by Deirel Márquez Perez, September, 2014
Immigrants who migrate to the United States are often influenced to do so by different external factors. Many may hope to flee poverty, to migrate for political freedom, or to obtain a good education that may not be offered to them in their home countries. For many immigrants, their choices are motivated by their search for stability in some arena of their lives. In Eloisa’s case, migrating to the United States never seemed to be her ideal goal in life, until a certain event changed her perspective drastically. Eloisa was born in Oaxaca, Mexico. Growing up, she was a child in a family of three children, which included her younger sister and older brother. Although her parents split up when she was six years old, and struggled financially for most of her life, she remembers having a happy childhood due to her grandmother. Since her mother was out working all of the time, Eloisa said, “We were all raised basically by my grandmother.” In her teen years, Eloisa loved school; she was a dedicated student. She told me, “I was a straight A student. I always loved my classes.” She was very active in school, participating in a variety of sports such as soccer and volleyball; she was also the president of different clubs on campus. Her goal was to major in business administration and when she graduated from high school with honors. She received a scholarship to attend a four-year university. Many classmates and even teachers felt that she had a very promising future.
However, when she was seventeen years old, her life took a drastic turn. Towards the end of her high school career, Eloisa had been dating a young boy named Felipe, whom she was madly in love with. She later discovered that she had become pregnant by him. Shortly after this news, Eloisa began experiencing many economic and emotional hardships related to her family’s reaction of her pregnancy; they would treat her horribly because she was a young woman who had a promising future but had ruined that when she became pregnant and refused to marry Fidel. This motivated her to leave her family behind and begin a new life free from the gender-based restraints her family was imposing on her.
Consequently, her boyfriend, Felipe, suggested that they move to the United States. He would travel there first, and then bring her over illegally when he had enough money to do so. However, shortly after she migrated to the United States, she found that, whereas her patriarchal culture was the main source of her hardships in Mexico, because she was pressured to inherit specific gender roles, such as the pressure to get married and subjugation by her family, her legal status had become an additional source of hardship in the U.S. resulting in experiences of prejudice and exploitation in the work place, shaping Eloisa’s life as an immigrant woman from Mexico. When Eloisa explained why she decided to migrate to the US, she said, “Well, it was for personal reasons more than anything else. I got pregnant when I was seventeen years old and I was my family’s hope when it came to school because I was the smartest and brightest kid in the family.” Before she became pregnant, her family had high hopes reserved for her. She explained, “So my grandma had all hopes in me. You know, I was so excited with school and when I graduated from high school, I graduated with a scholarship to go to a four-year college in another state. But my mom and my family didn’t want me to go somewhere else.” Coming from a very traditional background, she was expected to marry before she left her home and when she became pregnant, they definitely could not accept her wished to leave home. She goes on to say, “When I told my family, they were like, oh my God! I was the oldest woman so it was like hard for them finding out that me Eloisa was pregnant.” Eloisa decided that she wanted to live with Felipe and her family did not take this news well. She explains: “So I told my family, and they were so mad at me not only because I was pregnant but because I told them that I wanted to go live with the father of my kid and they were like, no! When you leave this house you need to get married, and I told them, no I don’t want to get married I just want to be with him because I love him.” She began feeling immense neglect from her family when she expressed that she did not want to get married. At this point, she had become a victim of patriarchal gender relations in her family. To further understand how patriarchal culture affected her life, the book Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration, written by Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo, a professor in the department of Sociology in the University of Southern California, defines patriarchy as “a fluid and shifting set of social relations where men oppress women, in which different men exercise varying degrees of power and control, and in which women collaborate and resist in diverse ways.” In Eloisa’s life, not only men but also women were upholding patriarchal attitudes and reinforcing traditional cultural frameworks. For instance, after becoming pregnant her family lost all hope in her, as if becoming pregnant at her age meant that she could no longer achieve success. She didn’t quite expect the reaction she received, she explains “I knew they weren’t going to understand, but at least I was hoping that they would say, ok you made a mistake, how can we help you? But that never came from them, especially my mother, and all I remember her saying is, your screwed, that’s it, you’re not going to be able to do anything with your life.” She wanted to flea the patriarchal gender relations that she was experiencing in her life.
Unfortunately, Eloisa wasn’t satisfied staying in Mexico. After Felipe left the country with the promise to send money so she could later migrate over herself, at the age of eighteen, she gave birth to her daughter. Shortly after, she began facing many problems with her boyfriend’s mother. For Eloisa, it was very common to see newly wedded couples live with the husband’s parents in Mexico until they become economically independent. In her case, although she was not married, when she did live with her boyfriend’s family for some time in Mexico she experienced subordination by her boyfriend’s mother. She said, “His family even accused me of getting pregnant intentionally so I could live with him, so I never had a good relationship with his family. I never felt accepted by his family.” After moving back in with her mother, Felipe’s mom wanted to see her newly born granddaughter but Eloisa wouldn’t go visit them because she always felt very unwelcomed when she would stay there. She said, “his mom never had any respect for me as her sons partner, I would hear her say to him, well she’s your wife she needs to cook for you and she needs to clean the house and if she’s going out then you need to ask her where she is going.” Her connections to family-based patriarchal relations offer a dynamic view of her own subordination and strive for resistance. To elaborate on traditional gender relations among Mexican immigrants, Sotelo explains, “Gender ideals prescribe behavior for masculine and feminine behavior in traditional Mexican society.” Machismo, according to Sotelo, “calls for men to be sexually assertive, independent, and emotionally restrained, to wield absolute authority over their wives and children, and to serve as family breadwinners.” Eloisa’s experiences were clear proof of this, as she told me, “His mother use to put a lot of things in his head. He would do it to me! He would come home and say, you need to do this! And when I come home you need to have this house spotless! I remember how many times he would say that to me, spotless.” She, however, still didn’t feel comfortable at home. Tensions between her and her family became so bad that her health became affected. She said, “I was so skinny! So skinny because I was dealing with all this stress I was like 93 pounds!” So when she finally reached the opportunity to leave Mexico and come to the United States she was very excited. Patriarchy existed in her Mexican family and endured in varying degrees that led her to her migration to the US.
When Eloisa arrived, she had been carrying cultural and ideological baggage she had been trying to escape in her home country, she hoped to discard these elements and adopt new ones. When arriving to the US with her one-year old daughter Eloisa admits she indeed felt very nervous, “I was nervous, you know like I was afraid, heck yea! Because you don’t know what’s going to happen because this is the first time you’re leaving your country, you’re coming to something new.” When she first arrived she was filled with many preconceived almost mythical notions of the US. She had heard that no one really suffers here, that people have enough food to eat, and a car, etc. She was shocked when Felipe picked her up from the airport in a car he had just bought. Overwhelmed with emotions, she was mostly excited to begin a new life in the states away from the stress and hardships she suffered in Mexico. Unfortunately Eloisa now faced a new dilemma that was a result of illegal migration. When she arrived, she got her first job working at a hotel as a maid. At this job she began facing discrimination and experienced prejudice by her boss’s son. In an article written by a clinical psychologist Jean Lau Chin, called “The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination,” prejudice is defined as “an opinion about an individual, group, or phenomenon that is developed without proof or systematic evidence. The prejudgment is more often unfavorable and may become institutionalized in the form of a country’s laws or customs” (Lau Chin 3). She explained, “he made really discriminatory remarks to us about our culture and I just hated it. I hated it and so one day I couldn’t take it anymore so I came to her office to complain about it.” When she asked him to fix a vacuum that wasn’t working, he asked, “Why? Have one of the brownies fix it. Aren’t you all good for that?” Eloisa’s boss told her that if she didn’t like it, she could leave. At that moment, that’s exactly what Eloisa decided to do. She said: “She started yelling at me and said, you will never ever find another job like this, she also said to me that I was going to come back and beg for my job because I have no future and I have no where else to go and she was going to see me cleaning rooms because that was all I was good for.” Eloisa felt angry. She told her boss, “I’m going to prove to you that that’s not the only thing that I am good for.” When she quit her job, she was crying and felt humiliated because of the remarks her boss made. She fled her home country to only find herself experiencing discrimination and oppression in this society. She felt bad because she was beginning to accept these negative messages from her boss that suggested her intrinsic worth. This experience served as a mechanism for motivation and the next day, Eloisa enrolled in an English as a Second Language class to prove to herself that she was capable of achieving much more than what her boss said she would. As she began learning English she got another job working at a restaurant bussing tables, at that moment she fell in love with the restaurant business. She had a very strong work ethic; she would be the first to open the restaurant in the morning and assisted her boss with other important tasks that didn’t fall under her title as a busser. She was really motivated to become a server and continuously tried proving to her boss that she was ready to be promoted. When Eloisa felt that that she was not going to become a server anytime soon, she told her boss that she was going to begin searching for another job.
Out of fear of losing her, he said he would give her the opportunity to become a server. But on her first week of training, her boss approached her to talk. She explained, “I never told anyone this… I was so ashamed, but we got there we sit down and he gives me this speech and say he was going to give me the opportunity but I wasn’t going to get paid for it, so I was just going to get tips because this was a business.” Eloisa sat there almost in shock. “I didn’t say anything. I just looked at him and I knew he got me. And he got me in the worst way I knew he could because I had turned the other jobs away.” What was so unfortunate about her situation was that Eloisa had mentioned that she had a daughter she needed to support and being clearly aware of her undocumented status he still chose to exploit her. She remembered what happened to her in that hotel and thought: “Okay. I’m going to play by your game.” This experience shows the way her lack of legal status affected and interacted with her work life along with the subordination and domination she herself was subjected to as an undocumented immigrant woman. To gain a greater understanding of the way economic institutions and practices structure our lives, economist Teresa Amott, and her colleague Julie Mathaei, professor of Marxist feminist economics at Wellesly College, wrote a book titled Race, Gender, and Work: A Multicultural Economic History of Women in the United States, in which they state, “A fledging economic system of profit-motivated production for the market, based on wage labor, grew into the dominant economic and social force determining women’s work lives, not only in the United States, but in the world.” Eloisa’s boss was abusing his power to achieve economic affluence for himself and she felt like there was nothing she could do about it because she understood her economic position. Because of her lack of legal status, she lacked protection on the job, had to endure economic injustice, and live in a state of constant insecurity, especially fear of deportation. Together with her socioeconomic class and culture, she experienced pressures that would determine her opportunities and therefore lead to migration. After becoming a mother at the age of eighteen, Eloisa’s choices to immigrate to the US and resettle were driven by her hopes to escape cultural patriarchy that she was subjugating her in Mexico. She was seeking liberation from the limitations that others placed on her. Gender is truly relevant to understanding Eloisa’s migration. Her story reveals a mix of social, cultural, and legal forces that dictate her moves; the wish to flee cultural pressure to get married, to avoid other family members, to find better job opportunities. She of course does not lie among the most disadvantaged women immigrants. Yet she nonetheless has faced numerous economic constraints due to her lack of legal status, cultural dissonance, language problems, social barriers, prejudice, and discrimination, which shaped her opportunities in life.
Amott, Teresa L., and Julie A. Matthaei. Race, Gender, and Work: A Multicultural Economic History of Women in the United States. Boston, MA: South End, 1991. Print. Chin, Jean Lau. The Psychology of Prejudice and Discrimination. Westport, Conn: Praeger Publishers, 2004. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 July 2014 Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Imigration. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1994. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 23 July 2014.
Afterward by Eloisa
What were your thoughts? Y cada dia intento despertar y pensar en una oportunidad para enpezar de Nuevo. Y mi unica esperanza es creer en esto porque aun creo firmemente que Dios es bueno. Que Dios perdona los sacrilegios. Quiero pensar que no soy mala, que sentir el amor en la forma como lo he sentido no me hace una mala persona, una egoista y una sinverguenza. Y qusar que si todo esto es cierto, entonces en el fondo no he cambiado. Mi escencia es la misma… es solo mi forma de pensar la que se ha modificado, la que ha sufrido una transformacion. Quiero pensar que este cambio me ha llevado a ser y a convertirme en mas humana que perfecta; en mas mujer que madre; en alguien mas simple que compleja… pero que nunca, nunca me ha transformado en un ser humano abobinable. Y si hoy en dia tu memoria, tu Corazon, tus sentimientos estan cargados de rencor hacia miiero pen … PERDONAME Perdoname por mis acciones, perdoname por mis palabras que te insultaron y que no olvidas. Perdona mis reacciones buenas o malas que llevas grabadas y te laceran indudablemente Perdona que no he sabido como conducirme y como consecuencia, perdi la forma de conducirte. Perdona mis gritos y mis aceleramientos. Pero sobre todo, perdona mis silencios llenos de culpabilidad. Perdona el sufrinmiento dirigido hacia ti, mi bebe, mi motor de vida. Perdoname porque no puedo volver el tiempo atras y borrar todos los malos dias y las malas imagines, las impresiones negativas y los malos sucesos que hoy nos apartan. Ruego y pido a Dios que cada dia de mivida, me de una nueva oportunidad para compersarte. Pido que mi Corazon no se detenga por la fuerza y la inspiracion que habia buscado, esta aqui, en tu lindo Corazon. En la sonrisa que apenas y muestras durante un sparkle de felicidad. Mi motivacion esta en tu motivacion y en tus suenos, Mi fuerza esta en tu fuerza y en tu entusiasmo para vivir cada dia. Mi inpiracion esta en ti, en tu alma, en tu bienestar, en tu cara, en tu sonrisa, en tu persona, en tu character, en tu personalidad, en tus historias, en tus mal genios, en tus decisions, en tu persona, en mi motor de vida llamado What are some of your thoughts now that you are living in the United States with this new life? And every day I wake up and try to think of an opportunity for new empezar. And my only hope is to believe in this because even I firmly believe that God is good. May God forgive the sacrilege? I think I’m not bad, you feel the love in the way I felt it does not make me a bad person, selfish, and a scoundrel. Quisaz and if all this is true, then on the bottom I have not changed. My essence is the same … it’s just my way of thinking that has changed, which has undergone a transformation. I like to think that this change has led me to be and to become more human than perfect; more woman in mother; someone simpler than complex … but never, I’ve never become an abominable human being. When you reunited with your mother what did she say to you? She sent me a letter, which said the following: Forgive me for my actions, forgive me for my words that insulted you and you do not forget. Forgive my good or bad reactions you’ve been recorded and you certainly lacerate Sorry I have not known how to conduct myself and as a result, lost the way to behave. Forgive my screaming and my accelerations. But most of all, forgive my silence full of guilt. Forgive the sufrinmiento directed towards you, my baby, my engine life. Forgive me because I can not turn the clock back and erase all the bad days and bad pics, the negative impressions and bad events before us away.