85% of families in our Bronx Early Head Start program are immigrants or refugees. They have made difficult choices to leave their cultures, families, and lives behind, plunging headfirst into an unfamiliar, and sometimes unforgiving, new world in order to give their children better lives. While kids are building healthy foundations in our Early Head Start program, their parents are coming together in our trilingual social-emotional support group. The group has been healing for many, revealing that parents are not alone in their experiences. It has also allowed our team to connect immigrant families to resources they need, including trusted legal services, ESL classes, and mental health care.
Parents share a few of their stories from the support group:
Martina, Guerrera, Mexico
My name is Martina and I am from Guerrero, Mexico
I came here for my children. I had no way to support them in Guerrero. I had to borrow money for the passage because I had nothing to get here. My country was violent, especially towards women. There was so much suffering. I thought that in the USA I could make money to get ahead, but I had to leave my children and mother behind to come here. I felt terrible. I cried and was so sad when I left.
The first thing I felt when I got to New York was fear, then cold. Even though I arrived in November, I thought I was going to die. But I wanted to help my children get out and join me. I missed my children so much. I always thought about how they were doing and who they were with.
I remember a gentleman in Mexico told me that everyone was making good money here, but as time passed, I realized that it was not true. I had to work, but it made me feel bad because I had to work to pay off the loan I used to get here.
I would like to go back to Mexico to visit my country, but I would only do it for my children who are there and for my parents and friends. I do not want my children to think that Mexico is a country where you can live because it is not.
Still, I want my children to learn Tlapareco, my language, the indigenous language of Juanacatlan where I’m from. I tell my children that it is important not to forget where they come from or their language because that is the language of their ancestors.
The things I appreciate about living here are the resources and support at the Sheltering Arms Center. People truly respect us here. I know my children will have love and opportunities to go ahead and make their living through the program. I am happy that I came here and I’ll be okay because I’m strong enough to keep my family together. My family means everything to me. They are so important and I would sacrifice anything for my children so that they could have a better life.
Matilda, Santander, Spain
Matilda has a rare blood disease which prevented her from working, plunging her into poverty and putting her at high risk of losing her baby. She had had 13 miscarriages prior to her baby born in the US who now attends our Bronx Head Start program.
My name is Matilda and I am from Spain. I came here to establish a better life. When I left my country, I left behind my family, my country, my customs, but especially my great love, my father. I felt very sad when I left my homeland. I remember when my dad told me not to go, that he would prevent me from moving here, but I had to keep going. It made me feel sad and lonely. Not having anyone here has been difficult, but I’ve been given the gift of being a mother.
Coming here was one of the hardest decisions of my life since I had to leave everything behind. When I arrived in New York I had only a friend waiting for me. The first thing that I saw was how beautiful this country is. The most striking thing was the impressive skyscrapers, but I was frustrated that I didn’t speak English and I wanted to progress to improve my standard of living. I work part time and what I earn scarcely allows me to cover the basic necessities. I can’t spare the money to buy a ticket to visit my country, even though I miss my father immensely.
Still, I teach stories of my country and my customs to my daughter. I tell her that family is important, that family must stay united no matter the distance or circumstances.
Thanks to God, in this country I fulfilled my dream of being a mother. I know that in my country I could not have done it. I know that my goals will materialize, that my daughter will have a promising future with many opportunities to develop her maximum potential, to study what she likes and to be an accomplished and independent woman. Because I’m a fighter, I’m able to guide and support my daughter’s progress and single-handedly keep my family together.
I thank God for finding Sheltering Arms, which helped me and continues to support me with my daughter. You have been there in the difficult times I had with my pregnancy, when the doctors did not give me the assurance that the child would be born; you always gave me hope and a vision of success. I’m especially grateful for Ana, my home visitor who always listened to me and gave me words of encouragement to keep going, and then when my child was born, all the staff who have helped me. I wish there were more centers like this one.
Adama, Serrekunda, The Gambia
My name is Adama. I am from West Africa, The Gambia, City Serrekunda. The reason I immigrated here was to unite with the man I love. I left behind everyone in my family, my memories, my childhood experience, and most of all, my country. I felt happy, but I was full of fear and also sad. I was wondering if they would accept me here.
When I moved, it was a big change. I still carry memories of my country. It was warm with beautiful beaches. I miss what I had there: the seafood, fresh fish, fruits from the trees. We did not buy fruit, only take and eat them directly from a tree. When I was little I loved to climb trees. One day I fell from a mango tree and hit my head! I tell my children that story.
When I arrived to Cincinnati, Ohio, I had a friend waiting for me. The first thing I encountered was the airport. Already, everything was so different, especially the people. What most caught my attention was the quiet. The first thing I felt was lost, but I wanted to learn more about this big country. Most of all, I wanted to see the man that was waiting for me.
The person I missed the most was my mother. I haven’t seen her in nine years. I still miss the way that she keeps all of her children together sleeping in the same bed. I hear her voice talking to me in my head. I miss her to death. My most passionate dream is that in few years I’ll be able to see my mother, to hug her tight, and, like we always used to do, to sleep in the same bed.
I remember my fiancé told me that everything was going to be okay. He said not to worry that we were here in the United States. He comforted me and that made me feel better. I had him at my side and that made me feel secure and I began to forget about the past. Because I have him, my process of adaptation was easier.
I wish I had enough money to visit my country. I do have the legal paper to travel back, but it’s very expensive. I have four children and my husband. One ticket is $1,800, plus with food, clothes, and other expenses, we are talking about $20,000 for the trip. Besides that, my kids were not born in The Gambia, so I would need an approval from the Gambia consulate before we can travel and each of the permit costs money.
It would take me two days to get to my town: one airplane to Brucela, then to Gambia, and then the few hours by car to get to my city, Serrekunda.
Still, I teach my children about my religion and my culture. We are Muslim. I tell them the names of our food, about their grandparents, and everything that has to do with my roots and where I come from. I tell them that it is important to keep our religion because I believe that is the key to our family, to retain our family discipline, because it is different here from our country.
The great thing about living here is that foremost, the education is free. In my country, it is very expensive and we have to pay. I know my children will have the chance to know different languages, good English, and get far in life.
I am very proud of myself and I am happy that I was able to come here. Because I am strong and I am a fighter, I want to do better in life. I want to have the experience and a strong vision to keep my family together. My family is everything I have; they mean a lot for me. I am seeing myself escalating higher, never retreating backwards.