A Chilanga in Wisconsin

I’m from Mexico City. The biggest city in the world some say. A lot of people, a lot of traffic, a lot of museums, a lot of smog… a lot of pretty much everything, including business opportunities and people willing to take them. For the rest of the country we’re selfish, snobbish, manipulative and rude. We are very ok with that. After all, anyone who deals with our great city ends up a little wicked, we think. The thing is that we always welcomed out-of-towners that liked us enough to move in searching for a better lifestyle. In my mind, that’s what immigration meant.

The United States was a very nice place to go on vacation: beautiful sceneries, interesting people and even snow. How fun! Of course I had heard of Los Angeles with their very large Mexican population. Or, you know, people from the border cities liked to go shopping to Laredo. People who couldn’t make a living were moving to the northern country, they said in the news and it was frequently mentioned in political speeches. It just felt so distant.

I have a problem with trips. I can’t miss one. So, I had a ticket to Wisconsin and I had to go. This time was different though: I arrived to a Mexican family’s house. They were those immigrants who left Mexico with the greatest hopes. They left home and a career that could no longer provide for their families, and as upsetting as that was, they still had this brave, high-spirited and hard working attitude that was nothing but inspiring. I found a whole Mexican community, they lived in the Mexican neighborhoods and they even had Mexican stores. The very few Mexican dishes I cook, I learned while I lived there. The more I got involved, the more impressed I became.

From all the practical challenges that they coped with as foreigners, perhaps the most decisive one was that of finding a job. Placement agencies were a popular choice among them in Jefferson County. It is probably safe to address the language barrier as the first obstacle they faced. The recruiting process was limited to sending the applicant to a certain job without considering education, experience or ability. These guys who once had management positions in Mexico were working more than one shift, nights and even out of town jobs.When I first arrived, I couldn’t help but noticing this sort of “collective low self esteem” in the Mexican community, and understandably so. The relationship between job satisfaction and self esteem is obvious.  The way we feel about what we do profoundly affects the way we feel about ourselves and our value as a person, especially when we’re immersed in an entirely new environment.

But not everything was helpless. If not many, more Americans than I expected were trying to speak Spanish. They were at the Literacy Council, at the clinics, at the bank, at the court, etc. They were helping, they were cool and they had past the debate about who is obliged to learn whose language. For a community of mostly first generation immigrants, this looked good.

My experience in Wisconsin was one of those that can change the perspective on things so strongly that it makes me want to stay involved, participate and profess the deep respect I feel for my working class heroes in any opportunity that I may have.  We might be in this country for different reasons. It doesn’t really matter. What we do share is our vast cultural background, our family oriented ways, the pride for our heritage and the kindness and hospitality that comes from within.