Latinx students share stories of familial struggles

“My dad became a citizen in 1993,” said senior Latinx studies major Maria Gonzalez-Chavez. “He was very vocal about racism and discrimination. He called people out, and sometimes he would get in trouble for it because people would be like, ‘Who is this brown man standing up for himself?’”

Gonzalez-Chavez is a first-generation Xicana whose mother also just recently received her citizenship.

“They got married in Mexico and my Dad basically said, ‘I’m going to go back to the states to get money and send it down here for you,’ and she basically said, ‘No,’ and now that they’re married she was going to go with him,” Gonzalez-Chavez said.

Latinx students make up nearly 35 percent of the student population at SF State, and amongst that lies a wide array of diverse experiences. Some students are undocumented, there are others whose parents were born in the U.S., and some have grandparents who moved here many years ago. The “x” in both Latinx and Xicana is used to promote gender neutrality.

According to Gonzalez-Chavez, her mother, Rita Chavez, came to the U.S. in the late 1980s from the city of Yuriria, in Guanajuato, Mexico.

“It was probably less than a year (until she found work),” Gonzalez-Chavez said. “My Dad wanted to be the one working, but my Mom, being who she is, said no, and that she was going to help out. So she started working with my Dad at McDonalds.”

Sophomore student Yocelin Martinez also had parents who immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1980s, but spent a short portion of her youth traveling to and from Mexico alongside them.

“I was born in Mexico, and my family and I migrated to the U.S. permanently in 1999 here in the Mission District, but before that we used to jump back and forth because it was a lot easier back then,” Martinez recalled. “I was three, so for the first three years of my life I would come to the U.S. and leave, come again, and leave.”

Martinez said her father found work doing construction, while her mother started working as a janitor and currently works at a small local business. Maria’s parents shared slightly similar experiences working in both landscaping and in the food industry, where her mother was subject to discrimination from her employers.

“I remember one night – she worked at a Taco Bell; she would always pick us up after school and take us there until her shift was over,” Gonzalez-Chavez said. “Me and my brother were playing tag…I remember the manager, who was white, basically was yelling at my Mom that she needed to speak English better.”

Martinez said she has also witnessed varying degrees of discrimination throughout her life.

“My brother was in 4th grade, and the teacher told my mom that the reason why he wasn’t doing good in school was because she didn’t speak English, and it turned out later that he had dyslexia,” Martinez said.

Martinez said her father has also faced discrimination in the workforce.

“He doesn’t like talking about it, but I know that he does,” Martinez said. “I’ll hear stuff that he tells my Mom. The people that own the buildings he works on treat him like he isn’t human or as if he isn’t an adult. He works way harder than these people, and he isn’t getting paid what he should be getting paid.”

Senior history major and third-generation Latinx Tamera Cabrera had a slightly different upbringing, although both of her grandparents are also from Guanajuato.

“My grandmother was a maid – she didn’t even finish high school, but she worked really hard and still inspires me to this day,” Cabrera said. “I don’t like the concept of borders. I’ve always seen that as a really exclusionary political thing.”

Both Martinez and Gonzalez-Chavez agree that the concept of international borders is boring and outdated.

“Fuck borders,” Martinez said. “I’m undocumented myself and I don’t fuck with borders. It’s sad to see other people that have been here for 50 plus years and haven’t been able to go back to see family members or say goodbye to certain family members.”

For Martinez, being undocumented has presented her with little access to key resources, including lack of health insurance or financial aid.

“If they want us to do better in this society, how are we going to do that if we don’t even have the money or the resources available?” Martinez continued, tearing up. “Sometimes I think about whether or not I really want to be in school…if I were to drop out, it’s like my parents’ struggle would’ve meant nothing. For me, it’s kind of like a thank you to my parents to graduate school because the whole reason for us moving here was for me to receive a better education.”

IDEAS President Miguel Castillo took special care to note that differences within the community should be celebrated.

“I wouldn’t say that there is a divide, general support and solidarity within the community I feel is widespread,” Castillo said. “Despite generational differences I think everyone probably knows someone, or maybe has had someone in their family who is undocumented and can sympathize with that.”

Although the life experiences of undocumented, first generation or second generation Latinx students vary, pride is a key uniting factor that surpasses generational divides.

“I think the one thing that unites everyone in our community is the respect we have for our culture,” Cabrera said. “That goes beyond borders.”

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