Alma Islas

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Alma Islas discusses her experience coming to North Carolina from Mexico City at the age of six. She discusses her family’s work in Mexico and the motives behind migrating to the United States. She speaks about the identity struggle she felt since arriving and her conflicts about being Mexican on paper, but feeling more American in practice. She talks about her long-term goals and then the goals of her father and three siblings. She works two part-time jobs to help finance her education, and also works with SUIE (Students United for Immigrant Equality), an on-campus organization. Alma highlights the importance education has had in her life. She discusses the private education system in Mexico and mentioned that language was often a barrier for her growing up. She discusses DACA, and how that affects her both in a legal sense and emotionally. She discusses her life as an undocumented student and talks about the few options she has towards filing for citizenship.



Kayla Schliewe: Ok this is Kayla Schliewe interviewing Alma Islas on Wednesday March 18th at 9:07am. We are conducting the interview in the Undergraduate Library on the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill campus.
Alma could you begin by telling me a little bit about yourself, such as where you’re from and how you got to Chapel Hill?

Alma Islas: Well, like you said, my name is Alma Islas and I am from Mexico City. I arrived to North Carolina when I was six years old, and I lived in Pineville North Carolina ever since. I went to Wayne Community College shortly after graduating High School. After receiving my Associates degree, I was accepted to the University of North Carolina. However, I had to take a year off due to the constraints of not having enough aid. And then here I am, a year later, after taking a year off. I am a junior here, a Public Policy Major and Entrepreneurship Minor.

KS: What made your family come here when you were age six?

AI: When I was age six, my family actually had, they had a very steady job. Both my parents worked for a bus company in Mexico City. It was a thriving company and then unfortunately, due to corruption in Mexico, the president, like the government, found out how good the company was doing and decided to take over. Then a lot of corruption and things started happening. My father was a supervisor in the company, and he noticed a lot of things were not legal and corrupt. He basically started ri—not riots, but strikes with more of his colleges and decided to stand up to the government. That of course went wrong, and my dad ended up without having a job. So he decided to come to America for a year to just get some money, and then bring it back home and still live in Mexico. But after being here for a year, he realized that getting money was a whole lot easier here than in Mexico

KS: Mhmm

AI: So he decided to send for us and bring us over to North Carolina.

KS: Do you remember anything from living in Mexico City?

AI: I remember very little. Unfortunately, I have very little memories

KS: Yeah

AI: But I do have a lot with my family, more than anything.

KS: Mhmm. We were just talking about this earlier, but how do you identify yourself. Like, on paper? Yeah.

AI: You know, on paper I always tend to say I am Mexican. Although I do have a deep appreciation for my culture, I honestly don’t feel like a Mexican. I feel like I am just as American as anyone else who was born and raised here. Although I wasn’t born here, six years, that are my first few 6 years of my life, I was not engaged at all in the American way. I feel like I have been…. I have been doing, practicing, the American things. I definitely feel American.

KS: Right. Have your Mexican roots provided any barriers or obstacles so far?

AI: I would say so. Like the first obstacles that I had to encounter were when I started 1st grade as a six year old. I did go to a…I went to private school in Mexico, so I did know a little bit of English. But just to give you a quick example of the way they taught us there: “January,” that’s how you say it correct? In Mexico, they would teach us “January”. (han-war-ee). I was already kind of a little disadvantaged because of the teachers. They did know English, but it wasn’t as fluently as you would use it here in America. So one of my first obstacles was the language. Then, all growing up I was always seen as the minority. I was always seen as somewhat of an outsider, but that’s not how I felt. That was kind of… still is a little bit of a--I wouldn’t call it per say a struggle, it’s just kind of been a little bit of a maybe… Yes, like a small obstacle. Obstacles and struggles are the same thing. I am feeling like I am an outsider, or people make me feel like I am an outsider, but me not feeling that way. That’s been the hardest thing.

KS: Mhmm. So its like how you perceive yourself versus how like society perceives you.

AI: That’s correct.

KS: So what are you long-term goals, like dreams and ambitions? That could be career, family, anything.

AI: Well, my long-term goals are to work in education, particularly policy making. I, being a first generation student and an immigrant, have developed a very strong passion for seeking higher education. Unfortunately I wasn’t, I didn’t have anyone to look up to help me, you know. “What do you do to go to college?” “What’s the next step?” “How do you do this?” “How do you do that and the other?” I realized that there’s a strong demand in helping other first generation students like myself-or not even that. Maybe could be also having really good income, but your parents just aren’t there for you. Just helping anyone in general to seek a higher education is where my true passion lies.

