Arizona

Generational Gap – The Arizona State Press

“1979,” my grandfather recalled as he told me about our family’s trip to the States.

“4. November 1979. We received our green cards in Guatemala and flew in by plane. We bought plane tickets [to Mexico] because my sister Elsa sent us plane tickets from Mexico [to Los Angeles]. So we had to travel from Guatemala to Mexico by bus or plane.”

He lived in a war-torn country. He fought in a civil war that had plagued his homeland for almost two decades. He was about to enter the United States illegally. My grandfather endured all of this and eventually followed his siblings to the US hoping for a better life.

“Thank God we got our green cards,” my grandmother recalled at that time. “We started with the whole family: Manuel [my grandfather], me, the three children we had. It was a relatively quick and easy immigration process.”

Because she was so young when she emigrated with my grandma and grandpa, my mother hardly remembers anything. She doesn’t really remember leaving home, loved ones, or life as vividly as my grandparents did.

What she does remember, however, is my grandparents, who helped her pronounce her name perfectly in English, she said.

My grandfather, grandmother, and mother all said they remembered different things when I asked them about their first experiences as immigrants in the United States.

My realist grandpa can remember the exact date they flew from Guatemala to Mexico and finally to Los Angeles.

My grandmother remembers how grateful she was to be welcomed into a country that she felt offered far more opportunities than her homeland.

My mother – a four-year-old child who was totally unaware of the bureaucracy – was only worried about pronouncing her name correctly in English.

It’s incredibly humbling to hear where my grandparents came from and how they got here. When I was younger I never really thought about how complex the immigration process was. Sometimes I forget that my mother didn’t become a citizen until she was 21.

Now that I’m older, I realize how grateful my grandparents are for the opportunities this country gave them, but I also find it interesting how younger Latinos criticize the United States for its history and approach to immigration, race, and abortion .

I see both sides of this coin. When my grandpa was just 14 years old, he joined the Guatemalan military. When I was 14, I played with Pokémon cards. The USA enabled my grandparents to have a stable life for themselves and their family. It enabled me to live free from war, hunger and poverty.

Nonetheless, I here condemn the US for its treatment of Native Americans, for its unethical involvement in Latin American countries, for its widespread and persistent racism, and for restricting abortion rights.

It’s hard for me to write about a subject as complex as immigration because I haven’t immigrated myself. I don’t fully understand what my grandparents went through and I probably never will.

generations apart

Eileen Díaz McConnell, a professor in ASU’s School of Transborder Studies, studies Mexican migration and racial/ethnic social demographics in the United States.

“It used to be easier to immigrate to the United States,” Díaz McConnell said. “There is only a massive immigration bureaucracy. If you are even entitled to citizenship, it could take decades.”

The immigration process for my grandparents was stressful, but it wasn’t the nightmare it is for others. They were most concerned about my not yet born aunt getting a green card. My grandma was five months pregnant when they applied for hers.

When my family came to the US, it was a challenge for my grandparents to earn money and learn a new language. My grandpa immediately went back to Guatemala for eight months to complete his 20 years of military service and retire.

Retirement enabled him to receive a pension from the Guatemalan military — about 1,000 quetzales a month. In US dollars, that would have been $140 to $150.

When he came back, he got his first job in the US, working in a restaurant owned and operated by other immigrants. It was only a seasonal job, but it paid well.

“What bothered me the most, you know, we came from a poor country where you asked for food because there was nothing to eat,” my grandpa said. “When I got here, we would give [restaurant customers] a leg of lamb. It looked yummybut people would only do that,” he said while mimicking eating a single bite.

“That was one of the first things that got me into it… I don’t know. I do not want it.”

“Dirty, Dangerous, Challenging”

One of the biggest challenges new immigrants face is integrating into the broader workforce, said Irasema Coronado, director and professor at ASU’s School of Transborder Studies.

“The jobs of the past that had good benefits that had insurance — it was a union job,” Coronado said. “You’ve had vacations, retirement, a pension… Those jobs are harder to get when you’re an immigrant.”

