so irrelevant.

I stayed living with my mom until I was about eighteen and a half and there was a big altercation. We fought a lot.  One day I said, “I’m leaving.”  I just got my keys and walked out.  She followed me.  I told her, “I’m not staying.  You have to let me go.  I am eighteen. And if you keep me here you are doing something illegal.”  I don’t think she ever thought about that. I think that she got scared and said, “Well, just go then.”  But she wouldn’t let me take any of my clothes or my kid’s clothes because she felt that it was her house, so all the things inside her house, even if I bought them, were hers. So I just left.  I went to my grandma and she loaned me some clothes.  I started working at a market with one of my uncles.  It was like a flea market.  I helped him and that is how I made some money to buy clothes for me and my daughter.

Then I started trying to find other kinds of jobs.   I started working for a place that does real estate.  At that time there was a big boom in construction because of subsidized homes. Mexico had a program that gave a very low rate, like two percent loan, for people to acquire their first home who are working and contributing to the economy.  Those were the kinds of houses that I was selling.  It was a little tough because I realized then that the houses that they were selling were extremely expensive for those people and they couldn’t afford it. They made them go into debt.  It was very sketchy.  They deferred by months the initial payment and they didn’t realize that they have to pay the mortgage and then the houses go belly up.  The developers were the one who were making money regardless.  I didn’t like that.  And besides that, it was difficult that when I got my commission I had to manage that money.  I didn’t know when was going to be my next commission.  My daughter then had some problems with fevers.  She would get a lot of fevers and they wouldn’t go down.  I would need to take her to the hospital but I couldn’t.  It just didn’t work that well.

Then I met a person, which is why I am in the US. I met him online and I remember he was looking for someone to show him around.  By then I was trying to teach myself English with google translate because it had just come out.  I was trying to learn the language so I started looking for people to talk to that were native speakers and practicing.  He came to Guadalajara.  He looked cute.  We liked each other. He kept coming back, like every couple of months, for two years. I think that he liked Latinas but I don’t think this was planned at all to find someone to marry.  He was fifteen years older than me.  When I look back at that big gap I think I wouldn’t want my daughter to do that. I honestly didn’t think he was serious when he asked me to marry him because in my head it didn’t make sense to marry someone that you have just seen every couple of months.  We weren’t necessarily in a committed relationship, but we liked each other.  I knew that he probably had fun at home with somebody else, it was a given. And based on my circumstances and what I had known and learned from my mom being in sex work my whole life.  It was for me very obvious what was the real arrangement there.

So I said, “Yes, I’ll marry you.”  I don’t think that I was completely honest with myself then.  I think that I lied to myself that I loved him more than I did to make myself take that leap. To jump at the opportunity of finding that safe security and what you are supposed to have and wanted for my kid. I think that it was the right thing to do for my circumstances at that time.

I came to the US and I found it was very different. The very first thing that I noticed was that people felt special.   Everybody  in the U.S. seemed to feel that they had this right, they had this inherent feeling that they deserve something.  Entitlement would be the word.  That was very odd to me because I never had that feeling.  Nobody I was around had that feeling.  And if anybody felt that way, we would say, “You are ridiculous.  Have you seen who you are?”  We were very realistic.

My ex-husband was very entitled.  We would go to places and sometimes he would want things for free.  I don’t think that he knew that he wanted them, he just felt that people should do those things because he was connected in business.  For example, at his work he would say, “Well yes, I’ll do business with you, but I’m going to have to get something back.”  Other people around him played with that.  Getting something back when they give.  Sometimes I would get upset and I would tell him, “I don’t think this is right.”  And he would tell me, “This is not Mexico anymore, this is America.”  I don’t remember how many times that I would explain my belief and he said what I believed was wrong.  And he would just say again, “This is not Mexico. This is America.”  Later I realized that there are other people who think like I do.  It is not because this is America just because this is rural Texas.  During the five years I was married to him I learned what a redneck was and I realized that is who he was and he was proud of it.

He was just who he was.  His whole life he was taken care of by his parents.  He worked his whole life for his parents’ business.  If he didn’t want to work he would just leave the shop and still have a job.  We really didn’t have to pay for anything.  His parents basically bought our house.  They paid for clothes for my kids.  The kids needed clothes and he would tell me, “Go tell my mom that the kids need clothes and they will take you to buy them.”  At some point I think that my own pride didn’t want to be that person.  I think that I felt that I was more.  I deserved more.  I wanted to work for it.  I didn’t want it to be handed to me.  He would always talk about the things we would have when his parents died.  To me that was really weird because I had never had the concept that when my mom died I would have all this.  Never. I saw how that changed me because I started following along, but I didn’t like that about myself.  That is when I decided to start finding a way out.

The opportunity came and I did it.  We went to Mexico for an anniversary vacation.  I had a friend who had a restaurant in Cabo and that is where we went.  My husband was talking to him about putting a restaurant in some place and I didn’t think it was a good idea because I know that he didn’t know how to take care it himself.  I said, “This is just insane and this is not good for you.  You don’t have what it takes to do it.”  He felt offended by that.  In order to prove me wrong he said, “Yes, let’s go ahead and do it.”  So we emptied all our bank accounts. We emptied everything and the restaurant failed because that was when the hurricane hit that area.  There were no tourists.  The locals didn’t have money to go and spend because they were trying to rebuild.  That was beginning of the fall.  He blamed me for that choice because I let him do it.  I said, “This was your choice, not mine.” From then there were a lot of problems and I moved to Guadalajara.  I told him, “You know what, I’m just going to go to Guadalajara and take the kids and see my mom and see how this goes.”  Once I was there I decided I was not going to go back.

By then I had my son and he had just barely turned three. Things were better with my mom.  It was a lot more obvious that I was a woman now and how things happen and how difficult it is to be a woman with kids. I also realized that my inability to learn how to be in relationships and make them last a long time like other people do came from her.  I never had a model of how to do that.  I was taught that if a guy scolds you or screams at you, just ignore him and don’t put up with that. You are just going to walk away.  That is the way that we worked.  We don’t put up with that.  That was my idea and my struggle because I wanted to walk earlier but I didn’t know how, or if it was the right thing to do.

I loved his parents.  They were always very nice to me.  His dad was the mayor. I was the only Latina in that place. I was the Latina who was married to the mayor’s son. I wouldn’t know people, and people would see me on the street and know that I was part of that family. I was under a lot of pressure going from a big city to a very small town where everybody knows you.  I felt like it was an invasion of my privacy, that I didn’t have a lot of freedom.  That was also very difficult for me, too.  Also, I was working with his parents.  They gave me a job.

That also was one of the other things that when I separated and started thinking and analyzing what had happened and I realized that it was very convenient for him because I worked, we had a joint account so I never really saw any of my paycheck, it would just go to one account.  Sure, if I needed something I had the opportunity to go and buy it, but there was no individual gain for me.  I never saw it that way. I also started changing my mind, seeing how stupid I was being by giving too much power to him.  We sold our house and we moved to a bigger house because I got pregnant. I was trying to get a landline with internet and apparently according to Texas law if you don’t have a good credit score you don’t get good rates.  So I needed a cosigner because I had no credit.  And that infuriated me because by then I had been working for four years.  I had been sharing the expenses of the house and finding out that I really don’t have any kind of leverage economically, it was very tough.  I have always liked independence, so that if one day I decide something I can make that choice on my own. I don’t have to have someone else’s opinion.  That is how I grew up.  I decided to open my own account.  He didn’t like that, of course, and that’s when things started to go so badly, in combination with the restaurant.  It created a big mess.  He really got everything that he could have had.  He had my money, I was working for his parents, they were paying for everything and I guess it could have been convenient for me, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

My mom asked me why I couldn’t put up with that.  I guess I could have, but at the time it didn’t seem like what I wanted for me.  I was growing up but he stayed at the same place.  When I met him I was a teen mentally, and when I was twenty-five, he was still a teen.  There were no intellectual discussions, which I craved.  I was reading and I wanted to have a conversation.  I wanted to learn things about America, and not just from a white perspective.  I had my own reality and what I felt and I didn’t know what to do about it.

There were other Latino people in the town, but not in my neighborhood.  Also, that was difficult.  I talked with other Latinos, that was my job at their office.  They had a lot of Medicaid recipients that they would see.  That was my interaction with Latinos.  It was me giving them a service with Medicaid, and not that I frowned on them, but they knew I was a Latina, they knew that I was the wife of the owner of the place and they didn’t see me as one of them. They never did.  I don’t want to say that they were envious, because I don’t know, but they saw me differently and sometimes were rude to me. Sometimes I would speak to them in Spanish and they would answer me back, “We don’t speak Spanish.” I would say, “Well, I just heard you speaking Spanish, but I speak English too, so we can do that.” That just created so much tension in me inside.  I see my people but they treat me this way.  I don’t see you as less than me.  It was always a fight with my own culture.  One time my mom told me that she thought I didn’t like beans anymore.  You are not like us anymore.  That was very very weird for her to say that because I never expected her to think that of me.

