María Zacnité Figueroa

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Maria Figueroa is an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in economics and mathematics. Her family moved from Cuernavaca, Mexico to Hendersonville, North Carolina when she was ten years old because her parents were in search of better paying jobs. Both of Figueroa's parents have bachelor's degrees from Mexican Universities and have emphasized the importance of education to their children. Figueroa graduated from high school and attended community college for two years before transferring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the interview, Figueroa discusses her parent's personal and educational background and how that influenced many of their decisions; issues with her legal status and how that affected her ability to apply for colleges; her role as a role model to other immigrant or Latino teens about seeking higher education.



Olivia Miller: My name's Olivia Miller. I'm interviewing Maria today. We are in the
student union on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and we will be
discussing generational educational patterns and the effect of a parent's education level on
their children in the U.S. So to get started, Maria, can you tell about your family background, a
little bit?
Maria Figueroa: Okay, my family is a family, or it was, a family of four. We're from
Mexico, specifically Cuernavaca. It's like two hours away from Mexico City. My dad studied
electrical engineering. My mom studied international commerce. I have a younger brother
who's two years younger than me and I'm the oldest child.
OM: And how long have your parents or how long have you all lived in the U.S.?
MF: We have lived here since 2001. So what's that like, July 4th, 2001?
OM: And why did you, why did you leave Mexico?
MF: Basically my father was working as a teacher at a private school in Mexico and
he couldn't find any other job that would pay him enough. And my mother, because she was a
woman, couldn't move past her employment, like her level in her job. So basically they decided
to find another job in the United States. We had, my mother had a cousin here who told her "oh
yeah, come on over. You can find a job. It'll be fine." And so my dad decided to apply and he
actually, I think, applied at a middle school in Chicago. We were going to go there, with a work
permit and everything but instead, I have no idea what happened and at the end we just came
in with a, what is it, a visitor's visa and overstayed the visa. That's how we ended up here.
OM: And when you came to the U.S. did you all go-where did you go first? Did you
come straight to North Carolina?
MF: Mhm. We actually came straight to the Raleigh airport. My mom has a couple
friends here and uh- Actually, in Mexico, my grandparents, they house students and do the
interchange program. So that's how my mom had some friends here in North Carolina. She met
them through the program and they said "you guys can come stay with us in Durham until you
find a job or something." And we stayed with them until October of that year, 2001. But they
couldn't find any job here in Durham. So another one of my mom's friends met them the same
way, in Hendersonville, North Carolina, invited them to go look for a job there. And my dad was
able to find a job I think assisting electricians in Hendersonville. So we moved there and ended
up there.
OM: Okay, and is that where your family lives now?
MF: That's where my mom is still living.
OM: And did your dad move away?
MF: Well my dad-- her and my dad got divorced in I think it was 2004. Yeah, 2004,1
think. They got divorced. My dad lived there until probably 2007,1 think.
OM: And you were born in Mexico, right?
MF: Yes.
OM: So how long-- how old were you when you moved to the U.S.?
MF: I actually--1 had my eleventh year birthday party here. So I was there for ten
OM: So you talked a little bit about what your parents do for a living. So what are
their educational backgrounds? Through what level of education did they complete in Mexico?
MF: They only went until their Bachelor's degree. My dad and my mom's
backgrounds are pretty different. My mom is from a middle class family. So my grandfather, he
was an accountant. My grandmother, I don't think she ever finished school, but I know she went
all the way through high school. She was in businesses and stuff. So I think she was always
expected to go to college but she didn't like it because they wanted her to go into engineering
or a computer science field and she is not a math person. So she didn't finish her college until
she met my dad and they got married and had kids. And then my dad pushed her to finish her
education and she decided to do international commerce. My dad, his background-- he comes
from a really poor family. My grandmother, she's a single mother. She has four boys. I know
they lived in almost extreme poverty. But he went to public school and I guess all of them, all of
his brothers just saw education as the only way to move up. They went to the public university
in Cuemavaca and he decided to finish engineering. And he was actually the one that kind of
promoted more of the keep on studying, get your higher education. I think my mom, after she
finished her college; she actually like valued it more. But it wasn't until she finished it.
