Laura Ybarra’s Story
As retold by Arianna Pittenger
Looking back at my life now it isn’t what I pictured or dreamed my life would be after living in a foreign land that I have called home for the past seventeen years. I am proud of the place I now call home but there were struggles along the way that, as an immigrant, I had to face and that I wished I knew about before I came.
I was born and raised in León a city located in the Mexican state of Guanajuato. My childhood was filled with happiness and fond memories that I now cherish such as playing soccer in the streets with my friend, hanging out with friends on Friday and going to the mall on Saturday, always chatting with my family over tea and spending nights with my grandparents. Nothing could compare to when I could watch the sunrise from my house that sat at the top of a big hill. As great as this all was my life went on an unexpected new path when I fell in love and became engaged to an American man.
In search of a new life with my husband and I made my journey to America on March 30, 2000. My “American Dream” was different than many of the typical ones. My dream was to stay with my husband and build a family which would consist of seven or eight kids. Coming to America isn’t as easy as everyone thinks; it is truly a process. Before I could come to America I had to make sure I had all my paperwork and permission from both countries before I could cross the border. I had to stop in El Paso Texas to make sure the paperwork was all in order. From there I boarded my plane and made my way to Michigan. I knew that I was truly leaving home when the hills of my country disappeared and all I could see was flat land. I had a sense of panic and fear go through my body which left me wondering about my future.
America was so different than my home and it took me a while to adjust. Even little differences like the weather posed a major change of me. My husband took me to a local store to buy my winter clothes. The clothes that I packed to come to America consisted of the wardrobe which I wore in Mexico-shirts and skirts made from light cottons and sandals. Now I had to get jeans, boots, and even socks! I didn’t understand why I would need these things but my husband insisted. Transportation was also an adjustment for me; there isn’t as much mass transit in America as I had in Mexico. Pretty much anywhere I wanted to go in Leon, there was a bus and I could walk the rest of the way. In America I needed a license to drive and the one time I drove myself to my mother-in-law’s house without it, I didn’t understand why I was in trouble. Those were just some of the little obstacles that made moving to a new country a challenge.
The bigger challenge was the language. I didn’t speak English when I came to America. My husband and his family didn’t speak fluent Spanish; conversations were very broken and the only translating tool I had only did one word at a time. It is truly hard for me not to be able to express myself. I had health issues which now I know as Endometriosis and it made me very ill. After going to a doctor, I couldn’t understand or truly know what was going on other than my husband saying I needed surgery. Raising a child in America when I wasn’t fluent in English was hard as well. When I took my infant son to his appointments, I couldn’t understand the doctor, not only because of the language barrier, but his accent made it very hard for me to understand what he was saying. I knew I had to learn the language which brought me to my second major obstacle: Education.
Not knowing the language was hard enough but I learned that my education in Mexico didn’t correspond to the American education which meant I had to start all over again. But took the challenge and over time I went to school and eventually got my GED. I even tutored others that were learning English and from that I got the extra push I needed to college. My push toward my education helped me to find my way but the challenges were not over yet.
I did not think it would happen but in America I faced racism. One day when I went to the store with my husband, I listed the things we needed out loud in my native tongue (such as lechuga, tomate. queso, etc.) I could sense that people were staring at us. This negative attention accelerated when I was by myself or with my child. People would walk up to me and say in a rude tone “You are in America now; you need to speak English.” Apparently they did not understand I was teaching my son to be bilingual. It came to a point in which I was threatened by a white man spewing hateful words at me just because he heard me speaking Spanish on the phone. Even at home, my in-laws began not support my son and I, only my husband. It made me very wary because I know many other immigrants who faced these attitudes.
As I continued to pursue my education I began to have a support system. I started going to Mott Community College in 2010 as a business major, part-time. At first I took extra caution and kept to myself. That all changed as I joined the Mott Honors College where I made friends who have become family to me. My campus is a place where I feel accepted, and even brought my son to campus to meet the Mott Campus Clowns which he enjoyed.
I have had many obstacles reaching my American Dream. The endometriosis had progressed and with the scare of uterine cancer after I had my only son, I had my uterus removed. Yet, my son is my motivation and I want to make him proud. I have the goal of one day being in international business and to understand and learn about different cultures. I hope others will be able to learn from what I experience and be more open-minded. There is so much more to each immigrant story and each story should be understood and respected; others could easily learn so much about the world from a different cultures standpoint. My new dream now is to prove that I can reach my goals no matter what I experienced as an immigrant. I am proud of who I am and where I came from.
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.