KS: Mhmm. Are these different dreams or goals than your parents, did they have any interest in education,

AI: Absolutely. That’s actually one of the primary reasons why my dad sent over for us. He wanted us to have like a steady life and have a really good education. Which is why in Mexico, we went to a private school. He has always valued education. He unfortunately, his dad died when he was ten years old. He had…he really…his dream was to become a doctor. But having seven other siblings, he just ended up not going to school and going to job field. That’s why my dad really values education. He always harped on us how to do well in school, and supported us all the way through.

KS: What would you… or how would you define “the American Dream?”
We hear all the time, you know. Throw it around, but what does it actually mean to you?

AI: That--I’ve been asked that question quite a few times and it’s always a difficult answer. Because in my eyes, the American dream is an opportunity for you to be better--a better life. So basic—it depends… I feel like it varies from person to person. But in my particular experience, the American Dream, to me, is to be able to come from a country where there is corruption to be able to have a future. Whatever it is that I want to do. For me, the future is education and hopefully to be a role model for someone.

KS: This is going to be easy! How has education played a role in your attempts to obtaining your degree?

AI: I think education is not just a matter of getting education in school. I think you can be educated from the workforce or anything that you allow yourself to learn from. I would say that education has played an enormous part in me getting my degree because it has allowed me to learn a diversified number of things. From teachers, from other students, and just basically soaking up as much information and as many things as I can to be successful. And learn from others mistakes, as well as my own.

KS: What else besides taking courses here at the University do you get involved in?

AI: I’m involved in SUIE (Students United for Immigrant Equality). I have two other part time jobs, so that’s where most of my time goes. Between SUIE and my two other jobs. As of now, that’s the only thing I would say I am a part of.

KS: And what do you do with SUIE, and if you would like to say, what are your part-time jobs? Are they related?

AI: SUIE, we do a lot. We have been working on events. Currently, we are working on Immigration Awareness Week. We have also gone out to a moral march. Those are the kinds of events that SUIE has been involved with, and I try to participate in as many things as SUIE has going on. My part time jobs: the first one is working at the Franklin Hotel. I am a server in the restaurant for the breakfast service, and my second part time job is being a babysitter for a little girl around here in Chapel Hill.

KS: Mhmm. Switching topics a little bit. I’m interested in finding out more about how the DREAM act or Obama’s deferred actions can play affect on helping people obtain their dreams or goals. So have either of these helped you out? Or are they unrelated?

AI: Personally, I am an undocumented student. Having undocumented status has been heavy on me receiving my education. As soon as I graduated High School, I panicked a little and thought that I was not going to be able to go to school because at the time the laws were a little vague. They weren’t sure whether to allow undocumented students into the university system, or even in the community college system. Fortunately, I was able to enroll in community college. But let’s say that I wasn’t able to, due to my status. I would say that it would’ve been very hard for me. Devastating. Because it means I would have had to enter the work force and suppressed an opportunity for me to excel in life. I think for Obama to, or for the next president, to have a reform. If a DREAM act came true, would mean a lot, and would actually put a lot of kids into a better education. Which can lead to better work life and more money for the economy

KS: Mhmm. Is that why you work two jobs? Is there financial stress…

AI: Yes

KS: …for you to come to the university?

AI: One of the things about the American Dream that I mentioned before: Yes, a lot of people have conceptions, like myself, that you can come here and be who you want to be. But unfortunately, in America, the way of life is if you don’t have money, or you unfortunately don’t have documented status, you are very limited to what you can do. The American Dream per say, gets crutched a lot, or comes with many obstacles for you to obtain when you a documented status.

KS: Do your parents have undocumented status as well

AI: No

KS: Oh okay, I was going to see if that has…or actually.. Has even their identity provided any obstacles for them as well? Even though they have documentation-has just their identity played a part?

AI: Can you explain that question a little? I don’t think I am understanding it.

KS: Sure! That’s fine. I wanted, because obviously, or it’s more obvious, that sometimes without documentation there are limitations: such as sources for funding. But is just having a Hispanic or Mexican Identity, has that held your parents back at all? Or do you think that America has kind of come past that a little bit?

AI: I think maybe, in some ways, it has been somewhat of a setback for them just because their English. They do speak English, but they have a thick accent. However, sometimes people just look at it, “oh you don’t speak English,” and they kind of look at them a little different or with a less regard. I think both of them show that they are, you know, adequate people for the job or for whatever they’re setting themselves up for. I would say yes, that them being Mexican and having a thick accent has set them back a little. I would definitely say that America has not surpassed the fact that someone is a different color, then they can do just the same thing as anyone else, just because of that.

KS: The language barrier?

AI: Mhmm.

KS: And what do your parents do here? Your dad was the supervisor back in Mexico City. So does…

AI: He works in construction and my mother works at a McDonalds restaurant.

