SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Joseph Pokalski

The Life of a Mexican Immigrant Influencing My Life

My family has been having a small group of ladies come to clean our house since I was twelve years old. The group consists of three women, Eva, the one in charge, who is in her fifties, her daughter Claudia, in her thirties, and Sophia, around Eva’s age. They are all Mexican Americans. Eva immigrated here from Mexico with her family in the 1970s. Her daughter was born in the U.S., and Sophia is also an immigrant from Mexico, but has only lived in the U.S. for a few years. They are all bilingual and Sophia still struggles with English. After getting to know Eva it really opened my eyes to understanding how different it was for the women to live in the U.S. compared to the lives of my family. They cleaned many houses a day for a very cheap price, especially compared to other cleaning companies that are run by white people. This is also why so many houses, my family included, choose to hire them because they work just as hard and do just a well of a job as the companies for much less money.

I would always like it when the women came to clean because I enjoyed their company, especially Eva because I was closest with her. When I was fourteen I attempted to fundraise for a trip I wanted to attend with an organization to help needy people in Mexico. During this time, Eva and the rest of the group came over to clean the house and I told her about my plans to go on the trip with the organization. She then enthusiastically offered me some money to help fund the trip. Like other people that wanted to help fund my trip, she gave me a large amount of money, which surprised me because the amount she gave me was equivalent to about how much she made in a day cleaning. Although I really appreciated her generous donation, I was surprised by how much she wanted to donate, knowing she wasn’t as fortunate as other people who offered me donations to help fund my trip. I then asked her why she felt she needed to help fund my trip, and she responded by telling me that not only did she want me to go, but how important it was to help the needy people of Mexico. She then told me about her experiences in her life being a Mexican immigrant, and it was that day I realized not only how different Eva had lived in the U.S. when compared to me, but how different many people’s lives are because of their racial background.

The house my family and I lived in at the time when I was trying to fund my trip was a moderately large, one story, and three bedroom house. We lived in a middle class neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona with other friendly people. The neighborhood was made up of mostly white U.S. born families which Eva, Claudia, and Sophia also cleaned for. Whenever they would come to our house to clean, I would always smell the cleaning products they used, heard them use vacuums, and would hear them speak Spanish with each other. I always imagined that they chose to speak Spanish because it was Eva’s and Sophia’s first language so they just preferred to speak it. I always wondered if maybe they were ever speaking negatively about my family of any of the other families they worked for that day.

I ended up going on the trip and it was an amazing experience, and I told Eva all about it when I got back. Although we discussed why she wanted to give me the large donation I still wonder today why she felt the need to do it because it was so meaningful to me. Although Eva was happy with her decision to give the donation, her daughter Claudia may have not have felt the same way. Claudia was born in the U.S. so the reasoning of why her mother would donate to fund a trip to a more financially fortunate white teenage boy might not have made sense to her. She could have felt that during her time working with her mother, that none of the families they worked for ever treated them as Eva treated me that day, which was extremely generous. She felt they worked hard for all the families and were still were not paid very much money. She maybe felt that they have been looked down upon by the families they work for and should never feel any obligation to give me money when my parent made a lot more money than they did.

My perspective of what happened has changed slightly since it happened eight years ago. I am now more aware of the struggles it truly must have been to a be a Mexican American women with roots in Mexico living in the U.S. for so many years and not having the same opportunities most white U.S. born citizens get. I think there were many reasons why she wanted to sponsor me. Much of it was probably because she was closer to me than many of the other clients she worked for. I think the main reason though was because of all of her past struggles, and she wanted to contribute to the people living in poverty in Mexico where she had roots. She probably felt that although she has had some hard times living in the U.S., she still is more fortunate than most families in Mexico. Eva had immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1970s for better opportunities and during that time in America there were many radical movements going on to prevent racial inequalities. For example, Cesar Chavez lead a protest to increase Mexican American farm workers’ wages. Eva began cleaning house in the 1970s because she had a hard time finding other work. Then in 1986 there was an act passed to no longer allow immigrants from Mexico to come to the U.S. because it was affecting the economy. Throughout the 1980s, 1990s, and early to mid 2000s her clients probably didn’t think highly of her because of the condescending views toward Mexican immigrants at the time.

In conclusion, although my trip to Mexico was a great experience the day Eva decided to donate me money to help fund the trip will always mean a lot to me.  I also learned a lot about how different backgrounds here in the U.S. compared to my life after Eva explained to me her reasoning for wanting to donate to help people in her homeland and telling me what it was like for her living in the U.S. coming from Mexico.

Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage