Arrival in the Bay Area
January 19, 2021
Upon his arrival to the Bay Area from Florida, José did everything he could to calm his nerves. He was finally going to be able to reunite with his father.
Pushing the notion of ICE pursuing him to the back of his mind, José was overwhelmed with emotion. Upon landing, José disembarked and was greeted by his father with a loving embrace.
José spent the next few days catching up with siblings, reminiscing about the journey and learning all he could about their new life in the Bay Area. He established himself as a humorous young man that fit right in with the local immigrant community. Shared experiences and hardships served as bonds between these immigrants, and José created newfound friendships with the kids in his neighborhood. Soon after, José enrolled at a local high school, which he began attending at the beginning of the fall semester of the 2019-2020 school year.
Having recently immigrated to the U.S. and speaking Spanish his entire life, José’s verbal English skills were undeveloped, and his writing skills were almost non-existent. On the first day of school, his feeling of uncertainty about the new environment was exacerbated by the language barrier.
José said, “I didn’t know English. I didn’t know what anyone was saying. I wasn’t able to understand anything.”
Despite his lack of English proficiency, José was grateful for the opportunities the school offered. In comparison to Guatemala, José had access to more resources and better education in the U.S.
“If you wanted a book [in Guatemala], you had to buy it with your own money. Here, it’s different, and I have access to computers for free,” José said.
José, a student who participates in an English Language Learner program at his school, struggled in this new environment before being thrust into a new predicament as the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the closure of schools nationwide. The change has been difficult for him, and working from home presented new obstacles.
José said, “The pandemic has been challenging [in terms of my academics]. Online learning has changed the way I approach my schooling, and I’ve had difficulties with the internet and my computer a lot.”
In spite of these difficulties, José feels that he has a stronger understanding of the English language, mainly because he receives support from teachers and staff. Staff members that interact with José on a daily basis have noted his work ethic and resilient nature.
“He’s a go-getter; he doesn’t just sit back and wait. He goes out and makes things happen. He’s not a quitter; he does not give up,” said Jane Doe*, José’s teacher.
Doe pointed out that the obstacles inherent to distance learning impact those who are not native English speakers even more.
Doe said, “It’s really unfortunate for English learners to not have the full on-campus experience. It just makes everything a little more difficult.”
Notwithstanding these obstacles, Doe was confident that José would overcome them.
“He’s determined, patient, and he is able to adapt. He’s an excellent student, one who is fearless and not afraid to speak up,” Doe said.
That same support system and resilience are what pushed him to branch out and make new friends. José thought that the language barrier was too great to overcome initially, but now, he feels accepted within his school community due to the bonds he has created with students both within and outside of the English Language Learner program.
Despite his immersion in U.S. society, José tries to remain connected to his family members in Guatemala. His father still sends money to José’s siblings and mother every month, and they maintain sporadic and limited communication.
Other effects, such as the separation from his mother, have taken an enormous toll on José. Even though he expresses gratitude towards his father for his role in supporting the family during José’s childhood, José still misses his mother. The significant role she played in his childhood makes the separation all the more difficult to cope with.
“It was hard to leave [my family], especially my mom, because I spent the first 14 years of my life with her [in Guatemala]. She acted as my mother and my father because I didn’t know my father, so leaving her was extremely difficult,” José said.
Overall, José stressed that a set of compassionate and humanizing policies needed to be introduced. José highlighted the predicament that the U.S. immigration system puts immigrants in, one of choosing between a livelihood and their family.
“[One thing I would change about the U.S. immigration system] would be to allow my entire family to enter the country and be reunited with us, without fear of deportation,” José said.
In spite of his misgivings with the U.S. immigration system, José’s perception of the U.S. reflects the mindset of many Central American immigrants who choose to make the peregrination to the U.S.
José said, “The United States is a country of freedom and opportunity; it truly is a great country.”
*In accordance with Carlmont’s Anonymous Sourcing Policy, the names of the subject and his teacher have been changed to preserve the subject’s identity.
**The original interview with the anonymous source was conducted in Spanish. The author of this article translated the interview and had multiple outside sources verify the legitimacy and accuracy of the translation.
“The changing dynamic of Central American migration to the U.S.” is the continuation of this article. To read the second part of this feature article, click here.