When I first arrived to the United States, I was roughly around 5 years old and barely able to understand the big change that was occurring this early in my life. Born in Medellin, Colombia, I had to move to a new country at an early age, not by choice, but by my parents’ desires to find better opportunities for my sister and me, similar to the stories of other immigrant children. I had gone from Cartagena, Colombia to various New Jersey cities and finally ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina. There were so many challenges that my family and I faced when we made the big move from one country to the next.
One of my first challenges, of course, was the language barrier. It is very difficult for someone to learn a new language while at the same time still trying to sufficiently learn the first one. The majority of people coming from a different country will have this issue of a language barrier. What I found most difficult, though, was trying to balance both languages in order to not lose what I had already learned from each one. And to add on to those challenges, I had to be able to serve as a translator for my whole family which is not as easy as you would think. As a young kid, I was forced to learn about adult related things like tax forms, employment paperwork, and government documents, and just about anything you could imagine that my mom would usually interact with but of course I had to translate. It forced me to grow up a bit faster than everyone else.
Trying to go to receive an education with little knowledge on the English language was also a huge issue I had growing up. I remember having to go through English Second Language (ESL) courses just so that I could learn English on top of the actual schooling that I needed to receive. I remember struggling so much with the language which only motivated me to do better in school; after only half a year of ESL, I was able to work hard enough to be put into regular classes, but a lot of students still struggle with these classes a bit more than I did.
When school wasn’t the issue, it was witnessing my mom struggle in the workforce. Not knowing much English and only having schooling from a third world country, there weren’t that many job opportunities out there for her where our family could successfully find a way out of poverty. After having different low wage jobs, she chose to go back to school and get another degree that would serve her better here than the one she received in our home country. I had seen my mom go through several undesirable jobs just so that she could provide a roof over our heads and a meal every day. It took a long time to get to where she is now but I have seen her take on so many challenges and successfully overcome them. My family struggled with poverty for a while because my mom was the only parent providing for me and my sister with such low paying jobs while also trying to study.
Aside from those issues, there was always a risk of losing my own culture that was definitely another concern I had growing up. Although now it is not that bad, when I was growing up there were not a lot of people from my own country in the area in which I grew up which meant that I was limited to what I could learn from my own Latinx culture to what my parents and some relatives taught me. It didn’t help that due to some special circumstances, I was unable to visit my home country for over 13 years. All of this meant that I was lacking influence from my own culture, which is an essential part of a person’s identity. I struggled to keep my identity as Latinx in a country that, at the time, showed very little interest in this ethnicity and contains people that believe that immigrants are here only “to steal jobs” or “take advantage of” the benefits provided by this country.
Growing up as an immigrant is one of the biggest reasons for why I am the person that I am today. Of course the problems I listed are just a very small portion of all the issues my family and I encountered over the years spent in this country; I think these are just some of the more important ones that can be applied to a large number of immigrant families.