KS: Mhmm ok. Does…do you have any siblings or others that go to school as well/ Do they have the same dreams and goals as you?

AI: I have three other siblings. I have one, the youngest one she was born here. She hopes to be a teacher. She is only a freshman, so perhaps that will change. She is still young. If not, then good for her. That’s awesome. My other sister, she wants to be a nurse. She is also undocumented like myself, and then my older brother he wants to be a nutritionist

KS: Wow.

AI: He is going to school right now at Wayne Community College

KS: Awesome! So does he have plans to come to the University?

AI: Yes, he is actually planning on transferring to ECU in the fall.

KS: Mhmm, that’s nice. What would make the transition into academia easier for undocumented? What would be the—if we could just fix one problem, what would it be?

AI: Quite frankly, it would be great for us to just be granted document status. But I do see, because of the political arena right now, it’s probably not a possibility. If we could just fix a lesser thing than that, I would just say for there to be an executive order or just a law that would allow undocumented student to receive their education and be able to rehearse that education by receiving a job afterwards.

KS: If you were still in Mexico City, how do you think your life would be?

AI: I really think its kind of hard for me to imagine life in Mexico because I know very little about it. I don’t… the only things I do know is from what I hear from my relatives back home. I like to make the best of every situation in any setting I am in. I think I would probably still be in school, but I think it would definitely be a whole lot harder for me to have put myself through school just because in Mexico, it’s a whole lot more expensive to be in school. It’s not kind of an equal opportunity as much as it is here in America in order for you to receive that. And I say equal opportunity, but then at the same time its not really equal, because a lot of undocumented students aren’t getting that equality here.

KS: Do you ever plan to go back maybe and visit your family? Or you maintain communication with them?

AI: Oh, we maintain very good communication. However, I do. I hope to be able to. It all just depends if I get permission from immigration, and all that good stuff. If I would get permission, I would definitely hop on a plane and go as soon as possible.

KS: And what’s the process of getting permission? What does that entail?

AI: Well currently, because I fall under DACA (Deferred action for Childhood Arrivals), I can file for advanced parole, which would give me permission to go to Mexico. But it has to…its only for a few number of reasons. One of them would be if a relative back home is sick and has an illness. Then, they could probably give me permission to do that. Another way that I can think of going to Mexico from advanced parole is if I have a job and they send me over there, or if I do a study abroad experience in Mexico.

KS: The DACA, that if I understand this, that’s not citizen. So, is there a pathway for citizenship coming for you along the way, do you think?

AI: I don’t necessarily see one. I know I probably have to do more research. I have done a fair amount of research and there’s nothing out there for me particularly, unless I marry an American citizen. But of course, I won’t force myself to fall in love with a citizen. But if that does happen, that’s great because I could get my citizenship and legal status that way. But as the way the law stands right now, there’s just no path for me.

KS: So what is that like? It’s something I don’t understand or experience, but what does that feel like to be an undocumented and knowing that you might be that way for a couple years?

AI: The most fearful thing is that I could remain this status for the rest of my life, which is kind of scary. Being undocumented, like I said, I don’t think that I am undocumented everyday. So I feel, like I said before, like I’m an American--just as my roommates that were born here in the US. But every once in a while, for example when considering a job, I have to think, “Well, I only have permission to work for X amount of time because of Obama’s deferred action. Once that runs out, what am I going to do? It is a scary feeling when I have to think about things like that. Or even just having a steady life here. I have been very afraid that I would have to go back to Mexico and exercise my degree there. That is probably what I think about the most. Defining myself as an undocumented person in America is scary because there’s a lot of uncertainty about my future, and not knowing necessarily what will happen and what I will be able to do.


KS: Alright, this is Kayla Schliewe doing a follow-up interview with Alma Islas on Monday, March 30th at 4:34 p.m in the Undergraduate Library in the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s campus. I’m just going to get started. Did you parents need any skills trainings or higher education to get the supervisor positions that they had in Mexico City?

AI: In Mexico City, no they did not. My mother finished high school and she was a secretary for where she worked, in the bus company. My father just finished middle school, so yes, no they did not receive any. Maybe they did need some sort of formal training, but none that they have told me about. There’s none that they’ve told me about, any educational…

KS: Wow. Middle School, that’s impressive. (Laughter). So in Mexico, if you don’t have educational background, for upward mobility, how do you get a better standard of living in Mexico? If you don’t need education, what do you do?

AI: Well, this also relates back, for my parents, this relates back to quite a few years back down the road. But now, according to when I talk to my family and my relatives, they tell me that you do have to have education in order to have a decent job. But when going to school is so much more expensive there, it can be very hard to get a decent job. Especially in a city like Mexico City where there’s a lot of people that live there. You’re just competing for about anything you can get.

