and illegal, teenage immigrants work hard to fit in
By Seth Bracken
December 10, 2008 | LOGAN -- Maria Gomez could have
been your waitress at one point. She could be your friend.
You could have run into her at the store. This 17-year-old
girl would blend into a crowd and you never would guess
that she is in the United States illegally.
"I have been here for 10 years now," said Gomez, who
asked that her real name not be used. "We crossed the
border on a bridge. My father knew someone that allowed
us to cross."
When she first arrived, she didn't understand the
language, the culture or why she was here.
"I didn't like it. I hated it. I grew up in a family
society and I didn't care about the wealth, I'd have
given anything to go back," she said. "But my family
depended on me and my ability to learn English."
It took years for Gomez to learn the language and
she says she didn't understand what was going for about
three years. However, now she has no accent and even
says that she speaks English just as well, if not better
than Spanish. She has grown to love her new home; however,
it still has its difficulties.
"I can't slack as much as other people do. I've got
to work harder than everybody," she says.
Gomez is about to graduate from high school and is
an upstanding student. She also works part-time as a
waitress at a restaurant in Logan.
"Maria is an excellent employee," said her manager.
"She always goes the extra mile and is always so happy.
She always has the will to work, never called in sick,
never needed anyone to cover for her."
According to a survey conducted in 2006 by USA
Today, approximately 10 percent of students in Utah
are of Hispanic origin, and many have stories similar
to that of Gomez. They come to the United States with
their families in search for more work and a better
lifestyle. However, the process to become a legal citizen
and to stay here legally is more difficult than you
"Many people think that immigration is so easy," said
Leo Bravo, director of the Cache Valley Multi-Cultural
Center. "If you don't fit the requirements, you're out.
If you came here after April 2001, or filed your paperwork
after that date, there is nothing that can help you
Bravo explained that without a direct relative who
is a citizen and over the age of 21, there is very little
chance of gaining citizenship right now. And while the
public school systems allow for them to continue attending
classes, there are problems when they reach college.
"They cannot apply for a scholarship. They cannot
receive any public help," said Bravo.
This includes federal loans and grants. They have
to look for scholarship funds through private groups
"I don't like to give numbers of how many illegal
students we have, but there are a lot," said Bravo.
Gomez has applied to several universities; however,
because she is here illegally, she will not know if
she is accepted until July 2009, one month before the
semester starts. She also said that she has to make
an appearance before a judge to receive clearance to
be accepted to the university.
It is very difficult for many students to adjust to
the new society and even more difficult for them to
go on, get a college education and a well paying job.
According to a study done by the New York Times,
in America illegal immigrants accounted for 24 percent
of farm workers, 17 percent of cleaning workers and
14 percent of construction workers. These are low-income
jobs that do not require a college degree, or much technical
training. They are forced to take the lower-paying jobs
because of a lack of education and training.
According to the Journal of Multicultural Counseling
and Development, 63 percent of Hispanic students
graduate from high school, and only 17 percent pursue
an education beyond that. However, the national average
is much higher than that. Overall, 71 percent of all
students graduate from high school and 67.2 percent
of them attend college.
The difference between the two is stark, and it is
clear that it is much less likely that Hispanic students
will graduate from high school, and even less likely
that they will continue on to purse a higher education.
Maria Gomez has adapted to her new lifestyle very
well, and is planning on becoming a nurse, despite the
obstacles that she has to face.
"I wish that I could get people to see that Mexicans
are not just trouble makers," said Gomez. "We're not
bad people. I try to blend in. I really do."
There are many people that are here illegally, and
you wouldn't be able to tell, not even by their accent.
They are trying to fit in, trying to get a job, trying
to provide for their families. Many of them are students,
trying to make their lives here, just as many have done
in the long history of this country.