I am Erik Larios, 19 years old and I am a student. I was born in the United States and lived here until I was about four when my family and I moved to Mexico and lived there for about six years until we moved back. Now I live in East Palo Alto, California. I go to school and train in mixed martial arts. I am telling my story to let people learn the complexities of immigration and what living in another country as an American is like.
Throughout my entire immigration story, I didn’t have much of a choice on what I did and where I went, just like millions of other immigrant children. I was born in Vallejo California and I went to school in America, my sisters were born and educated in the US as well. We then emigrated to Mexico. My parents’ reasons for doing so are still unclear to me, but they do say that a deciding factor for the move was so that we could learn our culture through experience. In Mexico, I was the eldest of my siblings, so I was in charge of protecting my sisters. I lived a pretty normal life, I went to school, did homework, played with friends, and watched TV. Although that is the basic template of a kid’s life in most countries, the nuances lie in your socio-economic status and the common culture of the country you live in. In Mexico, my parents bought houses from all around so we moved a lot. We were always considered the wealthier family of the block. Despite that, we were still relatively poor and often struggled to acquire food. We had limited resources to say the least. My dad struggled with drug addiction leaving us with very little money for food and other basic resources like water and electricity, we would go on for days without food or light, so although to our neighbors we appeared wealthy we really weren’t.
Our time in Mexico was tough, however it wasn’t all bad. I had many great friends and there were few times our family experienced nice things such as going to the fair or having a party. Although I somewhat liked Mexico, the situation there was getting worse. See we lived in a gated community with armed officers at the entrances, we had a huge park as our backyard and lived next to the España University. We seemed entitled and wealthy, but as I clarified before this was not the case. Our neighbor’s son was kidnapped and I heard that the kidnappers sent our neighbor’s sawed off fingers demanding money they assumed our neighbors had because of where we lived.
I also heard that a group of siblings who attended España University on a basketball scholarship were kidnapped and killed because it was believed they had money since they were American. It was not safe anywhere, especially not in our ‘rich’ gated community. My mom figured that since we are Americans we had no real reason to live in Mexico and in fear that we would be kidnapped for money we didn’t actually have, so she decided we had to move back to the US.
My sisters and mom left first since I was terrified to travel on planes and my dad still had business to attend to. Six months passed and then one day when I got home from school my dad told me there was a surprise for me, it was a bus ticket to come back to the US. I was excited to reunite with my mom and sister but after the rush of excitement came a wave of sadness. I was upset I had to leave my friends and dad behind, I was also anxious because I didn’t want to leave them knowing they were in danger. I came to the US with my grandmother and the journey itself was long, boring, and painful. I know that my journey was easy and nice compared to other immigrants’ journeys, but since I am an American citizen I was able to come to the US by bus, it was still painful and distasteful however. I had to sit in the same seat for three days, it felt like my butt was boiling in the seat and there were other families with children who vomited in the bus, it reeked of urine, vomit, and feces.
My transition back to the US wasn’t too difficult. I never fully experienced a language barrier; since I attended a private school I took English since first grade and on top of that my mom made sure that we also had at least 30 minutes of all english conversations each day. Contrary to popular belief as well, Mexican education isn’t all that horrible, and again since I had attended a private school it was better than most of the public education in the US. When I moved back to the US and attended a public middle school, the material was extremely easy for me and I always earned A+ on all of my assignments.
I remember that one day my teacher called in my mom, before the meeting she was yelling at me asking what I had done wrong to be called in, I had no clue. In the meeting, my teacher congratulated me and especially my mom for raising me ‘so well’, he admitted that he was going to quit at the end of the year because of the lack of respect he received from other students, but because I had been ‘such a well disciplined and respectful student’ he decided to stay another year, to me it was just the norm. I think I ought to thank Mexico because living there taught me to appreciate the comforts of living in America and never take anything for granted. In Mexico, the government doesn’t do much for the welfare of the people and in fact does things for their own advancement, but in the US there are many opportunities and resources for people. All in all, I like Mexico and I love America, I think my immigration story has taught me so much, not just about different cultures but also about appreciating what we have and seizing opportunities, about humility and self-advancement, and about valuing people and life.
Currently I am seeking higher education, trying to improve the quality of life for me and my familly, expanding on the work ethics that many Americans value. I am not yet sure what I want to major in, but I am taking multiple Humanities courses and am deeply enjoying them. America, I have learned, is truly the land of opportunity that many other immigrants claim, it is a difficult process to climb up the social ladder and at times a struggle to be accepted by my own country and my own people, yet if one works hard and diligently with moxie and grit, America will enable you to achieve whatever you aim to do.
Erik was interviewed by his sister, Bianca Larios, a student at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, CA.