OM: Did they continue any education in the U.S.? Or are they still with the degrees
they got in Mexico?
MF: They're still with the degrees they got in Mexico.
OM: Okay
MF: My dad has applied for a master's program here and I think he's going to be
doing some sort of masters program in Appalachian or Western in the fall. So he's the only one
that- at least he's planning on continuing.
OM: What was the quality of the education that they received in their home
country? Like they went through their bachelors but how did they feel about the quality of the
MF: I think they feel pretty good about it. I know when I was in school we had to
take a placement test here to see what grade level we had to go to. And I know my brother and I
were both placed a level higher than what we were in Mexico. So that made them feel good too.
And yeah, I've never had problems like them feeling like their degrees or whatever they studied
doesn't compare to the level in the U.S.
OM: What is the typical education level in Mexico from where they're from, from
MF: I think the majority of people maybe high school, maybe they finish high school.
Now I think it's changing a little bit more and it also depends on the social class.
OM: Oh really?
MF: Yeah. I'm saying most people don't finish high school because I think there's
more of the lower classes there. But normally, in the middle classes, at least men are expected
to finish at least their bachelors. Women just--1 think they go to school and kind of just find the
husband and settle down.
OM: What types of opportunities does education lead to in Mexico?
MF: Well with my father it--1 know all of his brothers went to college except one.
Most of them, you know they live pretty well. They have their own families. They have a home.
They actually can pay for their house and take vacation once in awhile. So it does change their
lifestyle. I think- When I was there though they also complained a lot about that. The Mexican
government with taxes and with the corruption around the country that you always have to pay
somebody to do something. So I think in Mexico, there's only so far you can move up without
having to go into the corrupted system yourself or having to, I don't know, to depend on people
to help you move up. But it does help you. I mean, with my dad's family, it did help him get out
of that poverty state. And I know my grandfather also came from a poor background and it was
his degree in accounting that lead him to the middle class.
OM: And how is education viewed in Mexico compared to the way it's viewed in the
MF: I think in the U.S. you know education is more- I think you also see it as your
ticket out of poverty. I don't know, I think maybe just because it's a lot cleaner, and I'm not
saying-just because there's not as much corruption, I guess, here. Something I notice in Mexico
is that, you know, there's always talk about corruption and always talk about how bad the
government is and how much they're screwing people no matter what level of education you
are from. Whereas here, you know, once you— I never hear that. I mean I hear complaints about
the government about what they- the way their policies are doing. But it's never like the whole
system is so corrupted that you feel helpless. And I think no matter what level of education in
Mexico, there's still a big level of helplessness because of the corruption.
OM: And you were talking about your parent's extended family and your dad's
brothers also going to school. Are his siblings still in Mexico?
MF: Yes. They're all there.
OM: Okay, and do they still use their degrees and have no issues finding employment
or anything?
MF: Yeah, the youngest one, which one's the youngest one? [Laughter] Let's see,
well my uncle Carlos, he's an accountant and he has his own business. He has, I think, a couple
of big clients or pretty significant clients. He has a home. He has two cars I think now. They're
small, cheap cars but I don't know, I think it's a big accomplishment for most Mexican families.
And he's still doing pretty well. He's doing what he studied. He likes his job. My uncle, he
actually got a master's. He finished his masters in architecture and he got a really good job, I
think, in the state of Sonora, which is in the north of Mexico. He was working for a company that
they were doing a lot architectural projects, unfortunately, or fortunately, whichever way- you
know that the government started coming down on the drug cartels and everything. Well
they're a lot of the people that fund- that have money to build, make new structures and higher
architecture. So after a lot of the drug cartels were like being scared by the government and
made to move- So he didn't have a job after that so he went back to Morelo- or Cuernavaca,
and he's now teaching for the university there. I think he likes the teaching job. He doesn't make
as much money but he likes it. He only has a wife; they have no kids, so that kind of makes it
easier for them financially.
OM: So would you say that by them having degrees they've moved up in class?
Because your father's family was of poor class in the beginning, right?
MF: Yes, yes. I mean I remember when I was really young they- I think they were all
still like in high school or maybe starting the beginning of college. And yeah, I mean I remember-
- I've seen them in the pictures. Their clothes were very inexpensive, pretty worn out. The place
where my grandmother lived it wasn't--1 mean it was pretty cheap. It was like low-income
housing. You see us all with like really cheap shoes and all this. So, I think, yeah, it has helped
them all move a lot. And his wife, actually, my Uncle Alfonso's wife, the architect, she's a
pharmacist. And she works for the local hospital there, the Seguro Social. So they both have
good jobs. I think they both just started kind of getting into the labor force. But they're living
well. They're certainly way better than when they started.
OM: And of your uncles that do have children, are those children going to continue
through a higher education like their parents did?
MF: Yes. Actually they're- When I was in Mexico I went to public school for the first
three years and then to a private school for the last three that I was there, or last two that I was
there. And I had a good time in my public schools and I think the reason that I started going to
private school was because I was able to get-- my brother and I were able to get a scholarship.
Which it's not a full scholarship but I think they gave you some support with that. But I think of
my cousins, now we are one of the few that actually went to public school. My uncle Carlos' kids
since pre-school and everything, they started at private schools and they, I don't know, they
become I guess "ninos fresas" which is like the, you know the, how do you call, the middle class
kids that never get exposed to anything. I think they would be more like American kids. Like any
type of American kid here, or middle class American kids too. And yeah, they plan on going to
college. It's kind of funny because from my uncle's generation, you know; going to college was,
at least with their group of friends, it wasn't like anyone was thinking of going to college. You
were thinking of maybe finishing high school and then getting a job and that was a great
accomplishment. But now that my uncle and my dad finished college it's like their kids are
actually- Going to college is not an option anymore. It's like finishing high school for my dad,
what was finishing high school for my dad.
OM: So when you went to private school, when you and your brother went to private
school, what's that process like? Are most kids in public school? How much does it cost?
MF: Yeah, most kids are in public schools and I don't think there's any cost to go to
public school. They don't provide free lunch so you have to buy your own lunch, but that wasn't
a problem. The level of education from public school, I think it was fine. We were right on task
with everything, with the curriculum that the government sets up. What I did see though is that
there were always a lot of kids in each classroom and that made it very difficult for the
professor, sorry, for the teacher to deal with all the kids. And also you had— Most of the kids in
public schools are from low income backgrounds. So that was another problem because- or not
a problem — it caused challenges for the teacher sometimes because some of them, you know,
they had problems at home. They sometimes wouldn't be able to come to school because they
had to go help their parents in their job or try to find ways to make money. I know some of them
didn't eat very well because every Monday we had to give honors to the flag, and it was a very
long process. We would all have to be standing and I think there were a lot of kids who either
didn't have breakfast or, I don't know, they had something and a lot of them would just kind of
pass out. It was very typical. Whereas when I was in private school, I never saw that. It was very-
- Nobody passed out during the honors to the flag. Whereas it was the status quo [in the public
school] it's like "oh, there it goes." It was weird when someone didn't pass out.
OM: So you were talking a little bit about your parent's education and how your
grandparents were fairly educated as well. So was education an important thing within their
family? Did all your aunts and uncles on both sides receive higher education as well?
MF: No actually, not all of them. There's four kids, four boys on my dad's side and
one of them didn't go to college. And there's three women and one boy in my mom's side and
on of t h - the youngest girl didn't go to college. And from my dad's side, my oldest uncle,
Roberto, he was always kind of a rebel. I think he felt the most pressure, just from being the
oldest son, to help my grandmother or he jus--1 don't know, I guess he was really unhappy with
the situation. But he got into alcohol and he actually became an alcoholic. So I think-- He didn't
like school either. He couldn't sit still so he had problems concentrating, he didn't find any value
to it--. What he started doing though was getting into business and I know he partnered up with
some guy in Mexico and they actually started an arts business. They did really well with that.
Unfortunately, because of his alcoholism, he never could advance anywhere. From my mom's
side of the family, the youngest one, she's also was kind of like a "rebelish" child and she didn't
like school. She dropped out. She was always with boyfriends and yeah, I think she just didn't
like school. Now, she also went into business, she has her own hair salon and that's what she's
doing so-.
OM: So what are your thoughts on the education your parents received? Do you ever
compare it or relate it to the education that you receive here in the U.S. as far as higher
education goes?
MF: I don't know. I guess higher education- What does surprise me is that,
especially in literature or with philosophy, I feel like they get a little better background in terms
of world philosophy or world literature because whenever I hear them talk, especially with other
people, like my stepmother, she's from the U.S., my dad will be talking about all these classical
books and sort of older philosophers or writers and I know my stepmother, she knows a couple
of them, but she's never actually read their work. She's read about them, she's kind of familiar
with them, but she doesn't know a lot. Now my dad, when it comes in terms of American
literature and American philosophers, he knows some of the major ones but in literature he's
basically, out of the really really big ones, he doesn't know a lot. So that's kind of the
discrepancy I see.
OM: So do you feel like one is getting more of a comprehensive education than the
MF: Yeah, I feel like in Mexico they put more emphasis on not only American authors
or American thinkers, they take a lot from European authors and thinkers and also, of course,
the Latin American authors and thinkers. And in the U.S. I think they do show that but
sometimes emphasis is put more towards the American authors and thinkers, especially at the
high school level.
OM: So, I guess, what influence have your parents had on your education?
MF: Let's see, my father always told me that I should go to college. He was always--
especially since you're a woman, you should definitely go to college. He never, besides the fact
that he thought it would give me a better job and a higher pay, he felt like it would change me
as a person, like it would open some enlightenment knowledge and make me a complete
person. And I don't know, I guess just hearing that message over and over again kind of made
me think, "Yes, I have to go to college. Yes, I have to go to college." With my mother, she never
said don't go to college or anything but she never actually expressed it very loudly. And once in
awhile she would say "oh yes, remember you have to go to college." Her support was a little--1
didn't feel the same support from her. With my father, he was always pushing me with my
grades and saying "okay, you've got to do it." And with my mom, she would say it, but
sometimes-- she made it difficult sometimes to study or finish my homework because she would
be like "oh, I need help with this. Come do this." Or "I need you t o - . She would always have
friends, she's very social. So she would bring friends even though I was doing homework so, I
don't think she was doing it intentionally, but she just wasn't aware that I was doing homework,
and that I was working on projects and that I needed a quiet environment for that.
OM: So what are your parent's expectations for your education? Just to get the
bachelors degree? Or would your dad like you to go further?
MF: My dad would actually like me to go, if I can, all the way to my Ph.D. He says I at
least need my masters. He worked at a job agency for a couple of--1 think for a year here in the
U.S., where they, you know, you bring your resume and they find jobs for you. And what he
noticed, especially with the financial crisis, is that a lot of people who had bachelors were
coming in and couldn't find jobs. And maybe it was because it was more philosophy majors that
it's hard to find a job, I'm not sure what it was, but that really impacted him and he was like I
don't think bachelor's is good enough anymore. Now you have to get a masters and a Ph. D. at
least. So he-- every time I talk to him he's always like, you know, you have to make good grades
because you have to get into a good masters program. I think my mom also would like me to go
to a master's program but for her, I think, if I finished bachelors and then I decided to go into
the work force, she wouldn't be too upset about it. She is kind of-- she does have like some sort
of--1 think she would feel some sort of admiration or feel very proud for me if I did keep going
into my masters.
