Family is Worth the SacrificeBy ELISA MAYO,
A quick Google search of Ixtapa Zihuatanejo Guerrero will describe the place in Mexico where Miguel Oregon was raised as a beach resort located along the Pacific Ocean. You may even read about the possibility of swimming with dolphins if you visited Miguel’s home, but Miguel describes his home in a different way, “I like to talk to the older generation of people in Quitman, because when they tell me about their childhood, it sounds like mine. We were poor, but as children, we did not know it. We did not wear shoes and lived with the 8 of us in a one-room home. We played in the streets and made our own toys.” With a fifteen- or twenty- minute walk from his home, Miguel could be on the beach with white sand and blue water, “The water is blue as blue can be there, not like the water on the coast here,” explains Miguel, “We would go to the beach and play soccer. We would travel hours to go to the river, running through the woods. I didn’t think it was bad then. I was always having fun. Everybody I knew was like me, so it didn’t seem like we were poor.”
In his country, April 30 was set aside as Children’s Day. He says, “All the parents sent a little bit of money for the school to make lunch for us on that day. But each child had to bring his own plate, own spoon, own chair. The school couldn’t buy it, so you had to bring it yourself. You had to take care of those things because they had to last you. You had to be sure you brought your things back home because that was the only plate, spoon, and chair you had.” Miguel’s school did not normally prepare lunch for the students. Instead the students would bring their lunch, “Sometimes there would be a vendor selling lunch and if you had money, you could buy lunch from them,” explains Miguel. For him, his mother prepared most of the lunches for her children, most often making them tacos with beans in them. She was tasked with keeping the house and feeding the family and at times she would do washing for others to make extra money for the family. Miguel says, “The daddy goes to work and bring the money and groceries. No one has much money, but my dad always told us to save money because he said you never knew when you would need some extra. The higher you go, the further down you have to fall. He would tell us if we made $7, save $3.”
For Miguel’s family, $1 in the United States of America has a value 18 times higher in their neighborhood. “It is very hot there. There is no air conditioning like there is here. The work is also very hard. You may work all day for $8 or $10,” relates Miguel.
The children in the family would get gifts only once per year on January 6. This day was set aside to celebrate the day the wise men visited Jesus, so in turn, each family would give gifts to their children, “We would get one toy. We had to share it. But it was so special we took care of it. It had to last a year,” laughs Miguel, “We would not be getting another toy. Here I give my children a toy and five minutes later, they have forgotten about it. When you have too much you don’t care about anything. When you don’t have anything and you get a little something, it means something to you.”
Miguel and his siblings often made their own toys. A can of sardines became a truck with holes punched in for a piece of string, so it could be pulled along in the sand. A smaller can of tuna became a car. “We would take a dry cob of corn and stick chicken feathers at the end of it. This became something we could throw like a dart. We would use paper from our old school books and make boats. In the short rainy season, our street would flood and we would sail our boats,” explains Miguel. They had machetes and slingshots which they used to kill Iguanas for food. They also had a smaller variety of deer that Miguel’s family would eat when they could get one. “For a snack, we didn’t go to the store, we went into the woods and pulled mangoes from the trees,” Miguel says.
Even today in the village, there are no sewage lines. They get water once a month and it only runs for an hour or two, “If you don’t have anything to put it in, you have to wait a month. Otherwise, you have to walk a long way to the hills to get water. There are no side-by-sides or 4-wheel drive vehicles to drive to get there. Your four-wheel drives are your shoes!” explains Miguel.
Miguel’s brother, Antonio, was the first to leave Mexico and travel to America. When Miguel turned 18, he followed Antonio to Alabama where they worked in a restaurant together. “We came here for our family. Somebody had to sacrifice for the family. It’s always about the family. When they need something, it is our duty to help them,” says Miguel. “I knew no English when I came here. It took me several months before I started to understand some of the English. It took me half a year before I started speaking it. Understanding a language is one thing, but being able to say the words correctly is another. It is much harder,” explains Miguel.
He started seeking his citizenship and found that a lawyer and money were required to finish the process, “There was lots of paperwork and every time a piece of paper had to be filed it cost hundreds of dollars,” says Miguel. The process to become a permanent resident took 3 ½ years which included a trip back to Mexico, “I had to cross the border and go to the American Consulate office in Mexico. They had to approve me crossing the border. It was a scary time because they could have denied my request and I would have left my family in America,” says Miguel.
His request was approved and he returned to America, waiting three more years before he could apply for citizenship. A background check and an interview were required of him. He had to read a book about the history of America, “The book had 100 questions and I had to know the answer to all of them. I read and re-read the book. I couldn’t fail the test. During the interview, I could be asked 10 questions, but I didn’t know which 10 and I had to get 6 correct,” Miguel says.
Miguel passed his test and became an American citizen this year. Today, he is the owner of Los Totopos Mexican Restaurant in Quitman. He and his wife, Amanda, have three girls and one child on the way. “I love Quitman. I don’t like big cities and this place is a good place to live,” says Miguel of his hometown, “The people are friendly and I would like to see the community do well.” In his restaurant, you will see murals painted along the walls, “The murals remind me of home. I miss my parents, but I would not want to go back,” Miguel laughs, “They don’t have air conditioning.” One mural shows two mountains and the Rio Grande River and it reminds Miguel of his determination to make America his home, “I look at it and see where I have come from. I am proud to be here and have a family here. I am also proud to help my family in Mexico. My parents will visit me, but they don’t want to leave the place they have known as home. When you are in Mexico, you here all the talk about how magical America is and that it is a place of opportunity. It’s hard work, but I’ve been blessed to end up here.”