Immigrants coming to the United States have diverse, personal stories to share about their life-changing travels, and those stories are often lost with time.
Ana María González is an immigrant from Mexico. She is a language professor at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin. González began gathering the immigrant stories of her colleagues, and published them in 2013 in a bilingual anthology called “Déjame que te cuente,” “Let Me Tell You.” She has since published two more volumes.
TPR’s Norma Martinez had a chance to talk with Gonzalez about this ever-growing collection of stories, and about her own immigrant story.
NORMA: Why did you decide to start collecting these stories of immigration?
ANA MARIA: I always attend professional events. So these professional events certainly we have the opportunity to make a lot of personal connections. And the first clue that you have is when you ask ‘where are you from’ or ‘what is your name,’ and immediately the distinctive accent. And so it’s always the accent that gives me the idea of Spanish is so rich. And originally I had the idea I would like to represent all the Spanish speaking countries because we are professionals from different places, so that’s how little by little I started becoming aware of these individual stories of what it takes to achieve a professional life in the United States.
And I know you have a story as well. You have actually have contributed quite a few stories to the book. Share your story of immigration. I think it’s very interesting because, again, education does play a part in it, but you struggled quite a bit. Because, apparently, your older sister had the same idea but it didn’t work out so well.
Absolutely. When I need to talk about my own story I cannot exclude my mom in the first place and my sister in second place. My mom unfortunately played a negative role for my education because she never attended school. In fact right after the Mexican Revolution, my grandmother decided to hide her kids when people were looking for kids to go to school because that was one of the rights of the new constitution from 1917. But my grandmother say, ‘no I need these people, I need my kids to work with me in the field.’ So she decided to hide her kids. My mom never had the opportunity to go to school. It’s only a right that will be for men. ‘If you go to school maybe just go because you want to fun and you want to do other things, and at the end you’re going to be pregnant, so you don’t really want to go to school.’ It was like a negative thing for her. So because of that my sister didn’t really have the opportunity to go to college. And she struggled with that. She accepted her reality and she started working at a very young age as a secretary, which was pretty much the only thing that you can do in a little town in Mexico. And then when it was my turn, I was 15. I said ‘I really want to go to school.’ And I always associated the idea of going to school, ‘if I go to school I’m going to get pregnant.’ And then my sister said, ‘you’re gonna go.’
And how did your relationship with your mother develop after she accepted that you were going out and getting an education?
I don’t know if she truly accepted. I came to the US for the opportunity to go to university in this case to get my Masters degree and PhD. I think in the back of her mind I was more like the lost one, like the black sheep of the family. Like, ‘there she goes again, what is she looking for, why does she need to leave, she has everything here. She can get married here, she can have her children here, what is she looking for?’ So I think because of her mentality, probably was impossible for her to understand what kind of search I had in my life.
There is a story, or a poem, that is called “Las Dos Maletas,” or “The Two Suitcases,” that you think summarizes the immigrant story. Can you tell us why?
That when we leave our country we want to take everything with us, and the only thing you can bring is 2 suitcases. That means the material things, especially the flavors, the smells. But also you want to bring the things that you bring in your heart. You bring the memories, you bring the times that you spent with your family. And at the end it’s hard to tell you are complete in your life or something is incomplete. Because we have this dichotomy, we have this either it’s a division or duplication, are we broken in 2 or are we 2 in one? And you cannot separate that. How can I get the respect, the recognition, of who I am, ignoring certainly my skin color, ignoring the fact I was not born in the United States, but I still want to have a place in this country.