When I moved to Guadalajara after about nine months I was completely separated and my ex-husband was back up in Texas with his family, we initiated paperwork for being divorced.  He was still having hopes even though I really told him that I didn’t.

When I was down there I went to Lake Chapala, which is one of the largest lakes in Mexico, where there is the largest ex-pat community outside of Ecuador.  There are a lot of Canadians, a lot of Americans, a lot of foreigners and I was with some of my friends over there and we went to a cell phone company.  There were two gringos talking over there and they couldn’t really communicate with the person at the window and so I asked, “Do you need help?”  And that’s how I met my current partner.

We started talking and here we go again.  We were talking, I was helping him with the phone and then he wanted to do something in exchange so he invited me and my friend for lunch.  We said, “Free lunch, why not?”  He was relatively old.  He is twenty-five years older than me.  And the other person he was with was one of his clients.  He is an attorney.  He was helping one of his clients move down there for retirement.  Helping him with paperwork to become a permanent resident, managing the property, all those things.  We started talking and he was very bright.  We talked about books.  For me at that moment I was struggling with my perspective on religion.  I have never been religious.  I’m the opposite.  I have always been very wary of that.  But nobody in my family or anyone back in Texas ever talked about other forms of belief, like being atheist or agnostic or not having any attachment to that or what makes sense to you, whatever that means.  We started talking about that. I just found it very interesting that he would have these ideas that I have never heard anybody else talk about so directly.

We were talking and then it was text messages and then he had to come back very often to see his client in Chapala.  We liked each other and he asked me if I wanted to come to Portland and that was when I told him that I have my residence.  He said, “You violated your residency and you could lose it because you have more than six months out of the country.  They are going to take it away. You have an American kid and if he goes back you are never going to be able to see him.”  I had really never thought about that.  “Who is going to tell them?”  He said, “You don’t get it.  If your ex-husband gets angry at you, he is going to do it.”  He started telling me some of his experiences he had as an attorney with other people. Everybody believes this person is not going to do that.  But that is not true.  People in the heat of the moment do it.  Even if they regret it later you can’t fix it.  I don’t have anything.  I can’t come up to the US.  I don’t have the means.  I don’t know anybody over there.  The few family I have we haven’t ever talked to each other. It was just completely unrealistic.  He said, “If you want, come up and check out where I am, because it is very different from Houston, it will be a little expensive.  But if you need help to get a job, I can help refer you to other people. But I really think you should think about your residency.”

So he invited me up here and paid the ticket and everything and I came for the summer.  That summer my ex-husband took my son.  He said, “Can I have him for a month or so?”  I said, “Take him.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want him, but I knew that he was not going to take him.  He truly doesn’t want to keep him.  In his head he thinks that he does because it means something to me, but I know who he is.  And I know it is going to be a very short time before he gets back.

So I came up here and checked this place out.  In many ways it is very similar to my city in Guadalajara because it is very cultural, you have events, you have public transportation.  For me those are the main things.  I know that I cannot afford to have a car.  And public transportation is knowing I can get somewhere else even if I don’t have the money for the gas and the insurance and the payment, everything required to have a car.  I thought Portland looks nice.  A few months later we started talking more and he asked me to live together.  I thought about it because I really didn’t want to come to the US.  That was not my goal.  I went to Mexico and I said “I’m never going back to that country.”  I didn’t really feel comfortable putting myself in the same situation again, but I saw that he was different.  He also said that he was going to keep paying for my apartment in Mexico so if I ever decided to move out I would still have a place to be in Mexico.  I said, “As long as you keep up with that, I’m ok.”  I felt very comfortable that if it didn’t work I would have a place to go back. He did it for about a year until I told him to stop paying it because it is ridiculous now.  We know that we are going to be together for a while.  Now it has been four and a half years together.

My son and daughter are here with me.  It was kind of sketchy in the beginning because I didn’t have a final divorce yet.  I was still married. I talked to him about that.  I don’t know how these things work legally.  He said that it didn’t matter.  My ex-husband could not force me not to have a relationship with someone.  As long as I wasn’t going to get in trouble where they would take away custody of my son or something.  Six months later we divorced. My current partner is also divorced, but he has one kid.  He also didn’t necessarily care for being married. He says that people get married to get money from 401K accounts.  There is no point in getting married other than that and I agree with that.  I realize that it keeps us in check because we can always walk out from each other.  It is a lot easier to be honest because we don’t have to pretend just to keep up with the marriage. This is it. It will either work out and we manage it, or we don’t, and that is up to us. I appreciate that sincerity.

