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  • Writer's pictureLeanna Aldis

The Influence of Mexican Migration

As a mentee with Tikkun Grant Advancement, I have had the opportunity to not only build a valuable skill in grant writing for mission-driven work, but I have also had the opportunity to see important issues through a new lens. Tikkun’s approach toward racial and economic equity was an invitation of sorts that encouraged me to see beyond writing and into the strengths and assets of underrepresented communities, including my own. Delving further into my personal story, I took time to study my mother’s migration to the United States as a Mexican female and how it has shaped my life as an American Latina.

My mother’s story begins in Matamoros, Mexico, in the home of my late abuelita (grandmother), Graciela Guerrero. My abuelita was a mother of eight, a self-made entrepreneur, and the influencer of a long line of strong Mexican women. Without having learned how to read or write, my abuelita began her quest for a better life that would capitalize on personal interests and talent. She became a self-taught seamstress who created intricately designed patterns drawn on scrap newspaper and sewn together by an old sewing machine, or as she would say, “mi maquina de coser.” Her highly adorned apparel would sell to a long list of paying customers, both in the United States and in Mexico. It is how she supported her household and made clothes for her children and grandchildren.

Unbeknownst to my grandmother, these choices influenced women for generations to come.

My mother describes her childhood story of migration through the watchful eyes of a young girl as she observed her mother at the sewing machine day in and day out. Like abuelita, my mother also wanted a better life beyond generational poverty and her childhood home with dirt floors. At the young age of 13 and like her older siblings, my mother was expected to work to help support the family’s household. After refusing to work for a mere 100 pesos a week (equal to $8.50), my mother formulated a plan of her own that would lead to greater opportunity and the reality of her dreams. She began to frequent the Matamoros market square where she mingled with American tourists with the intention to learn English and use it in America. Soon after, my mother applied the same determination inspired by my grandmother and leveraged her newly acquired skill as a bridge to a foreign land with opportunity.

Against her elder’s consent, yet north of the Mexican border, my mother faced new sets of challenges as a young migrant Mexican woman. With limited education, my mother found herself in a new world dominated by white men. Rather than retreating to her familiar landscape, my mother relied on the grit she developed in her childhood home and remembered the dreams her mother inspired sitting there at her sewing machine. She began to leverage the voice she developed as the seventh child of eight and used it to pave her way through her new country and beyond mere survival. Equipped with English as her second language, my mother finished her high-school equivalency and went on to study business in college. My mother seized her newfound opportunities, accomplished what she set out to do, and built the family she dreamed of. She became the leader of her household, the provider, protector, and our greatest influencer.

My mother’s migration has shaped my identity as an American Latina that is rooted in a large Mexican family that resides mostly in the Texas-Mexico region. My identity is experienced in the richness of our heritage and strong family values that have been upheld for over five generations. Our story is heard in the melodies of Mexican rhythm and bellowed by the mariachis at our festivals. It is tasted in the spice of our food made by the hands of the Spanish-speaking women in our kitchens and heard in the tone of our mothers’ voices that still carry throughout each of our families’ homes.

As I write for racial and economic equity, I draw from my family’s well-nourished roots grown in that home in Matamoros Mexico. I am deeply inspired by the stories of all eight children my grandmother raised. Their stories of survival, determination, innovation, and migration to overcome generational poverty became the blueprint of our futures.

Writing for underrepresented populations has helped me to reveal the many talents, strengths, and assets grown within my very own community. I have followed the lineage of unique family strengths given to me that has pushed me through uncertainty and opposition as a young American Latina. Having a sense of security in knowing where I am from, what I am a part of, and all of those who went before me has given me the confidence to step out and learn about the world and push through its many barriers. Bearing witness to the women who overcame tough obstacles and adversity instilled the courage I needed to pursue my curiosities, apply my determination, and persist when others have failed to see me. My grandmother’s legacy is shared through my mother’s journey of migration to the United States which has influenced strong Hispanic women who lead businesses, movements, and households.

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