My Mother-from illegal immigrant to U.S. citizen

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From the Associate Publisher / Editor / Laura Tate

Fifty-seven years ago, my mother, at the age of 16, ran away from home, from the small adobe town of Atoyac, located in the southern region of the state of Jalisco, Mexico.

She saved pennies, literally, by shelling walnuts with her hands. My mother, Rosa, had saved enough money to hire a taxi to take her away from a hard life-one of poverty, beatings and no outlook of any sort or bright future. As the taxi took off, she waved goodbye to her older sister, who watched with disbelief as the youngest of their family of eight children left. Her destination-the United States.

She crossed the Mexico-Texas border, which was an open border at that time, but as she tried to travel further inland, without the proper papers, immigration sent her back to Mexico. A church in Mexico near the border took her in and the Catholic sisters there tried to convince her stay. But my mother was, and is, a very independent person and she left, obtained the proper documents that allowed her to visit the States and ended up in California.

My mother Rosa, a teenager with a third-grade education, spoke no English and knew no one in the U.S., but she came here alone with almost nothing so she could make a better life for herself. She knew if she stayed in Mexico, in the particular environment she was in, that any hope for a decent education and a life beyond the poverty and repression she was living in would be very slim.

The story of how my mother came to the United States and faced and overcame obstacles to the future she envisioned for herself could fill a book. Briefly, during the past half century, Rosa taught herself to speak, read and write English, became a waitress, married my father, had three children-myself and my two brothers-and, after divorcing, raised the three of us on her own here in California. Working as a waitress until the late ’70s, she eventually became a manager of four restaurants at one time in Santa Cruz, Ca. My mother is now 73 and still works, managing a large Mexican restaurant and bar in Santa Cruz. It wasn’t easy for her, making a life here in the States, that’s for sure. Memories of some of the hard times our small family of four went through are seared in my mind, but my mother always managed to keep a roof over our heads, our stomachs full, the three of us in school and she enabled us to experience and enjoy many things-the delights of nature through hiking and camping, visits to Disneyland and other places, even dining at fancy restaurants.

Many people did help her along the way, including her lifelong friend, Sylvia Statchura, who showed her the ropes when she got her first job as a waitress, and with whom we lived for a time. There were many other good people, mostly American citizens, who helped my mother. But you have to be a very strong person, a person with conviction and belief in not only yourself, but also a belief that there are opportunities in the world, to make a journey like my mother’s.

My mother found opportunity here in the United States. And she found help.

People are up in arms about a proposed bill that, it is said, would basically criminalize illegal immigrants, making them felons, and penalize anyone who helped by employing them. There’s also something about a erecting a huge fence along the Mexican-American border.

What would have happened if such a bill were law when my mother escaped her life as a 16-year-old in rural poverty-stricken Mexico? What would her life have turned out to be? I certainly wouldn’t be here, nor my two brothers. I owe my life to my mother-and for the goodness of it. She taught me to try to always be a good and honest person, with values and morals, and she imparted to my brothers and me a strong sense of work ethic. She, without even knowing it, taught me to be strong in difficult times, and that even though sometimes it seems as if life is just too hard to bear, there is always something good around the corner. My mother is a good person; she’s also smart, funny and beautiful, and I know she has contributed greatly to this country. She didn’t come up with some fantastic scientific discovery that changed this country or the world for the better, or run for office to help guide the legal and physical morass that can develop with a growing civilization, but living here, she touched people’s lives around her in good ways, and she always paid her dues, whether it was the rent or taxes.

When I was eight or nine years old, my mother decided, on the advice of friends, to seek permanent residency status (although she had been working, paying taxes, had married and was raising three children here, she still wasn’t legal. She had received the proper documents to apply, but hadn’t followed through at that time). Gloria Allred was the attorney who represented her then, working pro bono. My brothers and I stood with our mother before the judge, and although I don’t remember exactly what was said, I do remember feeling a sense of pride when the judge agreed with what Allred had said, something to the effect that there was no reason why the woman who stood before him should not become a legal resident of the United States, pointing out the fact that she was hardworking, was raising three healthy, educated children and was a contributor to this society.

My mother, born as Rosa Lugo and later became Rosa Tate when she married, was sworn in as a citizen of the United States in 2004, after she studied and took the required citizenry test. She stood with others before the flag of the United States, and swore her allegiance to this country.

It’s a difficult issue, how to handle the large influx of illegal immigrants-and they don’t just come from Mexico, there are other people from poor or repressive countries who come here as well. Many leave their families behind, sending money back, hoping they can rejoin them soon. I certainly don’t have an answer on how to solve such a multifaceted problem, but I am sure our country can come up with something better than labeling someone whose only desire is to have a better life a “felon.”