KS: Wow. I wanted to know, are the qualifications from US and from Mexico, are they different? Is a manager in Mexico different than a manager in the US? Do you know what I mean? Are they equal?

AI: Honestly, I don’t think I can really answer the question super good, just because I was never really raised in Mexico. I don’t exactly know how one views a manager there versus how one views a manager here. Once again, just what I hear from relatives, I know that people with higher authority here in the US are definitely more respected than in Mexico. Because unfortunately, due to corruption and all that, that aspect gets a little swallowed. The people in higher authority don’t always necessarily get the respect they should.

KS: Mhmm. How many years has your dad been in construction here? Did he just start that right when he came?

AI: No, he started working at a nursery when he first got here. He worked there for maybe five or six years. He wasn’t getting paid overtime, and he was being treated not with—fairly. So he quit that and started working in… he had a heating and air conditioning job for a couple of years. Then, he has been working the rest of that time, so seven plus years perhaps, in construction.

KS: Mhmm. Okay. How does he like it so far? Do you think he is going to change jobs again, do you think?

AI: No, I definitely think this is where he will stay. His boss really treats him fairly and they really like my father and his work. My father, he really enjoys doing it, even before he started working construction, he’s always built things for the house and everything. He really enjoys it, so I think that’s where he is going to be at.

KS: Cool. Why do you think that he went to the nursery, and to all these other jobs when he was a supervisor at this bussing company? Why do you think he changed careers so dramatically? Why didn’t he find something in the US that was bus—like, there’s bussing in Raleigh and around the area.

AI: Well, for sure, one thing that I do know is that a degree there or the qualifications in Mexico do not necessarily translate to the same thing in the United States. The primary reason he just went to the nursery job was because when he got here, my mother had a relative. That’s where my dad, he lived with them. They had a job there and they just helped him get a job within that nursery company. However, he didn’t speak the language, so it would have been kind of difficult for him to start at a manager position. Especially because in the United States, they do require an education level; and, he wouldn’t have met that level of requirement.

KS: Okay. Did he—so it was your aunt at the nursery? Or was it a friend at the nursery?

AI: Oh, it was my mother’s cousin.

KS: So did he have the job with her before he even left Mexico City? He came to North Carolina with that job?

AI: He also… When my dad came here he did already have that job lined up for him. My mother’s relatives had already asked around to see if they could have a position for my dad, and they said yes. Then, my dad travelled here, knowing that he would have a job lined up.

KS: How did he travel?

AI: He came here by car.

KS: Just drove through?

AI: Mhmm.

KS: How long was he working with your mom’s family before he brought back for you and your mom and your siblings.

AI: Mhmm. So, his original plan was not to make a livelihood here. He was just supposed to come here and get a little bit of money while things in Mexico City were hopefully going to get better. He realized that getting money here was a bit easier than in Mexico and was a whole lot more—maybe not a whole lot more. Okay, maybe I am speaking too boldly. He figured it was a lot easier to have that lifestyle here, especially because we lived in the country versus the city life. He thought it would be a better place to raise us, so after almost a year, he called my mother and told her: “Hey, I really want you guys to come here and live with me. I think this would be a better change for all of us.”

KS: Does your mom ever talk about that year apart at all? You were only six though. I don’t know. The year that your father was in the US, and you and your mother was back home, do you have any memories about that or stories?

AI: I don’t really remember quite a lot. I only do remember when my dad left. He didn’t say good-bye to me. He just kind of left one day and then the next I was like “Where’s dad?” Then they finally broke it down to me, “he will be back, and he’s just off for a good…” I don’t even remember exactly what they said he was off doing. Yeah, I remember that. He would constantly call us and keep in touch with us. I do remember when he called and they told us that I was going to go see my dad. To me, it didn’t really… I wasn’t even questioning it. I just knew I was going to go back and see my dad, because me and my dad were always close as a child. We still are. I was just super excited to be reunited with my dad again. I didn’t really question the motives or…

KS: What was happening.

AI: Mhmm.

KS: (Laughing). I like that. So, I guess it’s sort of the same thing for your mom. I wanted to ask why she did that change from supervisor position to now she is in the fast food industry. What has her work journey been like here?

AI: Mhmm. My mom just went from being, I wouldn’t say like an ordinary secretary, but she was just a secretary in Mexico to being in the fast food industry in American for the same reasons as my father. She didn’t know the language, and that was just the entry-level job that she could get here. The qualifications that she had in order to be a secretary did not translate here in America. She had to take what available positions were open. That is what was open at the time and she has been working at McDonalds ever since.

KS: Yeah. Does she like it?

