I was born in El Salvador, Central America. Growing up, I really liked my culture. I wouldn't change that for anything.
I came to Houston in September 2009. I was 16 or 17. My parents brought me. My parents had three girls, and they thought Houston would be better for us - you know, more opportunities, and the American Dream. I didn't want to come, actually. I cried for months and months when I found out I was coming to this country. I had everything planned. I was going to graduate at 21, I had a company I wanted to work for... when they told me everything was going to change in a month or so, I was really sad.
I didn't know English when I came. I started working a month after I came and it was a mess. My uncle was the supervisor of a restaurant in the Woodlands so he got everyone a job. There was a time when a customer asked for two kids' meals. I said, 'You want two kids' milks?' I didn't speak English very well and I brought her two milks. The lady was so confused. She was like 'No, MEALS!'
There are so many people that come from El Salvador. I think something like 40% of our population actually lives abroad. So you get this idea that you're gonna come and it's gonna be easy and you're going to make a lot of money and send to your family. It's going to be all happiness. But whenever you get here it's hard. It's hard but exciting. You learn little by little and you don't even notice. You won't have the opportunities you have here back in El Salvador, even if it's just something like having a job. The minimum wage in El Salvador gets you about $230 a month, but the prices here and in El Salvador are the same. Having a car back there is a luxury - only for people who have a really good job.
My parents couldn't afford to pay for my school. I went to Lone Star College. I started from zero. I had to take two years of English classes. I started working from the first month I got here, and everything went to my school. But I didn't want to stop. I paid every single cent. There were some semesters where I only took two classes or three classes because that's all I could afford. But in May 2016 I graduated and now I have a full time job. As of right now, I think that is what I am most proud of in my life.
My mom and my dad, they didn't have any degrees, but they always pushed us to get an education. We have always been conscious about the money that was spent, you know - not going on vacation because we didn't have enough. I didn't want that for me. I think having a degree, getting educated, that's how you get out of that hole. My husband Oscar, he's such a positive person. For me, before knowing him -- a new car? No! Forget it! That's not for me! I'll get a used car. But now, look where I am. I have a new car. I'm able to pay for it, and to pay for college. I went to Mexico for the first time last month. I would never have done that a year ago! I would only be thinking about the bills to pay.
I think of my family too. My little sister, she's learning Japanese, English, and French too. She's 20. She's capable of all these things that back in El Salvador, she wouldn't be able to. She doesn't have an accent. She has a little certificate that proves she can work in a Japanese firm if she wants. Back in El Salvador, who will teach Japanese? Nobody. Who will teach French? Nobody. We barely knew how to say 'Hello, my name is' in English!
I consider myself Salvidorian-American. Whenever I was preparing for my wedding, I was doing it the American way. My dad was like, 'That's not how you do it!' But I was like, 'I think it is how you do it!' I wanted to put pictures of us on the wedding invitation, and my family was like 'No, it has to be formal!' They wanted my dress to be super huge. My sisters, they go out at night, they go to the movies, and for my parents, it's hard for them to understand.
Everyone has their point of view. It's hard to change peoples' minds. But experience shapes you. Friends... going other places... that really changes your mind. That's the only way -- living it.
Before this experience, I think I didn't appreciate little things. If you were asking me the same things five years ago, I think I would be mad at life because someone else had what I didn't have. They would be in college and I couldn't go because I barely had any money. Now, I learned that there are so many other people fighting the same fight -- or bigger fights, with different circumstances. I learned to live in the moment. Even if it's super uncomfortable, it will teach you a lot. I learned that it's not just what you face, it's how you face it that will shape you and make you succeed.
Life has taught me to appreciate every little thing. Even this little coffee in my hand. Even you, and this conversation. I don't like some things about what I'm doing now, but I feel like that will move me forward. So those little things, for me, that's the American Dream. I think I'm already living it.