The journey began in Mexico right before Christmas. My mother picked me and my sister up early from school one day. I remember my sister and I were overjoyed to see her because she was usually busy with work and didn’t have time to pick us up from school. I was only seven years old then, and I had no idea my life was about to change forever. Everything seemed normal as I packed a small backpack when I got home, and I still didn’t know we were leaving when my mother gave me and my sister and early Christmas present that night right before we boarded a Greyhound bus. I think it all started to sink in when I arrived in Utah and I saw the snow falling. I had never seen snow before. It was cold but I ran around trying to catch it as it fell in flurries to the ground. We were in America now, and we were going to make it our home.
My first challenge was learning English. The kids at my elementary school crowded around me during recess and lunch and kept trying to get me to talk to them. They would hold up basketballs, or point at chairs and ask me questions. I had no idea what they wanted, and the professors didn’t know what I needed either. I would often make gestures to get permission to go to the bathroom, or mimic what I heard my classmates say even if I had no idea what the words meant. My mother was having similar problems. She walked up and down the grocery store aisles not knowing what kind of food she was getting or what the cashier was telling her. It got worse when my sister and I began speaking our school learned English at home, which wasn’t very good, but much more advanced than the English my mother spoke. My mother had no idea what we were saying to each other. That was when she decided we all had to learn to speak, read, and write English. She signed me and my sister up for a special reading class during the school year and a summer reading program. My mother also began volunteering at our local library and joined me and my sister when we attended the library activities. She did reading and writing homework with us and would go out of her way to speak English with whoever would listen. She even joined the PTA of my elementary school to practice her speaking with my teachers and peers. She did this for years, and I remember my mom gave a lesson to my technology class when I was in jr. high. She still spoke with a heavy accent, but her reading and writing skills were as strong as mine by that time, and she understood English just as well.
I was about fourteen years old when my mother got remarried, but it was not until I was in high school that we began thinking seriously about getting our green cards. Up until then, we had been undocumented and hadn’t thought much of changing our legal status, but I was starting to think about furthering my education and realized that I didn’t have a social security number and could not apply for admittance to universities or for loans to help me pay tuition. Without a green card, my education would end after high school not because I didn’t want to study, but because I couldn’t apply. I discussed my worries with my mother. She listened and decided that it was time to get our green cards.
My mother began asking her friends for help. Most of them told her to look it up online. When she ran a search for green cards a huge list of attorneys came up. All of them were asking for high amounts of fees to fill out forms and get appointments. The prices ranged from 400-1500 dollars just to start the applications. We didn’t have that kind of money. My mother was a cleaning lady and we hardly had enough to make it from month to month. There was no way we could hire an attorney. She told me and my sister about how hopeless it all seemed as she drove us home from school one day, and we all got scared and I began to cancel all of my plans to further my education. This broke my mother’s heart. She didn’t come all the way to America for us to give up. We had to find a way to obtain our green cards and eventually citizenship.
My mother found a Hispanic center close to our home and it was there that she found out about the USCIS.gov website. It was free and had instructions on what forms to fill, documents to gather, and steps to take in order to get a green card. While my sister and I went to school she went to the library and the computer there to read the instructions and print forms. If she didn’t understand something she would get a library assistant to help. She also called and visited the USCIS field office and visited the local Hispanic Center frequently for more complicated questions. She had to gather her previous divorce papers, all of our birth certificates, passports, and other documents that were listed in the instructions. What I remember the most was when we all had to get our vaccinations up to date. My sister and I only had to get the tuberculosis test because we had been going to school and needed to get shots regularly, but my mother had to get almost seven shots in one doctor’s visit. We also visited the Mexican Consulate to gather documents and have more questions cleared up. I remember that every Sunday my mother would sit on her bed and fill out forms and put together folders. Sometimes I sat on the bed and helped her out.
Overall, it took us two years to gather everything we needed. We each had our own folder stuffed with forms and documents. We mailed them in and waited. We were afraid and one time my mother sat me and my sister down and explained that because we had been undocumented for some years, there was a small chance that we might get deported for a year before we got our green cards, but that we should not be afraid. After six months we got the letters for our interviews. Our cases had been processed and if we did well in the interview we would get out green cards. We woke up early, dressed up in our nicest clothes, and did our hair. We arrived at the time we were scheduled and waited in a large room filled with chairs. A few others were in the waiting room with us, all looking as nice and nervous as us. We waited for two hours before they called us in. My mother, step-father, sister, and I walked in. The room was a small and very short man with glasses sat at the other side of a desk. He called us all by name to make sure we were all present. He looked at my mother and said, “Everything looks ok. We have all of your documents.” We all smiled, and I remember I clutched my hands tightly together on my lap. He continued his speech. “I just have one question for you. Do you have any kind of proof that you all do things as a family? Do you have family passes or memberships to parks or events that you can show me?” We all looked at each other. We went to the movies every weekend, went swimming, had dinner together, and went to church but we had no way of proving it. My mother thought for a minute and then opened up her wallet. She pulled out a membership for the Clark Planetarium in Salt Lake City. My step-father, sister, and I followed her lead and pulled out our memberships too. The man smiled. “Alright. Congratulations,” he said, and we all took a sigh of relief. My mother almost began to cry and she asked the man if she could give him a hug. He politely denied and shook all of our hands instead. We all hugged each other when we reached the parking lot and laughed and decided to go out to dinner to celebrate and we smiled and celebrated again when our green cards arrived in the mail a couple of months later. All the time, effort, and persistence paid off and my mother, sister, and I were finally permanent residents of the United States.
That victory was seven years ago, and thanks to my mother’s hard work I am now about to graduate from Brigham Young University and my sister has a good job and has bought a house with her new husband. Currently, we are all going through the process of getting our citizenship. This has been much easier. Again, my mother has done all the work herself with the help of the USCIS.gov website. Since we are all adults now, we were able to work and save money to pay the necessary fees in about a year. Just the other day we all received our appointments for our interviews where we will turn in our green cards and be sworn in. My sister and I don’t have to take a government or language test because we went through the public school system, but my mother got a list of books to get so she can begin studying for her exams. The books are inexpensive and she is excited to look over them and study when they arrive in a couple of weeks. Again, we are all a bit nervous but we are also relieved that we were able to get this far with free resources and hard work.