AI: I wouldn’t say that she likes it. I think even she would say that she doesn’t like it, but it is what she can work. It is the job availability that she has based on her status. She definitely is qualified to do more than just being a McDonalds employee.

KS: Right.

AI: But, because of her status, she cant go any further. She was also manager at one point, but she had to step down due to her status.

KS: I thought that your parents had status in the US? Both of your parents don’t have…

AI: No, they don’t have anything.

KS: Oh wow, I think I misunderstood that in the last interview. Well, that leads into my next question. Since coming to the US, have your parents received any higher education or skills training? In order for your mom to potentially have a higher paying job or a better job, she could go and possibly try for an associate’s degree or something.

AI: Mhmm.

KS: Have any of those attempts been made?

AI: My dad has received I guess formal training for his job. My mother has receiving training to become a manager at McDonalds, which she was. My dad was a manager at—he was an assistant manager at McDonalds. He also worked at McDonalds for a number of years. They have not made an attempt to pursue higher education just because they haven’t had the time to dedicate to school and work, based on them raising four children.

KS: Right.

AI: They didn’t necessarily, I guess, see that as an opportunity for them. They preferred for them to work as hard as they can for us to have an educational opportunity.

KS: Wow. I like that. So busy with work, and busy with kids, how would you describe your family’s social presence in the community that they live?

AI: Well, I think that both my parents, more so my dad, is more involved in the community. They partake in the community, when I started in the community college I got them a little more involved. They started taking ESL classes. And they go to events at the community college. My dad, he had a soccer team, when I was in High School, for the Hispanic League nearby. Then, he started another soccer team for Elementary School when my little cousins were there. So, he’s been involved in the community on and off, of course. Whenever he feels like he has to take on more hours at work, he lays off of the community involvement. My mother, just because of her personality, is a shy person. She is not as involved as my dad is. But, she does go to every event that my dad goes to for support.

KS: Aw.

AI: She’s just the quiet one, but is very supporting.

KS: Okay. (Laughter). So how is your family life at home? So what is the relationship like and how does the Islas family work?

AI: Mhmm. I would say that my family is just very diverse. Because my mother is the shy one out of the whole family, and my little sister takes on after her. I have always been a little bit outspoken and outgoing, the same for my dad and another one of my sisters. So, we kind of have a little mixture. Then we have my brother that’s in between; he doesn’t talk too much but he doesn’t talk too little.

KS: Is he the middle child?

AI: No, he is the oldest child.

KS: Oh! (Laughter).

AI: I wouldn’t definitely say that we have a good dynamic in the Islas household. We all get along great. Of course, like any other family, every now and then we have our dilemmas. I think that we are very supportive of each other, and that’s one of the things that I definitely hold strong for my culture. We are very family-oriented.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: If we ever have an issue, we all get together and try to be there for each other.

KS: That’s good. This is… I’m going to start talking about some stereotypes, or maybe I am going to ask about some. I am trying to think… Has your family ever kind of taught you like gender roles, or has that been? Because that’s kind of like a stereotype up against a Hispanic culture is that men do one thing and women do another. Have you seen that in your family?

AI: Not very much. Because my parents were raised in a city, they were a bit more progressive than some of the rest of the Mexicans that were a little more country, I guess you could say. My mother, she has always believed in equality and equality of both sexes. My mom, she just doesn’t let my sisters do the cooking or the dishes. She is always showing my brother how to do things around the house, as well. So, I have never really seen a bias or sexualism. My father, he’s always taught—I know how to fix my car, I know how to do oil changes, because my father has always believed in that, too. You know, women and men should have equal rights.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: So I definitely don’t think I have seen sexist roles being instilled in my family. Like I said, I think that goes back because my parents were raised in the city and had a little bit more progressive ideas, I would say.

KS: Mhmm. And what, to you, because I don’t know the answer, but what is the difference between Hispanic and Latino?

KS: You know, that’s a … I don’t really know how to—I don’t know the exact differences. When you say Hispanic, to me, I think of generally just Mexico and Central America. Now, once we start talking about Southern…South America, I probably feel like I would throw in the Latino in there. Because, to me, Hispanic is people that speak Spanish and sometimes Brazilians, you can correct me if I am wrong. You know, I am not an expert.

KS: Sure.

AI: But, I feel like sometimes they get lumped in. And Latinos, just because they have somewhat of a Latin culture, but some of them don’t speak Spanish. To me, I feel like Hispanics is someone who speaks Spanish and is someone who is more from Central America and North America, being Mexico.

KS: Does that… We were talking about identity last time, and did you identify as a Mexican or American? You feel American, but you are a Mexican, and now you’ve got these words: Hispanic and Latina to throw in there. How does that affect?

