Click here to read the article in Spanish.
Given that our school’s motto is “Strength in Diversity,” I thought it would be important to learn from, and share, the different experiences of M-A students.
I spent some time talking with Aaron Zarate Miranda, one of my classmates in AP Spanish for Native Speakers. Below, you can read extracts from our conversation.
Ayla Karadogan (AK): Hi Aaron. Could you tell me where you come from?
Aaron Zarate (AZ): México, specifically Veracruz, in the middle of the Gulf.
AK: What was your situation like before coming to the US?
AZ: Honestly, I’d say pretty bad. My brother left. Then, my dad left to go to the U.S., since there was no work back home. Back then I was 14 years old, and I stayed with my mom.
AK: When, and why, did you leave?
AZ: I left home to look for work, and I started working when I was 15. I had all kinds of jobs, including construction, door-to-door sales, and I ended up working at a clinic as a radiology assistant.
AK: So, when did you come to the States?
AZ: My dad went back to Mexico when my grandfather passed away. I was 16, and my dad told me to come to the U.S. with him for a couple of months. I left with him because we needed money—my mom was not earning enough and she couldn’t take care of me all by herself.
AK: Tell me about your immigration story.
AZ: I never thought I’d come to the States. I had my visa and everything, but I never used it. I didn’t think it would happen. But when my grandpa died, I was very sad, and I was eager to get out. But then, when I left and arrived here, I realized that the reality was that my dad was living in a tiny room, around four by seven feet, which is smaller than a regular apartment bedroom. So I ended up living there with him, the two of us sleeping on a twin bed, for seven months. Throughout all that time, I didn’t go to school. I spent my days in that room waiting for my dad, who came home after midnight.
AK: What’s different between the U.S. and Mexico?
AZ: Here, I have less freedom and fewer opportunities.
AK: That’s something that many people couldn’t imagine. Can you explain?
AZ: Here, I cannot leave the state. I cannot fly. I cannot work.
AK: What do you like the least about the States?
AZ: The racism.
AK: Could you provide an example?
AZ: I’ll give you a clear example. When you get here, most people will immediately send you to East Palo Alto (EPA), because it’s cheaper. Or when someone asks you where you live, they automatically assume EPA. Another example, they assume you don’t speak any English or that you don’t understand anything at all. I even met someone who asked me if we knew about cars. They always direct you to the lowest of everything, as if you weren’t capable of anything higher—they assume we are incapable. And, well, there is the example of work—clearly, people get better jobs if they are of a race other than Latino.
AK: Any examples here at M-A?
AZ: Here, they immediately put you in classes for Latinos. After a week and a half, it occurred to them to test my English. Yes, I spoke English; I had learned it in Mexico.
AK: What’s the main misunderstanding about immigration?
AZ: That it’s easy and fun.
AK: Who could think that immigration is easy and fun?
AZ: Lots of people. Not just here, actually. For instance, in Mexico, when you cross over here, they think you are going to make so much money because you earn in dollars. But they do not realize that you also have to spend in dollars. Everything is so expensive. Many people don’t realize how hard it is to get here, how uphill it is to adapt and leave everything behind. For example, to not have a bed of your own, or a car, etc.
AK: What was the hardest part?
AZ: When you get here, nobody talks to you. It’s so different from the people in my country. When I registered for school, I spent a whole semester not talking to anyone.
AK: Was the transition hard for you?
AZ: To tell you the truth, I was depressed for about five months. In that room I mentioned earlier, where I was staying with my dad, there were no windows and no light, there was only one lightbulb. I didn’t know when it was day or night. When there was no work, I would stay there for 24 hours in a row, and then I would realize when it was midnight because that’s when my father returned from work. I couldn’t leave because it was a shared house and there was no privacy.
Aaron’s experience is representative of what many of the immigrant students at our school had when they had to leave their countries, and it is a powerful reminder that we should have empathy for those dealing with the challenges of immigration and stop being ignorant about each other just because we are segregated in our own distinct social groups. I hope we can all show curiosity for the circumstances and contexts of each individual, and create a dialogue to bring us closer.