OM: So what are your parent's views on the U.S. education system compared to
Mexico? Is going back to Mexico ever an option for education?
MF: I guess we were thinking about that and my father is a little more-- because we
came here, well I guess we came here illegally. We overstayed our visa and when we became
illegal one of the options, I mean I didn't have my documents when I came out of high school so
one of the options that we were looking at, that my dad was really pushing for, was for me to go
back to Mexico and do my college there. He was like, you know, it's the same education, you can
get could grades and come back or go to Europe or go somewhere else. He never saw any
difference between the American universities and the Mexican universities. My mother though,
she was like you know, you're already here. You graduate from an American school, you can get
a job anywhere, just because it's an American university or college, they have the reputation,
the prestige. In that term, I think I was leaning more towards my mom. I mean I understand that
Mexico does have good schools and I have seen a couple of people who study in Mexico
sometimes gets jobs abroad and they feel fine with their education. I guess what I didn't like is
that I was more used to this school system and I wasn't sure if I would be able to compete in the
Mexican school system anymore. Especially with my level of Spanish. I mean I can write it and
read it but my writing is very casual. I've never written essay or a formal essay in Spanish so that
kind of worried me.
OM: Right. Because you only went up to what grade in Mexico?
MF: Fifth Grade.
OM: Fifth grade. Did you learn any bit of English there or did you get all of your
English here?
MF: I actually went to—for private school, we went to a bilingual school. I should
have learned English there but I was- It's really funny, I did value education, but for some
reason it didn't get instilled in me how important it was until we came to the U.S. I guess in
Mexico, I never- my father was always like, "yeah, you've got to do good in school, got to go to
college." But I feel like I never actually embraced it. I remember in those fourth and fifth grade,
when I was in private school, I was more worried about having fun with my friends and fitting in
with my friends. I didn't like English class, I thought it was dumb, why would I need it? I was
never thinking if going anywhere. I mean I learned how to conjugate a couple verbs. I knew how
to say hello, my name, but that was basically it. I had to learn English here. I think the move, at
least for me and my brother, for my brother and me, it was good in the way that we valued
education more. We certainly pushed ourselves harder. We kind of stopped caring a little bit too
much about my friends and our social groups and actually started focusing more in school and
trying to do better. And I think it was the fact that we were undocumented and that it was really
hard for my parents to get jobs even though they had this education that we were like well if-
You know they both had a degree and I think that was one of the reasons that they were able
sometimes to find better jobs than the average illegal immigrant in the U.S. But it was still really
difficult for them. So I think seeing that, for me and my brother, it was like, yeah we really need
to focus and get some sort of degree.
OM: And if you don't mind me asking, now are all of your documents okay now or
will you all run into that same problem?
MF: No our documents are fine. My father, he was working for the public school
system. He was doing translations. He kind of did his own business translating documents and it
was going fine. And in the place where he worked, El Centro Comunitario, the community
center, in Hendersonville, he met Jennifer, which is my stepmother, and she worked for
Telemon, a program to help migrant workers. And they met there, they hit it off, and I think they
dated for like one or two years and then they got married. And after they got married they
processed the documents and my brother and I and my father were able to get our
documentation. My mother, she also remarried. She is in the process of getting her documents.
OM: So has having an American stepmother had any effect on your education? Does
she see it any differently than your dad does?