My grandmother worked as a cleaner for rich white people in San Francisco for 20 years. She never learned to drive, so she took the bus to work every day. She never took a day off.

My grandfather ended up working as a garbage man for the city of San Francisco. He hasn’t taken a day off in almost 20 years.

My mother’s first job when she was about 14 was answering phones in a church directory.

When I was 17, my first job was taking orders and washing dishes at my father’s restaurant.

It’s humbling to see the generational evolution of my family’s first jobs in the United States. That’s why my grandparents immigrated – so me and my siblings wouldn’t have to take the first job that came our way, and so we could occasionally miss shifts. I am incredibly grateful for the sacrifices they made for us.

“At the end of the day, many immigrants work in dirty, dangerous, and demanding jobs that nobody else wants to do,” Coronado said. “You and I and the rest of society benefit when people are paid very little and receive no benefits.”

A 2022 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 53% of all Latinos said they had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment because of their race or ethnicity, either routinely or from time to time.

Given that immigrants in a foreign country often have arduous jobs with no benefits and face racial discrimination, why should they come to the United States?

“I feel like they have no other option,” said Kevin Ortega, a first-generation American and a junior at ASU majoring in forensic science. “The government of another country doesn’t really work for them. If they move here, they would rather go to a government that will help them than to where they live now.”

According to another 2022 study by the Pew Research Center, a large majority of US Latinos believe the US has better career prospects, better conditions for raising children, and better access to health care.

Ortega is the first person in his family to possibly graduate from college. A college education is incredibly important to him and his family as they build a better life in the United States

“When we graduated from high school, one of my aunts came up to me from Mexico and she just said how proud she was because she saw her father’s name over here,” Ortega said.

past to present

In 1954, when my grandpa was about eight years old, the US supported a coup to overthrow the democratically elected President of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz. He was viewed by US intelligence as a communist threat acting against the interests of the notorious United Fruit Company.

Six years later, the Guatemalan Civil War broke out and my grandpa embarked on a 20-year journey of military service.

I asked him about his thoughts on US involvement in Latin America.

“The gringos come into our country and control politics, control everything to their liking. They don’t care if it’s an independent country or something. They control it and use whoever they want [in power]’ said my grandpa.

“But you still love the United States?” I asked.

“Oh of course!” said my grandparents in unison.

“That’s why everyone comes here, because they know there’s a future here,” said my grandfather. “They work and they make progress. There are a lot of people who don’t like the United States, but they come here for the same reasons.”

“College students don’t like the United States,” my grandma interjected. “You’re talking to students here and the majority wouldn’t give you a good reference for the United States.”

I agreed with my grandparents that many college students are critical of the United States. In my experience, younger Latinos tend to view the US through a more rigorous lens than older Latinos, like my grandparents.

“Overall, I think it’s a good country, but it needs improvement — a lot of improvement,” Ortega said. He pointed to a public lack of trust in the government and “much hatred afoot” as an indication of the need for national improvements.

I sometimes find it difficult to talk about America with my grandparents or the other older people in my family because I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the sacrifices they made to live here. But I also want to have a stimulating discussion with them, rather than just silently listening to their thoughts and perspectives.

It’s important to have these conversations. Even as a non-immigrant, I think it’s important to tell my side of the story, at least to my grandparents, if nobody else. Nothing is black and white. By listening to different perspectives, immigrants like my grandparents will realize that you can love a country for what it has done for you, but also loathe it for what it has done to others.

The US started the war my grandfather fought in. The USA gave my family a life that they could never have lived in Guatemala. And the US helped me go to college and tell my family story.

Despite all of America’s shortcomings, I find gratitude in the opportunities that have been given to me and my family’s life here.

Edited by Yamileth Cabrera, Brenda Muñoz Murguia, Alexis Moulton, Camila Pedrosa and Sam Ellefson.


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Aidan GamizSpanish translator

Aidan Gamiz is the Spanish translator for State Press Magazine. He was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona in a bilingual household where he learned both English and Spanish.


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