AI: Well, it definitely does affect me, because like I said, I don’t even necessarily now the full definition of Hispanic and Latina. I consider myself Hispanic, and I consider myself that just because of my own personal definition of what Hispanic means. Because I was born in Mexico and both parents were born there.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: Am I answering your question?

KS: No, yeah! It’s a very confusing question, and that’s what I think I am getting at. What do you call yourself, when you have all these words thrown at you all the time?

AI: That is true.

KS: Are you Hispanic, and Latina, and Mexican, but you can feel American?

AI: I usually, just when I introduce myself, I say that I was born in Mexico, but raised in North Carolina. I feel like I am definitely a mix of cultures, you know. With Hispanic heritage and American Heritage, because to me, all I really know is America. I love fried chicken just as much as any one else does around here! (Laughter).

KS: Go, Tar Heels! (Laughter). Oh, that’s a good lead to my next question. Do you, and your family, or just you, embrace Hispanic traditions here in North Carolina?

AI: Yes, we definitely do. When we first, from what I can remember, when we first arrived here, we were new to a lot of the holidays and to a lot of the things that Americans did. As we became—as we learned a little bit more, because obviously, I was in school so they taught us a little bit more about the holidays. My parents always wanted to be involved, Such as Martin Luther Kind Jr. Day. My parents were always trying to be involved, like, “Hey, what does this mean? What can we do for this day?” For Fourth of July, we go out and do things. So, we always try to participate in a community event or the holidays, for the American Holidays.

KS: Right. What’s your favorite American Holiday or cultural thing?

AI: My favorite American holiday would definitely be Thanksgiving.

KS: Yes!

AI: (Laughing). It really does touch me every single year. Being thankful, and not just that day to be thankful, but I think coming from a Hispanic background, we are very family-oriented. We like to thank everyday for what we have. You know, for as little as we do have, we thank God for it. So, I think a specific day dedicated to being thankful for what you have, I think it’s great. My family has always participated in that holiday, and I think that’s definitely my favorite.

KS: That’s nice. What about…It seems like you and your family have pretty much adopted the American life, but is there any part of the Hispanic culture you just got to keep?

AI: Oh, absolutely! That’s one of the things I do like about my family, and that’s why I say that I feel like I am American--Mexican-American. We also, at home, just about every—all Hispanic holidays--Mexican holidays, we try to celebrate. My parents always try to teach us about it. Like Cinco de Mayo, I was, at first, confused and thinking, “Hey, I know that’s not our independence day, but why do people call it that?”

Ks: Mhmm.

AI: So, my parents take every opportunity they can to teach us and to tell us, “You now what, that’s not what it is.” Or just any random holiday that’s celebrated in Mexico, but not here, they’ll say, ”Hey, you know today’s X Day and this is how it’s celebrated and this is what you should know about it.” My parents always try to keep our roots—bring us back to our roots and tell us that it is always important to remember our culture.

KS: Mhmm. Well, because you speak Spanish at home, correct?

AI: Mhmm.

KS: Do you embrace like the food and the culture and the music?

AI: Yes.

KS: Yeah, all of it?

AI: Absolutely.

KS: What’s your favorite part about that?

AI: Well, absolutely, the food! (Laughing). The food is my favorite. We always, like I said, we do go to outings; we do go to celebrations like quinceñeras, and celebrations like that. We always dance, and my dad’s always been a really outgoing guy and he teaches us how to dance salsa and merengue. So, I know a little bit about just about every dance because of him. He always tries to embrace out culture, and also, he is really open to the American culture. We go out with our American friends and do a little line dancing, do a little, you know! (Laughing).

KS: Cha-cha slide! (Laughing).

AI: We definitely do. He’s not afraid to soak in a difference in cultures.

KS: I like that, too. (Papers rustling). How have—well Ill go back to the stereotypes. Have you had to personally battle any stereotypes that exist between the two cultures?

AI: Yes. Well… Being of a tanner skin color and I have always randomly… When I used to work at McDonalds or Cookout, or any job that I particularly had, I always, whenever I am serving someone, they typically think that I don’t speak English. Or they think that my English is not very good. It’s been kind of hard to overcome that stereotype. Or it was. I think I finally overcame it. Whenever I get a little stare, and people slow down their words like I don’t understand, it kind of makes me feel a little upset. Because I am like, “Hey, I speak English.”

KS: Right.

AI: I think that’s something that has not just impacted myself, but my whole family, because we get stereotypes like that. Or, people think that I don’t go to a College. I‘ve gotten that, too. People just think, “Oh, you work at Cookout or McDonalds, you’re just--that’s what you do for a living?” No. I am a student.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: So, those types of stereotypes have been a little…they can make you feel bad every now and then.

