‘The American Dream’
Almost 4 years ago on May 27, 2007 my mother-in-law Eugenia Barrera became a citizen of the United States of America. Her story is one of risk, resiliency and hope. I feel it is important to tell her story over and over again due to the positive impact it has had on our family and community.
Her story has never been more relevant. If you read the local or even national daily headlines it wont take you long to find stories about immigration reform, SB1070, Birther Bill or removal of Ethnic Study Programs in our schools. These discussions have created division in our community and continue to grow in controversy.
Back in May of 2007 I was happy to arrive at the Sandra Day OConnor United States Courthouse building in Downtown Phoenix around 11:20am. I recall how amazing it was 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 U.S. citizens.
I was there to support a phenomenal woman, my mother-in-law Eugenia. 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 has 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 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 Eugenias 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 in Tolleson where she was employed 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 does very well. 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 and grow their businesses. She now resides in Laveen, where she raises her horses, goats, chickens and amazing garden and is still actively working at her first Taqueria on 3rd Street and Bukeye Rd.
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 currently works in Los Angeles as a 9th grade English teacher. Tina,my wife also graduated from ASU and holds a Mastersdegree in Reading through NAU; she also worked five years as an elementary school teacher. The youngest, Marissa, is a graduate from Phoenix College nursing program and is a R.N. at St. Josephs Hospital. All three daughters credit their pursuit of a higher education to their mothers encouragement to make the most of their opportunities as citizens of this great country.
It took her 32 years to standnext 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.
As I reflect on this story, I am inspired by Eugenia and the risk she took to become a U.S. Citizen and the effort it took to fulfill her American Dreams. I can only hope that President Barack Obama and his administration make a true effort to change the immigration laws and create pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants like Eugenia.
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