MF: I don't know. I mean they both certainly push me. They push me towards higher
education but I think my dad is a little bit more--1 think I can still see his background, coming
from a lower income family, that he's very worried. He wants me to go as fast as I can, finish the
career, get a Ph.D. as fast as I can, where as my stepmother is like, you know, "don't rush
yourself. Enjoy school. Take as many classes as you can, explore your options." Whereas my dad
is like "no, no, no, stay focused. Get your career. Get your degree. Get the Ph.D." So I think my
stepmother is a.little bit more, not relaxed in the sense that I shouldn't go to school or like it's
fine if you don't go to school, but that education— You know, she's like, "your there, enjoy it,
explore your options" where as for my father, "you stay focused, don't test the waters, don't do
anything." [Laughter]
OM: Are the expectation for education the same for your brother or do your parents
kind of approach you all differently?
MF: Well in high school both me and my brother were kind of -- we never worked a
hundred percent and I think my parent saw that. I remember my dad was kind of like-- he tends
to be harder. He was always like "you and your brother, you guys don't study enough, you don't
do enough. I don't believe you're going to go to college." So he was very discouraging at a
certain point. He was actually pretty mean and it would upset me a lot and actually, I you know,
whenever he tells me I can't do something I'm like, no, I can do it. So I guess that was also
another motivation for me just to rub it in his face and be like look, I got my degree just like you!
And I'm going to get my masters and my Ph. D. and go way beyond you. I was pretty upset when
he would rub it in. Now I don't think I care anymore. Well I know I don't care anymore. But for
my brother it was a little harder because once I got through my first two years of college, he
[her father] kind of backed up and was like "oh wow, I'm very proud of you. You're doing great.
You're really smart, you can do this." So his attitude changed completely. With my brother in
high school, you know he was coming out of high school, he was kind of having fun his senior
year and so my dad was like "no, you're not going to go to college. If you do get into college,
you're going to mess it up." He's like "I'll have your room ready when you come back and you
can start working or go to the community college until you grow up." Basically, that's what they
told him. And I guess my brother must have felt the same way because he finished his first
semester of college and he did really well. He's liking it. He's going for his second semester and I
know he's still doing really well. He actually seems even more motivated than I was. So I think
the expectations for him are also the same for me but I guess just because he was a boy and he
was always more distracted than me, he had a harder time with my dad. He would probably get
pushed down a little more.
OM: So could you--1 know you've said it a few times but could you clarify a little bit,
what levels of education you had in each country and what level of education you're at now?
MF: In Mexico, I went until fifth grade. I started sixth grade in the U.S. and right now
I'm in my third year of college.
OM: So which- through fifth grade in Mexico, which years of those were private
MF: Fourth and fifth.
OM: And you were talking about getting a Ph.D. and that's what your dad would
really like you to do. Are those your plans as well?
MF: Yeah, my transferring to Carolina, I think, has been my greatest challenge. I had
a difficult first semester especially, as well, because my mother- she was not doing very well
financially and she also had a baby. She hasn't made the best choices in life and those kind of,
even though I don't like to think so, they do kind of affect my brother and I. So we had to go
back to Hendersonville- or I had to back to Hendersonville a couple times and help her out. And
I think just managing that with the transferring to UNC, which in itself was pretty, I don't know,
scary, made it a tough first semester. This semester, for me, is going a lot easier. But I think its
still- last semester I was a little discouraged. I was like well maybe this is the highest I can go, I
can't do any further - but this semester I'm actually thinking no, I think I'm going to keep going,
try getting my masters, get the masters, and if I'm still liking it, still want to do it then go on to
Ph.D. I think when I was in high school I would see it as yes, there's no way I'm not doing it
where as now I'm like, I'm going to go for the masters but depending on how I feel I'll decide
about the Ph.D. or not.
OM: So when you were applying to colleges out of high school, what types of
colleges were you looking in to? Because you said you transferred, so where were you?
