By: Rebecca Rathjen
St. Olaf College
|Students preparing to listen to the stories of migrants|
*Please note: names have been changed to protect the privacy of those described
This week all the students of CGE had the opportunity to live in a rural indigenous town for four days. Divided into pairs of students we lived with generous host families who provided us with a home, food, and great conversation.
For me, the most impacting experience was listening to the stories of two men, Pedro and Victor* of the town who had migrated illegally to the United States to pursue work. Although we had read books about the lives of migrant workers, hearing the stories first hand was much more impacting. Further, I was living with Victor’s family and had met his wife, twin sons, parents, aunts, uncles, and brothers- the people for whom Victor was working to provide.
Victor described his experience of migration as good and bad, but mostly bad. Motivated by the prospect of work in the United States and the lack of opportunities in Mexico, Victor first migrated to California in 1996, he worked for 2.5 years.
Victor then returned to Mexico, got married, and a year and a half later his wife became pregnant. Victor, always determined to provide the best for his family, decided with his wife that he would return to the US to find work despite knowing that he would miss the birth of his first children-twins. Unfortunately, in the US Victor was approached and humiliated by immigration officials and then deported. He returned home to his wife, defeated and depressed.
Despite this road block, months later Victor again made his way to the United States crossing the Altar desert in May facing dangerously hot temperatures and dehydration. In Colorado Victor worked for a chain café he had previously worked for and moved his way up in the kitchen to head chef. He worked for three years.
Victor, now living in back in his town with his wife and nine-year old twins, expressed to us the simple desire of migrant workers to work and earn money for their families. It was clear to me that he strives to provide stability and security for his family, the same dreams of families across the world. Victor hopes that his sons can attend university and increase their opportunities.
Most importantly migrant workers are human beings, with families, friends, and communities who put themselves in very vulnerable positions during migration, as workers, as illegal citizens living in crowded conditions in unsafe neighborhoods. Meeting Victor and hearing his story first hand has changed my opinion about migrant workers and has helped me to see the human aspect of migration, that all people are doing their best to provide for their families, even if that means breaking the law.
What stereotypes do US citizens hold about Mexican migrant workers? What would it take to change these stereotypes?
Colorful streets of the town