Between The Sevens
May 25th 2007 seemed like just an ordinary day for me. Like most days, my schedule was jammed packed. I had a breakfast meeting at the Phoenix Country Club with Valley Partnership at 7:30 a.m., a client meeting at 10:00 a.m., a broker meeting at 1:00 p.m., another client meeting at 2:00 p.m. and finally I had to pick up my son from school at 3:00 p.m.
I could have done my monthly article on the Valley Partnership meeting, which was very powerful and informative, but there was an event that I did not program on my calendar that seemed like a much more relevant story. My wife called me around 9:30 a.m. to verify the address of our 11:30 a.m. meeting. I had forgotten we had an event to attend in Downtown; luckily I had some time to spare and made the effort to be there.
I arrived at the Sandra Day O’Connor United States Courthouse building around 11:20am. It was pretty amazing to see all the people once I entered the atrium of this architectural gem. As I approached the crowd I could see smiles on the faces of many in this diverse group. I saw people from all over the world: China, India, Africa, Europe, Brazil, Korea and Mexico. These people where at this event for a special reason: they and their families were about to witness approximately 125 people become United States citizens.
I was there to support a phenomenal woman by the name of Eugenia Barrera. She is a true inspiration to my family and me. Her life story is remarkable and is worth sharing. In 1974, Eugenia Barrera moved to the United States undocumented from Mexico. She immediately began her first job in Arizona as a nanny and housekeeper. She was employed by a young husband and wife who were both schoolteachers. She later moved to Yakima, Washington where she found her siblings and cousins who also now lived in the United States. Barrera stated, “My family was the key to my survival”. Working the hops fields, apple and cherry orchards, she found support with her tightly knit family and began working with them as an agricultural laborer.
After two years, she moved to Ontario, Oregon and continued working in agriculture. She worked in the onion fields first and then moved into working in multiple warehouses including Ore-Ida making tater tots and fries.
Barrera then gave birth to the first of three daughters in 1975. In that year the United States was granting documentation to those who had U.S. born children. Even then, public aid was only offered to the child and not the documented worker. In 1976, legal aid was given to help with the application process for legal residency. This was a major milestone in Eugenia’s life, as she was now one step closer to achieving her life goal of becoming a U.S. Citizen. In 1977 her residency was granted and all the documentation was finally completed in 1981.
Barrera moved to Arizona with her three children (all girls) in 1983. She went back to work in the fields: it was the easiest job to get at the time considering her limited but ever increasing grasp of the English language. She quickly moved from the fields and the grueling sun and began working at a local meat packing plant where she stayed for six years.
Being a single parent, she struggled to make ends meet, but in due time her persistence led her to become a homeowner as well to start her own business in 1994. Her business was making and selling tacos, something she did very well according to her three girls.
In a short five years, by 1999, Barrera had opened her very own restaurant on 22nd Street and McDowell. In 2000 she helped organize Union Pochteca who went on to create legislation to secure the rights of mobile food vending businesses in the Greater Phoenix Area. She also became a partner with Stockholders in an LLC by the name of Union Pochteca that created a commissary so that mobile food vendors had a place to maintain their businesses. She now owns a second home in Laveen and has achieved early retirement.
During all of this she had to raise three daughters. Her work ethic and loyalty to family and community has rubbed off on all three. Her oldest, Monica, is an ASU graduate and also holds her Masters degree in education and works in the Isaac School district as an 8th grade teacher. Tina also graduated from ASU and is only a few classes short from her Masters in Reading through NAU; she also worked five years as an elementary school teacher. The youngest, Marissa, is in her second semester at Phoenix College in the nursing program. All three daughters credit their pursuit of a higher education to their mother’s encouragement to make the most of their opportunities as citizens of this country.
So there she was 32 years later standing next to some of the proudest Americans you could ever hope for. Though the journey to becoming a U.S. citizen was a struggle, she eventually reached her “Logro” which is Spanish for achievement. She achieved what she thought to be impossible. Now a citizen in the greatest county in the world, she looks forward to finding new opportunities that exist in her future.
I reflect on this story, and I am inspired by Eugenia and the smiling faces at the naturalization ceremony. I’m further reminded of a quote I have in my office by Albert Einstein:
“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity”.
Phoenix has an opportunity, and although it may be difficult, we can become the first Great city of the 21st Century by embracing and supporting the newest of citizens to our great country. Thank you Monica Angulo for helping me put this story together.