MF: Well the way it happened is- I was still undocumented so I applied to several
schools. I applied to a couple of private ones hoping that I would get some sort of financial help
from them. I didn't apply to Carolina because I knew there was no way I could enter without
financial aid and because of my documentation, I couldn't afford it. I applied to Furman, let's
see, Furman University and they actually gave me a small scholarship but it was still not enough
for me to go. By that time, finally, my father had gotten married and they were processing the
papers so we had a work permit then and some paper saying that we were in the process. A
family friend of ours worked at the community college and there and she said you know with
that piece of paper that says that you're in the process, I think you can enroll in community
college. This was at the time when community colleges were not accepting undocumented
students at all, so that wasn't even an option, but because I had this paper saying I was in the
process, she was able to find a way for me to be enrolled and actually get like- I didn't get
financial aid through AB Tech [Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College], I got financial
aid through a community scholarship that didn't require any type of documentation or anything
so that was the way I was able to pay for it and actually go to school.
OM: So how do you think a person's education level can affect their life? You talked
about how your parents said it's helped them move up in class, especially in Mexico, so do you
feel like it's going to have the same effect on you in the U.S.?
MF: Yeah, I think so, I mean I a lot of my friends that I went to high school with, they
decided not to go to college and what I see is- and they staying in Hendersonville, and
Hendersonville is a really small town. It's basically where people retire and just live out their last
couple of years. And the people that do stay there, you end up in jobs like waitering in the
restaurants where the retirees go to eat and maybe if you're lucky you're one of those persons
that gets a job selling cars or at a bank or at Wal-Mart. And a lot of what my friends are doing is
basically being waitresses, waiters, working at hotels in the front desk, checking, what are those-
-, cashiers in ( ) or Harris Teeter. So yeah I do think it does affect it and I think they
realize it too. A couple of them are actually deciding to go to community college and at least
become a dental hygienist or a nurse's assistant or something like that. I don't know, besides the
fact that it does help you economically, I think just being in a different environment in college
and being exposed to different readings, you know you get a lot of lectures here, and hearing
other people's point of view, it also changes the way you think and it impacts you as a person as
a whole even if you fail classes and don't finish with your degree. Just being in the college
environment and having speakers come in, having classmates from different parts of the world,
with different motivations, with different backgrounds, it does impact your opinion or your way
of thinking as a person. I think I know now why my dad was always like "you have to go to
college" especially because you're a woman. Because in Mexico, women are just expected too--
or they were, I guess, when he was there, they're just expected to get married and have kids. He
didn't want that for me. He wanted me to have a little bit more, something else.
OM: So how has being the child of a migrant affected your educational experience
MF: Let's see, my migrant experience--.
OM: Did you encounter any difficulties with having migrant parents throughout your
education? Or because they also had a higher education, it might have been different?
MF: I guess being migrant, and undocumented migrants did make it difficult. There
were a couple of programs that when I was in high school, that I was invited to go to. One of
them I think it was some sort of contest out in California and you had to fly out here and be with
all the other kids and do some sort of small network, supposedly. I thought it was really cool and
I wanted to do it and my mother was always very supportive and was like "yeah, go do it, have
fun." and my father, because of our undocumented situation, he was always like, "no, no, you
can't expose yourself, I don't want you in airports, I don't want you doing this--" So that was
where it kind of hindered any type of opportunity that I would get in the mail to some sort of
program or to some sort of invitation saying you want to speak here you want to do this, he [her
dad] was like "no, you can't get involved in that, sorry." And I think that made it hard because all
of my friends were getting- a lot of my friends were getting involved in those things or like with
political opinions and stuff everybody was--1 think the 2008, there was a year election in high
school, I think it was 2008, everybody was very polarized. I wanted to be a part of it too but my
father was always like "no, you can't do that. I don't want you there." So that kind of really made
me-- upset me when I was there. But at the end I think he thought he was protecting us at the
end. It was his way of doing it. I don't think he had to be as strict as he was, but he thought he
was protecting us.
OM: So were your schools conscious of the fact-- of your migrant status, did the
schools know?