KS: I’m sure.

AI: But, I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve overcame those, whenever I get stereotyped that way. I think I don’t really get bothered anymore. I take it as ignorance on the other person who’s stereotyping me that way.

KS: Sure. But now, you’re working at the Franklin Hotel and you’re also a babysitter, a nanny?

AI: Mhmm.

KS: So when do you find time? So you go to the Franklin Hotel in the morning… What does your day look like? I am amazed you fit so much!

AI: (Laughter). So I guess my daily routines would be every Monday and Wednesday, I go to school and then right after that I go take care of a little girl. Then, I come back to school around 6:00, have dinner and then go home and do some studying and get some sleep because on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work anywhere from 5:00 to 6:00 in the morning. Then, I get off work at 10:45 or 10:30, and then head straight to class from 11:00 to 4:45. I use my free time, as I so like to call it…. (Laughter). …to study or catch up on homework or do whatever it is that I need to do at that time.

KS: Right.

AI: On Thursdays, that’s my longer days, because right as soon as I get out of class, I am involved with SUIE (Students United for Immigrant Equality). I attend their weekly meetings. Yeah. On Fridays I do the similar: work in the morning again, and then I go to school, and then go babysit. My weekend is working again and just catching up with schoolwork.

KS: You have a really good work ethic, I think. Because it gets hard when you have papers and classes and you just keep working. I think you have a really strong sense of work ethic. (Laughter). Are there…. The service industry, okay, so that gets generalized as a Hispanic job, so I just want to know, In the Franklin Hotel, are there other Hispanics that you work with? Or is there a great variety? What does that work dynamic look like?

AI: Honestly, it’s mostly Hispanics. There’s a few that are not Hispanic.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: But for the most part, its just Mexicans and Guatemalans, I think that’s all we have in the Franklin Hotel. I have worked a lot in the service industry, and you see basically the majority Hispanics, especially in the kitchens. For example, when I worked at the Governor’s Club--that’s a different story actually. That’s a different story. You did have a good dynamic there, just because you did have to have professional chefs. And not to say that Hispanics don’t take the time to do so, but sometimes a lot of the Hispanics that do come here as immigrants, a good chunk of them are undocumented, so it’s a little harder to get these certificates and get the schooling behind. Whenever you have a job such as the Governor’s Club that requires these certificates and what not, you don’t see a lot of Hispanics in this particular field. It’s just because there’s more requirements to there.

KS: Who works in those jobs?

AI: Typically for the certification jobs, you get a good variety. Mostly Americans are working in those positions where you have to have some sorts of certificates or degrees to work in.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: And that is what I have seen, but however in the service industry jobs like Cookout and McDonalds that I have worked at, you see the majority, I would say at least about 95% …

KS: Wow.

AI: … of the people are Hispanics working in the kitchens. In the front of the house, you typically get the Americans that are there. I also think too, it’s because of the language. Just people feel more comfortable. Although they can speak English, they feel a little bit more comfortable not being at the front of the house.

KS: Right.

AI: Also, it’s like everyone in the back with you it’s like a community, a family.

AI: That’s true.

KS: You can have like a work family. So when you have work, and you have new jobs, is status something that is talked about? Or is that something that is not talked about? Like if you got a new job, and you see the kitchen is full of people form Mexico or people from Guatemala, do you just say, “Hey, I’m from Mexico too. Are you a citizen?” How does that go?

AI: Uh huh. Typically, Hispanics are definitely more open. Not that you assume that you’re undocumented just because yore another Hispanic…

KS: Sure.

AI: …but, you feel more comfortable. You have a sense of I’m not going to be judged, or I can be free and tell you if I am undocumented, if I choose to.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: However, because I’ve worked both. I’ve worked in the kitchen and in the front of the house, and registers and drive-thru. I don’t feel as comfortable telling an American that I am, just because I am afraid of getting stereotyped or any negative repercussions that may come behind me saying that. However, if I am working in the kitchen, I feel much more comfortable telling you, “Yes, I am undocumented. How about you?” But, It’s not something that we all talk about as soon as we meet.

KS: Sure. (Laughter).

AI: You automatically feel like family.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: You feel really liberated, you feel like no judgment. That’s how you feel whenever you work with someone else that’s Hispanic.

KS: Mhmm. It’s because you’re family oriented. It’s in your blood! I love it. Last couple questions. How have your dreams evolved, as you’ve gotten older?

