Opinion: A Taste of Growing Up Latino in the US

A collection of cards that family members have gifted over the years rest on top of a sarape-pattern blanket. The letters serve as a reminder of family back home (Photo illustration by Juan Rodriguez)

Growing up, I didn’t give much thought to what it meant for me to be the son of Mexican immigrants. I was raised in a typical Mexican household within a predominantly Latino community. I probably spoke as much Spanish as English for the first ten years of my life, and I was comfortable keeping things that way. It was an insular childhood and I didn’t have any other reference point to which I could compare it. 

Growing up and coming of age in the urban environment of Dallas was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. As I grew older, I found myself going out and venturing into the city in search of something distinct. As much as I loved my home and my neighborhood, I simply couldn’t remain oblivious to the world around me. 

When Barack Obama was running for re-election in 2012, I remember the TV in the living room showing coverage of a recent presidential debate. The topic of immigration came up, and to my ten-year-old mind, I found myself agreeing more with Obama than Mitt Romney. How could I agree with someone who I understood as being anti-immigrant, and thus against my family and my way of life? 

As of 2020 though, I’ve turned a critical gaze to the Obama administration. As much as a younger me would have hoped that Obama was the advocate that immigrants needed, he and the rest of the modern Democratic party have beaten that notion out of me. Despite their espousement of pro-immigrant talking points, Democrats have done nothing to aid immigrant communities, have frustrated efforts to do so or blatantly participated in the targeting of immigrants.  

As the child of immigrants, there’s a burden that digs into my shoulders. I can’t turn away from the world and retreat to the comfort that my family provides. I can try my best to ignore it, but the decisions politicians make are always going to have tangible effects on the lives of people. For me and many others in similar positions, being politically active isn’t an option; it’s a mandate that demands what attention I can muster. I’ve had to be conscious of my family’s immigrant status since I was ten years old. I wouldn’t be surprised if others were more conscious than me at a younger age. 

As I’ve experienced things, being Latino means being the child of immigrants. I grew up in fear that the government would come and tear my family further apart. It almost took my dad away from me back in 2017, and I’ve held onto the anxiety since then. As far as I’m concerned, I can’t trust politicians to do right by immigrant communities. To them, we’re just pawns to wheel out come election season. Politicians like Biden and Obama and Clinton will talk a big game of supporting Latin American immigrants and then proceed to return them to countries that the United States helped to destabilize in the first place. 

My family came to this country in search of something better. Mexico hasn’t been the best place to live in as of late, according to them. My granddad was the first to come north, working on ranches during the 70s and 80s and sending money back home. My mother would eventually make her way here in 2000, and two years later I came around. I’ve seen her work her absolute hardest to make sure my sibling and I were always cared for.

The entire time, I’ve seen her health slowly get worse.

She eventually made time to go to the doctor over the summer. To be able to go though, she had to go to Mexico. It was mainly a financial decision, but it helped that most doctors that would attend her over there would most likely speak Spanish, the language she knows best. To do so though she had to leave her most recent job. 

My mom had talked to me about her plans to leave her job before. The drive was too long, gas prices were rising, the night shift was taking its toll on her, and she wanted to be more present for my younger sibling. It took some time, but she eventually found her chance to go ahead with her plans. 

She left for Mexico in early June. The first few appointments were mainly to get some smaller things out of the way. Of particular note to her was a lump that had been forming in her left leg for some time. She underwent surgery to have it removed, only to have the doctor tell her that she couldn’t leave just yet. They needed to run tests on it, to make sure that there wasn’t anything grave about it.

When the results came in, the doctor told her that the lump was a malignant tumor. She would have to undergo treatment to ensure that the cancer didn’t spread further throughout her body. Details were scarce for a while, but all I heard was that she wouldn’t be able to return home until her treatments ended. That was back in July. They just recently ended in late Sept.

Even then, she won’t be able to return to work until late December. Between recovery and another trip to the doctor in Mexico, she’s been unable to do much as of late. At the time of writing, she’s currently preparing for her trip back. She’s not supposed to do heavy work in general, whether that be mowing the lawn or actively working an 8-hour shift. Until she’s able to get back on her feet, we’ll be having to cut back on expenses. 

The entire time she was gone, I was nervous that the cancer had spread. I was nervous that the expenses would chew through what little savings we had. As cheap as medical care in Mexico may be in comparison to care here in the US, it still costs a significant amount. Between that and the basic costs of living, I know we have an uphill climb ahead of us.

My family came to this country seeking something better. They got better, but I feel confident in saying that they didn’t get what they deserved. My family and the many other families who work day after day in the hopes of sending their kids off to college deserve so much better than the lousy treatment this country affords its working people. 

In that sense, being Latino in the US means getting the smallest piece of the pie that we helped make. Even then though, we’re forced to compete with other people who are just as starved and contributed just as much as us. Meanwhile, those at the top get to stuff themselves full with the rest of the pie that they didn’t even help to make in the first place. 

My family is one of many that deserves so much better. Don’t let my latinidad obstruct your sight. I take great pride in where my family comes from, and I know others share similar sentiments. Few people have been willing to recognize the efforts of people like my family. I feel blessed to take this opportunity at the close of Hispanic Heritage Month to do so. I can only hope that I’m not the only one to do so.

About Juan G. Rodriguez 42 Articles
Juan G. Rodriguez is a senior sharing his time between Dallas and East Texas. He is majoring in English and minoring in Political Science. As an individual with two pencil leads in his left knee, writing seems to be the only career that Juan is capable of. Contact Juan via jgr13@albion.edu.

1 Comment

  1. Most interesting, brief thumbnail sketch of the challenges facing the growing up of a person holding not much in the way of pre-written scripts for guidance and success.

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