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Interview

Better Life for Her and Her Children

The increasingly popular perception of Hispanic-Americans in the United States is wrong. I garnered evidence of this during my two field site observations, where I decided to take a close watch at Hispanic communities in action. At my first field site location, the 181st Street 1-Train Station, I specifically paid close attention to the working class of the majorly-Hispanic Washington Heights community. At my second field site, my barbershop on Mount Eden in The Bronx, I observed a more stationary set of Hispanic people with varying socioeconomic backgrounds. I chose these two sites because I wanted to focus on the reality of daily Hispanic-American life and see how they compare with the current President’s opinions on them. I consider myself to be a hardworking Hispanic-American, so this is a topic I am passionate about.

However, in both field sites, I merely observed. In order to make more concrete comparisons, I need to have a direct conversation with someone who is of both the working class and Hispanic. This is why I decided to interview my mother. She is a Dominican woman currently residing in The Bronx, who immigrated to the United States in the late 1980s, and who worked as hard as she possibly could to ensure a better life for her and the next generation of children she had already begun to raise. I know most of her story already, but I took this opportunity to dive deeper and find more evidence that contradicts the false lazy, government-assistance-dependent narrative that individuals like President Trump have attempted to legitimize.

A couple of days prior to the interview, I had told my mother I would ask her questions for a school assignment. I told her the questions would relate to her life and the struggles she encountered after immigrating to the United States. On the day of the interview, which took place at home after many long hours of work (for her) and many long hours of class (for me), I sat my mother down on the living room couch at around 6:00 PM. She’d set the typical Dominican meal of arroz, habichuela, y platano maduro – rice, meat, and sweet plantains – on the stove about an hour before. As it finished cooking, its aroma filled the apartment. I took out my phone to begin the audio recording of our conversation, which we had in Spanish.

Mom: One second, mijo. Let me put the flames on LOW. We wouldn’t want our dinner to burn in the middle of our conversation!

Me: Yes, very true. Take however long you need, ma.

Mom: [Sits down on the sofa with me.] So, you had some questions you wanted to ask me?

Me: Yes. For my school assignment, I wanted to compare the perception of Hispanics in the   United States with how they really are. As you know, President Donald Trump spoke negatively of Mexicans, saying they’re primarily rapists and drug dealers. He then extended these sentiments towards all Spanish-speaking nationalities and ethnicities. With these words coming out of the President, the false narrative becomes widely believed. I wanted to share and ask questions about your story because it contrasts the increasingly popular perception of Spanish-speaking immigrants. First, I’d like to ask why you came to the United States.

Mom: I came to the United States to be start a new life with your father and raise a family. Not long after giving birth to your oldest sister, Elayne, your father was able to travel here because of family connections. Then, I was able to travel here because I was married to him.

Me: When you came here, did you have any goals set, and did not knowing the language make it more difficult for you to attain those goals?

Mom: I knew I had to find a job if your father and I were to support each other and Elayne. So that was my goal. I hadn’t brought her with me; she stayed at your grandparents’ for some years. For a long while, I was too scared to do much. By the time I arrived, your father had been able to find a job as a cab driver. You’re right in that I didn’t know the language. It made me shy out on applying for jobs, which I needed to do.

Me: I know now you reached that goal, as Elayne is healthy and happily married now. But how did you do it?

Mom: One of your uncles told me about an employee vacancy in a bra factory. It was just across the bridge from where we stayed in the Heights. Your uncle was able to set up an interview between a manager and I. Luckily, he spoke Spanish. He spoke a gringo Spanish, but Spanish nonetheless. I got the job, and your father and I were now a dual-income couple.

Me: When did Elayne come?

Mom: She came after I acquired my residency.

Me: Makes sense. Was the work at the factory hard? And, how long did you last doing it?

Mom: My task wasn’t difficult; it was just tedious. When the brassiere came down on the assembly line, all I had to do was attach a hook to the back. I did it for ten years until your older brother was just a couple of years old.

Me: Did you ever grow frustrated with it?

Mom: I grew frustrated many times. Your father had already left to drive the cab by the time I  woke up at 6:30 AM. I had to make sure your sisters got on the school bus on time. I’d prepare their lunches every morning, have breakfast laid out for them, shower them, clothe them. I’d do the same for your brother, and then I’d walk him to his babysitter.                     I’d do all that and be at work by 8:30 AM and work ‘til 5PM.

Me: What did you do after you left the factory?

Mom: After I left the factory, I decided to obtain a degree.

Me: You wanted to follow your dreams, huh?

Mom: Definitely. I wanted to be an accountant. But I had difficulties.

Me: Such as?

Mom: The language barrier was the biggest problem for me. By the time I went to Bronx  Community College, I had learned a good deal of English, but I was nowhere near proficient. It honestly scared me, but to this day I regret not going through with process of becoming an accountant. When I entered, I had a fourth child on the way, too. That child was you. Then, your father and I went through a divorce… It wasn’t an easy time. But, I had my children and our futures to think about, so I continued to perservere and work hard. After attaining my associates degree, I was fortunate enough to find a job as a para-professional at a special needs public school. Thankfully, I still have this job.

Me: It’s still impressive that you were able to complete two years of education while having four kids, barely knowing the language, and going through a divorce.

Mom: Thank you, Argenis.

Me: So, after having worked so hard for so long, what do you think about Donald Trump’s  comments towards Hispanic. What are your thought on his claim that they’re lazy and criminals?

Mom: I think he’s wrong. I think he’s wrong to group an entire demographic and claim that they all – each and every one of them – behave the same way. I find it shocking he says these things about Mexicans, because from what I’ve seen, they’re extremely hardworking and willing to perform jobs that white Americans do not want to do. Immigrants are some of the hardest working people in America, especially because of the pressure to succeed and provide in a land that isn’t yours. I definitely know this struggle. I personally would like to think that he only says those things to relate to his core following, which is made up of die-hard Americans who believe their culture is the only one synonymous with America. Those die-hards of Irish and Greek descent, for example, forget that their  ancestors were once marginalized immigrants too that beat the odds and tried to make a better life for themselves and their children… like me.

Me: I agree with you. Thanks for sitting with me, ma. Let’s go eat now, I’m dying for some platano maduro!

Mom: Yes, let’s eat!

I often think of my mother’s story, especially amid the current sociopolitical climate. It’s one I look up to and keeps me going whenever I feel like giving up. I’m happy that she took the time to sit down with me and tell me her story, as it must’ve been hard to tap into and relive not-so-sweet memories. However, it goes to show my mother is living proof that the President is wrong in what he says about the Hispanic community. It’s almost a defiance of authority, which I find inspiring. My mother strived and worked as hard as her situation allowed, and I’m happy to be able to share her story.