AI: I would say, when I was younger, I sued to think that the step to get to was being a high school graduate. I thought that was going to be where I needed to be. You know, when I was anywhere from middle school and less, I thought that high school was it. My dad didn’t make it to high school graduation and my mom did, but that’s all that she did. I thought that’s where I needed to be. But as I became, started to go into high school and finishing middle school, I realized that there’s more than just high school. There’s college. I wanted that that just as much s anybody else. So I think yes, my goals definitely changed from being a high school graduate to now, obtaining a Masters degree.

KS: That’s your end target? The Masters?

AI: Oh, actually, my end target is a Doctorate, but with what I want to do, not that I don’t need a Doctorate, but I think that I will be well equipped with a Masters. Just because of my status and how much it takes to afford school, I don’t think that a Doctorate will be very feasible, just in the money sense.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: But of course, you know, if I do get another wonderful scholarship like the one I have, I definitely would love to go for it.

KS: Yeah. How have your self-perceptions changed over time?

AI: Can you explain that question a little more?

KS: Sure. A self-perception is like how do you think about yourself. So, when you were young, you probably had this idea, and so how has that grown or changed?

AI: Okay. Whenever I was younger, I do remember thinking I could be anything that I wanted to be.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: And then, right when I was graduating high school, I said, “No, I cant, because I am undocumented.” At some point in my childhood years, I wanted to be in the Medical field.

KS: Mhmm.

AI: Right when I was getting ready to finish high school, I realized that to get into nursing programs or anything allied-health related, you had to have social security. So, automatically, I started realizing that I’m actually limited. Although, I want to be anything that—my mindset said that I can be anything that I wanted to be. On the contrary, I am limited because of the status that I do have. I could be the smartest in whatever specific field I wanted to be, but because of my status, I am limited. That doesn’t mean that it is impossible, but I am limited. SO I think that my self-perception changed a little. I more so oriented myself to what I can do, and excel from that. I think that’s how my self-perception has changed. Doing what I can do, based on my limitations.

KS: Mhmm. Is high school the first time you started noticing those limitations?

AI: Yes.

KS: That’s when it all started.

AI: It really started whenever… Drivers Ed.

KS: Oh right. Right.

AI: Driver’s Ed is whenever I realized, “Oh, I am different.” (Laughter).

KS: I wanted to know, how did you find out about your undocumented status?

AI: I’ve always known that I was undocumented.

KS: Oh, okay.

AI: But it’s not something that I kept being reminded of every day, much like I do now. You know, K-12, because of that Supreme Court Case ruling…

KS: Mhmm.

AI: …anyone can be in anything from K-12. The whole entire time, up to middle school, I would say that I felt like I had equal opportunities. But once I started getting to fourteen and a half, fifteen, having to take Drivers Ed, that’s the first time where,” You’re undocumented? Sorry, hold on.” You can’t do everything as you think you can.

KS: Right.

AI: That was the moment that, slowly but surely, it started building up. It was particularly after 9/11 whenever new laws started, Homeland Security.

KS: Right.

AI: Started chiming in and crating new laws that prevented me from being a regular, normal person.

KS: A regular, normal person? So you felt like you were less of a person?

AI: I definitely…in a sense, Yes.

KS: Yeah.

AI: Because I don’t consider myself a criminal. Unfortunately, under the law, some people see me as a criminal. So I think whenever you put a fifteen or fourteen year old child and say, “You can’t get a Driver’s License,” because under the scope, you are considered as somewhat of a criminal,” that does some things to a person. It kind of makes you feel lesser of a person. I felt like, you know, I was equal, but whenever little things like that occur, it does…it can hurt a little bit.

KS: Mhmm. Wow. Well… Do you ever look back, because now yore older, you’re wise, you’re in school, you’ve been with the system that has kind of pushed you down a little bit—or maybe a lot, do you ever look at your past and ever look at things differently because of your experiences?

AI: Yes, always. Always. Every time I look back, I couldn’t have a license then, but now I have a license.

Ks: Mhmm.

AI: little things like that, I like to look and see where I am. I don’t like to look backwards a lot, just because it can bring back sad feelings or emotional feelings that can just cloud up my judgment moving forward. But I do like to look at what obstacles I have overcome. For example, I thought that I wasn’t going to come here to UNC, just because I didn’t have the money. But, I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship that is going to put me through my last two years here. So I look at what I have overcame, and not dig in too deep to at the time why I couldn’t do it.

KS: Right.

AI: I just see it as it is possible. So while I do have limitations, I still can do a lot with those limitations that I have.

KS: You’re just always so positive and I think that you’re kind of like a really big inspiration to others. I really appreciate that you’re letting me have your story, and that I can share it to other people because hopefully you can reach others. Maybe with your work with public policy or with SUIE, you can reach others and inspire them, too.

AI: Thank you!

KS: I am out of questions, so again, thank you for your time.

AI: Thank you, I appreciate it!