Most of the things that I have learned that I think that I am going to have forever in my life are during the two and a half years that I have learned here.  You have life experiences, but you don’t necessarily comprehend them and know what that means.  That’s what helped me a lot. I also appreciate that he was the first person who believed that I was smart enough to go back to school.  When I moved the first thing he did was say, “I need you to do things.  You need to fill out the FAFSA and go fill out the applications, apply to the community college.”  When I graduated from high school on my own because I couldn’t go back to the regular high school after having my daughter.  I had to go to what they call the “open school.”  I think it is the same as getting a GED, but they are small schools and they give you classes but you have to pay for them.  But at some point I couldn’t pay for it and I owed them a lot of money.  Because I owed them a lot of money they wouldn’t release my degree.  I couldn’t get them another way unless I paid them.  I wasn’t able to get those papers.  Clark Community College wouldn’t take me without my high school diploma, but PCC did. So that is why I ended up at Portland Community College.

I am a permanent resident.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t necessarily have love for this country.  Not that I disrespect it.  I know what this country is and what it has given me, I appreciate it, but it isn’t necessarily the country I want to have on my passport.  I’m not necessarily sure what that even means. I need to dive a little bit more into that.  What does that mean to me?  Why does this passport book have such a heavy weight in my decision?  But, if something happens to me, my daughter is attached to my permanent residency, so she would have to go back to Mexico. Even if I put him as a guardian she still would have to go to Mexico because he is not her dad and she is not a citizen. My son is a citizen because he was born here. I am applying for my citizenship.  After I become a citizen I can put in the papers for my daughter and she doesn’t have to wait until she is eighteen.

I think that one of the things that is very misunderstood is that people do not understand is how much it costs to come over here legally.  All the things that you have to do and that you have to plan to be legal are not easy.  You have to have a pregnancy test.  You have to have an HIV test. You have to have a psychology test and that they take a lot of samples, take a lot of x-rays, test you for TB, which is the poor people’s disease.  They test you for that, including little children, and you have to pay for it.  I think if people in the US knew that everything that people go through and everything that people put in, and all the planning, they might have a little more sympathy.  I would say that I have spent with paperwork and travel I have spent between fifteen and twenty thousand dollars, and I am not a citizen yet.  It is over a five year period, which is how long it takes to take out the restrictions from your residency.

I was talking with a Trump supporter, an old gentleman, close to his eighties.  I said, “Do you know what people have to do to come over here?”  He said, “Well, the same things that we do to travel there?”  They don’t get it.  You just have to show your passport.  Maybe you have to get some shots, but it is not the same, it is really not the same for us.  Do you know that my family can’t visit me?  My family can’t visit because they don’t have visas, and getting a visa requires you to have property and a certain amount of money in your bank.  It is better if you are studying, or other things that keep you from staying in the US.  Not a lot of people in Mexico have property.  Not a lot of people have a bank account because we are still a mainly cash country.  When you have people earning the equivalent of fifty dollars a week for sixty hours of work when are you going to have more than five thousand dollars in your bank account to spend in the US?  It is not the same visa rules for every country.  People from the EU don’t need that.  They just present a passport and they can come in.   People are so clueless.

I think that at this time in my life I want to stay in the US, even if this relationship doesn’t work.  My daughter is twelve years old.  She is not Mexican anymore. She’s an American girl because when I brought her here she was three and a half years old.  She knows she’s Mexican, but I know she sees life very differently from the people over there. I try to send her every year to Mexico for most of the summer, but I think that she has a lot of opportunities here.  I don’t think I can do the same in Mexico realistically.  It would kill me to know that I would have kept her away from that. So, at this point I am not thinking about going back to Mexico to live.  I don’t think it is the best thing for me or for my kids.

It is just so insane how people don’t think about that, how even if you are a criminal, whatever that is, doesn’t matter who you are, you have family and you have those bonding relationships with other people. You can’t do anything about it.  You can send people across the world, but those ties, those needs, people are always going to have those needs.  For people not to understand that sometimes it amazes me.

More on the history and culture of Mexico by PCC student Rory Elliott: