Andrea Rivera’s Story
As retold by Jillian Lueker
I’ve never really seen myself as a foreigner. I was born in Mexico, but my life there was very short. I lived in a big industrial city called Mexicali, in Baja California which is right on the edge of the American border. From what I remember, it was a very polluted city. There were many manufacturing facilities that had very lenient, flexible, or even unenforced laws when it came to emissions and environmental standards. The air pollution was very noticeable, and because of this, even the most active person would find their chest tightening and undergo labored breathing. Not to mention, that everyone’s faces always looked dirty because they
were stained from the pollutants in the air.
When I was nine, my family and I moved to Los Angeles, California. I knew very little English, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t really need to learn it. Most everyone around me spoke Spanish and if we needed to speak English, my parents could just do the talking. It wasn’t until fifth grade when my family moved from L.A., California to Fenton, Michigan, that I realized I was going to have to learn English.
Moving to Fenton brought new opportunities and new challenges. At first, I had a little bit of a tough time. I couldn’t speak English, and everyone around me was so different that I felt like a fish out of water. Thankfully, I had a few tutors and friends who worked with me and helped me to feel more comfortable. It was in this same year, I was given the opportunity to
learn how to play the saxophone. To be honest, when my parents first told me, I wasn’t sure if they had actually meant to say, saxophone. I thought that maybe they had misspoken because in Mexico learning to play an instrument was seen as a privilege, reserved for the elite with connections and money, a class that I didn’t consider us to be part of. Yet, it turned out they were telling the truth, so I learned to play the saxophone. Having that opportunity accessible to me, made me appreciate just how lucky I was. I was living in a country where learning an instrument was included in the educational system and not an unattainable privilege reserved for the extremely rich. I found that learning an instrument was an extremely valuable part of my life and should be accessible for everyone in every country, regardless of their social class.
As I’ve grown up here, I’ve had other experiences that I would never have believed were real. The standard of living here is very high and the environmental standards are very well regulated. I know that I am breathing clean air and drinking clean water (at least in most of the
cities I’ve lived in.) In Mexicali, that wasn’t possible. It’s been unbelievable to know, and I am so thankful that I have such amenities at my fingertips especially, when I know that so many people don’t.
Also, the educational system between Mexico and the U.S. is much different. For example, when I graduated high school, I wasn’t quite sure what career I wanted to do, so I decided to go to a college in Mexico. While I was there I pursued a degree in International business, I discovered that the university was more like an upper high school. It was hardly challenging and there was no such thing as honors or accelerated classes. The school was
separated by faculties, which meant that although I was a business student, I would never or hardly ever cross paths with a person advancing in other fields that may not have been directly related to my own. To me, this was a bit of a disadvantage because it didn’t allow for other students to be able to meet one another and maybe explore each other’s fields and interests.
Of course, I had the option of going to a private university where the circumstances may have been a little more formal, but most of those universities are seen as “diploma factories.” This means that, as long as you keep paying, you’ll get your diploma even if you didn’t learn anything or aren’t apt to hold a degree.
After my schooling in Mexico, I moved back to the states once again to gain my degree in International Business. The reason why I did this is because a degree in anything from an American school has a certain prestige and higher social standing in other countries, especially Mexico. Although I am not doing anything for social status, it’s a fact that if decided to get a job
in Mexico based off of my degree, I would almost be guaranteed to receive it because my degree is American. Don’t get me wrong, a degree from a Mexican school has value, but most companies here in the States would most likely dismiss it or be reluctant to accept it as valuable especially with our current political landscape.
Another reason I came back to America was because of the endless opportunity for personal growth and learning. If I had decided not to go to college, I knew the military would be another option for me. Even without a degree, the military is something that is always available as a career opportunity for me. However, in Mexico, that is only seen as the last option aside from being homeless. The possibility of having a degree from an American university, truly, is the root of why my family came to this country. I wasn’t born into money or opportunities or really any future, and the fact that I will soon have a bachelor’s in International Business from
the University of Michigan is unbelievable.
I know that more than half of the people in the world would give anything to have what I have. Knowing this, I finally received my U.S. citizenship at age twenty-two. Something I felt very proud of, mainly because I know that for me, to be in the U.S. and to be a citizen—to even be able breath clean air is a miracle in itself. I continually think of how truly unbelievably lucky I am to be here and to have been given the opportunities that I have.
This story originally appeared in Facing College: Immigrant & International Students’ Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.