MF: No, actually, I don't think anybody in my classroom knew. And I was actually
really embarrassed because I know a lot of my friends, they were fine with immigrants and
people from different countries and everything but when it came to being undocumented, a lot
of them were very opposed to it and very negative and kind of-- well they had their opinions
about it. For me, I just didn't want to be put in that category so I made sure nobody knew
anything. I never said that I was legal, I made sure not to ever say that but I never corrected
anyone or said anything. On the senior year of high school, you know, the counselor meets with
you and she's like okay, "how's your education going." That's when I think she found out. She
didn't find out from me. My mother came in to the school and was like "okay, this is our
situation, what can we do?" And the counselor was extremely surprised because I guess she
didn't expect it from my brother and I.
OM: So did the schools have programs to keep your parents actively involved in your
education? Or it wasn't until senior year?
MF: I don't know. I think the counselors at our school were really nice and they did
try to help but they have so many kids that it's kind of hard. And I guess with most kids,
especially the ones that are thinking of going to college, they expect parents kind of to help. So
they either put a lot of attention to you if you're trying to apply to some really really competitive
school or some really competitive program or if you're at the opposite scale. If you are having so
much trouble or so many problems then they help. I think because they didn't know that I was
undocumented, I was put into that kind of category where they're like, they're getting help from
parents or they can deal with it on their own. Once they found out that situation they tried to
find ways to help me out and find a way to be enrolled in a college, but the legislature- there
was no way I could do it.
OM: So is there a high Latino population in Hendersonville?
MF: Now there is. I think it is one of the fastest growing migrant states. But when I
started there, I think in my ESL class there were like, maybe three other kids with me. So in
middle school there weren't a lot of Hispanic. It started growing really fast once I got in to high
school. I think it's also when it became a little bit more polarized, the situation with
undocumented, documented students.
OM: So do you think your experience, because your parents had degrees, was a little
bit different than some of the other migrants in the community?
MF: Yes I do. I mean I guess because of my parents education, I always thought
about going to school where as I know that some of my migrant classmates, they didn't think of
that. There were just like, you know, I'm goin— I don't think they even knew why they were in
high school, like why they had to be there. They saw it pointless. I think they were changing
especially because a lot of the ESL teachers started telling them, "No, you've got to change" and
I would always say "no, go to college. It'll give you a better job. Why do you think people live
well? They're doctors. They're lawyers. You've got to keep trying." But I think a lot of them did
feel discouraged because of their documented situation. They didn't value education that much
to begin with but I don't think they even wanted to try to value it because of their situation.
They knew they had— they felt that they had no option, or they really did have no option, so
they didn't even want to try to have that dream.
OM: So do you think that by them seeing you and your brother pursuing a higher
education that it gives them some sort of push to do the same?
MF: I do, I think it does because I've actually, through Facebook, some of my old
classmates have contacted me. At least two of them have asked me, "Hey, how did you do it to
get into AB Tech? How were you able to pay for it? Do you think you could give me some
information about it?" Because after high school and after I got my documents, I was able to
finally tell people hey, I was here undocumented. I know at least two or three have asked me for
like-- how can you keep going?
OM: So I guess just any last thoughts-- Do you have any last thoughts to share about
how your parent's education kind of affected your education and your views on it?
MF: Yeah, I think the fact that they did have education and that they valued it and
pushed it certainly helped my brother and I have the same desire. I see some of my classmates
that their parents didn't have any education, they had always worked on the fields or in
factories. Some of their kids wanted to go to college and I know a couple were actually
discouraged from going to college. They were like, "what are you thinking? You can't do it. We
need your help here. You need to hurry up, turn sixteen and come help us in the field because
we need your help." So I think it does matter. In the U.S., I think more and more parents are
seeing the benefits of higher education but it might also be because they don't have that
education, sometimes it does hold them back and they hold back their kids as well.
OM: Alright, well thank you so much, I really appreciate it.
MF: Yeah, thanks.