In Their Own Words | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

In Their Own Words

Two local Mexican immigrants speak out

Originally from Mexico, Gregorio and Alejandra today live on the North Side with their two children. Due to their immigration status, their names have been changed. They were interviewed by Andrea Kamouyerou.


Gregorio: I came from Mexico to have a better future, and better work options. I was told that in Pittsburgh there was a restaurant where I could work, so I began to work here, and it was here that I met Alejandra.

Alejandra: I have been in Pittsburgh for 11 years now. One of the reasons I came was my parents separated in Mexico, and I had four younger siblings, and there wasn't anybody to help my mom with the costs of raising a family. And then my mom got sick -- they found a tumor -- so she basically could no longer work. I'm a social worker. I completed my degree [in Mexico], but it wasn't easy to earn a living. So I decided to come here.

[Back then] there were no Latinos. The first problem that we encountered was the language, but we found a school where I learned how to speak English. I worked in a restaurant; Gregorio worked in the kitchen and I was the dish-preparer. 


G: We have two kids. We have obviously had to make some sacrifices, to make sure they are taken care of when we both work so much, or [deciding] how to attend school events. For example, [at school there is] a day called "Dads with their Children" or something like that: I always go to school with my daughter. Work will be there for the rest of my life, but this is a special day. And there is another program that, one day in the year, children can come to work with their dads. So I brought my daughter to work. She was surprised when I was cutting fish: I had to take the skin off and she was shocked! 


A: At the beginning, because I didn't know English, I didn't understand how people saw us. Now, over time I've learned English I feel that racism has increased here. In the services offered, it has actually improved; we can find some information in Spanish. But the reactions of people -- there really is so little tolerance, so little education about other cultures. In Mexico, we think that Americans are educated, that everyone goes to the university. But when you get to this country, you realize that it is the opposite. 

The country is at a very bad place economically. And so one of the reactions is, "It is the immigrants that are to blame! If you are Latino, you are stealing my space, you are stealing my benefits. "

We pay taxes out of every check that we earn; everything that we buy, we pay taxes. We don't have health benefits, we don't have Social Security benefits -- that money will never return to our pockets. So how is it possible to say that I am stealing from you, if you are taking from my check? I am working in a way that is considered illegal, but I am paying in that way. 


G: I think that [English-only] laws are racist. In cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, you can find anything in Spanish. In Texas it would be impossible to get rid of Spanish as it was Mexico before it was Texas. 

If you are in an elevator, and two people are speaking a different language, I don't feel uncomfortable. It makes me think and wonder about their language and culture. It is much easier to just say, "Don't speak." But if you fill yourself with a bit more culture, you realize that is a good thing! 

I feel proud to be Latino and fortunate to speak Spanish, and proud to speak English because I am adapting. And my children are going to adapt as well. So I take my daughter to the theater, places that seem to me to be very important, so that when she is older, people won't say about her "Oh, she's Latina, she doesn't know about that." 

I know Mexicans that have been here for years that say they don't know where PNC Park is! Even Americans that I know don't know that the libraries offer many great programs. 


A: Unfortunately Latinos think that here they are going to be able to do what they did in their countries of origin. But it's not like that. This country changes your life completely. [Learning English] opens up many doors for you; the language helps you to defend yourself. 

We have to adapt to the lifestyle here. But not lose our Latino essence. Our culture defends and protects us. 

I know that we are helping this country; we aren't hurting or damaging anything. And how beautiful it is to say that this is a multicultural country -- so many different cultures united for the good of the country, instead of being so divided. It shouldn't be that way, the way that it is now.

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