Emilio Pena

Is my personal journey to the USA really mine? Immigrant lives are quite similar, no matter where are you from. All of us left behind a part of our heart in our countries. This is my particular story and how I feel now, after seven months of living in New York City.

Frankly speaking, my journey to the USA is not mine but my mother-in-law’s journey. She came to the USA in 1971, with 40 dollars in her pocket, as a single mother. She was repeating the pattern that many Latin Americans have been doing until now: coming to the USA and working hard to build a better future for their families. She arrived at Miami Airport some afternoon of January 1971, and after two hours of rest, she began to work and now, 45 years later, she continues working and giving our family a remarkable living example of how to handle the complex issues involved in immigrant life.

All her efforts bore fruit last year when my wife and part of my family arrived in New York City.  After 46 years, mother and daughter were finally together, experiencing for the first time in many years how a hug felt. The welcome was cold at the beginning, maybe because my mother-in-law was still briefly living in the past, but suddenly the ice broke and many kinds of colors, feelings, and laughing voices burst out in an apartment which had for many years only heard one voice, my mother-in-law’s, calling her daughter every week for almost half a century.

When we woke up next morning, we experienced our first family breakfast and at that precise time we realized we were no longer in our country. We were sad because we were tasting and smelling new flavors and odors without sharing them with our two older sons and our grandchildren. This feeling of regret is repeated every day until now.  One week later, the honeymoon ended: we needed a job but our English was not fluent enough. Here is when my journey really began. I spent almost 10 hours daily for a month in front of a laptop, looking for places to learn English. After winning the lottery process of the Riverside Language Program, they recommended that I come to the ESU and, thank God, I found one of the most outstanding places for improving my English.

Believe it or not, something that has impacted me very deeply in New York City is not only the 9/11 memorial site, the magnificent new architecture of the city, the 42nd street lights, nor the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. It is also the army of unknown volunteers who devote themselves to the beautiful task of teaching new immigrants and also the number of organizations devoted to helping them. Many of these volunteers are medical doctors, writers, high school teachers, lawyers, university and college professors, CEOs, musicians, photographers etc. Many of them are active workers who, after their daily work, sacrifice some time to help others. How can we succeed in this competitive work environment without the disinterested help of these volunteers? This essay serves as a humble tribute to their daily sacrifice and an encouragement to them to keep going. God Bless all of you! 

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