by Paul Espinoza

Sara Chereji is a Mexican-American immigrant. She was born in the city of Los Zapotes, in the State of Jalisco, Mexico, in 1961. She stayed there until the age of six, where she moved to another city, still in the State of Jalisco, known as Mezcala. Sara Guzman, as her name was at the time, lived in Mezcala until she was 15 years old. Seeing as how life was difficult in Los Zapotes and Mezcala, Sara and her family needed to find refuge. They had heard of America and decided to take their chances there, with dreams of freedom and opportunity filling their heads. Sara arrived to the U.S. in 1976.

My homeland was gorgeous, but it did have its downsides. Our home was built on top of natural limestone but the land was very dry. This was Los Zapotes, my birth town. We only spoke Spanish in this small town, but we had the occasional foreign visitors who spoke other languages. This was the kind of town that was so small that you knew everybody and everybody knew you. News traveled fast and you could not get away with very many things. The size of my town was not always a bad thing though because everybody was helpful, considering we all knew each other. We also held big fiestas and had a good time with each other. We would eat foods such as beans, corn, peanuts, tortillas, and very traditional Mexican dishes. Some specific foods I remember having that the U.S. did not have were these vegetables called kelites. This was basically wild spinach that could only be found in Mexico. Other Mexican vegetables that we ate were verdolagas, which were very strange, gooey vegetables. Our dress code was fairly similar to the United States’ as well. We wore bellbottoms, “hippie” clothes, and whatever the U.S. was into at the time. Whatever we saw people from the U.S. wearing on T.V., we wore it. It was a nice town and pretty much the same as Mezcala. The only difference with Mezcala is that it had more people in it. I still miss the family and friends that I left in both Los Zapotes and Mezcala.

As painful and devastating as it was to leave, my family had to. We were in dyer need of money because we did not have great opportunities for work in Mexico. We had heard great stories of people who went to America and had great success stories and we felt we needed to try this out as well. Finally the day had come for us to finally leave our country; we were set to take a train called the “Bullet Train”. It was supposed to be a first-class train that would take us to Ensenada, Mexicali. The trip did not seem like it would be problematic, but it was terrible. It was extremely hot on the train because we did not have any air conditioning and it was full of people. To top it off, we got stuck in the middle of the desert due to technical difficulties. Once we got the train up-and-running, we set off to Mexicali once again. When we arrived, we had to take a bus to Tijuana, Mexico. Another problem arose upon reaching Tijuana. My sister was married and could not leave the country legally. We had to leave her there when my cousin came to pick us up from Tijuana. It was a hard and painful decision but it was best for the family. From there, my cousin took us to Daly City where we were to make our lives in America. Although this experience may have seemed devastating and painful, it had a great amount of memorable experiences as well. On that horrible train ride, I ate horse-meat on accident. As we were passing through the city of Sonora, I was offered a sandwich. Not knowing that they ate horse-meat regularly in this city, I ate a horse-meat sandwich. It was hard, chewy, and disgusting. It was not until I complained about the meat that I found out I was eating a horse. Looking back on that experience, I just laugh because it was so ridiculous. Additionally, I had some other amazing experiences. For example, I saw the ocean for the first time in my life when passing through Mazatlan. It was also a beautiful city during the day and night.

During the trip, all I could think about was what America would be like. I thought about the housing situations and how the people would be. I kept on believing that the U.S. was a magical fantasy place. I thought everything was shiny and glassy. I felt that all the people would be nice to my family and I. I felt that life would be much better because I would be able to get a nice, secure job and have better opportunities for a better life overall. Once I arrived, I confirmed some of my thoughts and truly experienced America. America was not everything I had built it up to be, but it was still amazing! People had refrigerators, good transportation, and many job opportunities. America was not a magical fantasyland, but it was still astonishing. I soon discovered San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay. I fell even more in love with the U.S. when I found out I could visit the ocean whenever I wanted to. It was simply amazing.

Once I settled down in the U.S., I realized that I needed to work hard to adjust to the American life. More importantly, I needed to learn English! I was still only monolingual and it was difficult to communicate with people. For example, one time I was taking a bus to San Francisco and the bus was out of service. The driver tried to tell me that it was out of service but I could not understand. I thought he was just kicking me off the bus. Eventually, I figured out what was happening and I got off the bus. It was an embarrassing experience but it was a great learning experience. Another great thing about adapting to the U.S. culture was the food and clothing. Hot dogs, hamburgers, french fries, sodas, and steaks were delicious and appetizing. Bellbottoms, tight shirts, sunglasses, and sneakers were what was in and new. We had a great deal of fun when we lived in the U.S. because of the better activities there were to do. For example, on Sundays, we would go to the movies after church.

Adapting to this new culture was not that hard for me, but it did create some problems. Firstly, it made me confuse certain words because the language is so complex and diverse. I would say things like kitchen instead of chicken. Second, it made me forget some Spanish words sometimes because I used English too much. I would have to think about certain words in Spanish whereas before I did not have to think at all. Third, it was hard to write because there are a lot of silent letters and odd pronunciations. This language is complex and my children will obviously learn it, but I would like them to learn Spanish as well. One of my daughters knows Spanish and English fluently, but I would like my others to learn Spanish. Spanish is a great language to know, and so is English. I am absolutely positive that I will never forget either of the two.

The American life is great and free, but I have faced discrimination from time to time. Many times I have been called a terrorist because I am dark skinned and have similar facial features to those of a Middle-Eastern person. I am sort of used to discrimination though because in my homeland, discrimination was a way of life. We were separated by classes: the richer and whiter people lived in one part of the town while the poorer and darker lived in another. I do not like segregation and discrimination, but the way I learned to deal with it was to ignore and learn to live with it. One thing I would tell incoming immigrants about this is that no matter where they go discrimination will exist, and that they should love the U.S. because it is a great country.

Being American is not all about being born in your country. Being American is about loving and being loyal to your country. I feel you have to serve your country as best as you can and to follow its rules. I feel I am more American now because I have assimilated into the culture and have been as loyal to America as possible. I still feel I am Mexican, but the bigger part of me is American. I feel if you want to fully be American, you have to change or alter your culture. Even though many try to keep their culture when they come to America, they still try to be “an American”. I think they should just assimilate if they came by choice because it was their decision to come here, so they have to respect the American way.

I think too many people cross the border illegally and this is a horrible thing. This may allow terrorists to come in through Mexico and that could be dangerous for our country. More laws should be put on immigration in order to prevent it from happening for the wrong people. We need more protection on our border. I also do not think we should have an open door policy in our country because everyone else would be flowing in. We do not have the room for the whole world.

Overall, my experience traveling to the U.S. has been an interesting one. I have battled through discrimination and a bad train ride, but it was all worth it. I gained insights and had new discoveries of my own that I would have never had if not for traveling to America. I learned loads of new things on this grand adventure that will forever guide me and help me in life. I have learned valuable lessons such as experiencing life to the fullest and taking care of myself and my loved ones. I encourage anyone who wants to experience an amazing country to come to the U.S. because it is totally the land of opportunity and freedom. It is literally the best country in terms of its rules and your rights. I love this country and I will forever love the United States of America.

Sara Cheriji