Jackie Ortega

As Interviewed by Emma Galbraith, on March 17, 2015

Jackie Ortega: In Her Own Words

So, my nameís Jackie, Iím fourteen years old, I go to the school Ann Richardsí For Young Women Leaders. Growing up, we did experience a lot of inequality here, because my familyís like, immigrants, andÖI was born here, and the rest of my family was born in Mexico, so I did, like, get discriminated at school when I was little, but now Iím kinda used to it.

My mom works at a dry-cleanersí and my dad works in construction. He remodels houses and bathrooms for the elderly that are paralyzed and stuff.

Uh, it was different. Nobody was like me -- I thought everybody was gonna be, like, speaking Spanish but I learned that I have to be, likeÖin order to succeed here, in the US, I had to, like, speak English and, like, get to communicate with people. So I did learn, and it was hard for me to go to school Ďcause I didnít know a lot of people that spoke Eng--I mean, Spanish, so. It was really difficult for me when I was little.

It was hard for me, um, IÖno one actually taught it to me, I had to watch TV. I grew up watching Dora, so actually (laughs) Dora taught me how to speak English. So yeah, and I had a, when I went to school, it was hard for me to learn many things. I was a pretty slow learner, so. But, uh, when I first, when I graduated from elementary I didnít know I was gonna come here to Ann Richardsí. And when I actually got there I was like, ďWow, I actually went for it, I can actually do things.Ē

Yeaaaaaah. So I was at a very young age, I remember getting discriminated. They would sometimes separate me at school from other classes; I would be the only one that would be left out of other groups from kids, because I couldnít speak English very well and, because I didnít have many friends, and people discriminated me away from their other groups, thinking I was a kid that was born, living in the streets. (laughs) I wasnít though.

Yeah, my mom would go to work and at ten years old my brother was the one taking care of me at home by himself. He would feed me, change my diapers. Yeah. It was crazy. (laughs) I remember when he used to change my diapers. He still takes care of me when my mom goes to work. He takes most of the responsibility. And heís like the only one who can speak -- fluently -- English. Iím kinda still learning right now, heís like the best one. So he translates a lot of letters to my mom and dad, and goes to their works and helps them translate, and yeah. Itís pretty cool.

Well, my brother, he did get discriminated when he first got DACA, DREAM Act, and he couldnít find any jobs even though he had that permission, it was still tough looking for jobs that would accept him, but he finally did find one, and itís like, even though you have permission here, even though you might be a citizen and everything, itís still tough. Your backgroundÖitís not the best.

So, ah, Iím gonna tell my momís story. So she had no mom, her mom died when she was around thirteen years old. And she grew up with her seven sisters and one dad, and she went to school but she didnít do well -- after her mom died she did go through some really deep depression. She then grew up, she went to college, there in Mexico, but she really didnít need any of that here in the US. So when my dad first came to the US he came here. She stayed over there in Mexico with my brother and my dadís mom. She came here because, I mean, itís two lovers, they needed to be together. So, my mom came and she had me when she came here but a week later after I came, my grandfather died, and a month later, my grandma died, so it was a pretty sad time. And she first came here, she didnít know anything about this place. She got a job, and she actually got a wage theft. So her boss didnít pay her and then so she came, she didnít come here first, she went to this other place, it was Maria Lena House, Casa Maria Lena, she went there and it was these ladies told her to come here, so she got help, and after that, she actually won the case. She got her money, and after that she just started coming here and helping. Now weíre here, she works here now, she works here and her other job, dry-cleaners, and, we get all of our help here.

So my dad came to the US because in Mexico, my brother got an asthma attack, and he couldnít get paid very well so he couldnít afford it. And so my dad, since he couldnít afford it, he had to ask one of his neighbors to lend him a loan, and later he got another asthma attack and my dad realized he didnít have enough money so he had to leave Mexico to come to the US. He came by crossing a river, knowing some guys he paid, and it was very cheap back then, it was, like, 200 dollars to cross, but now itís like a thousand dollars to cross one person, and so my dad came, and back in Mexico he would, um, get four dollars a day, which wasnít very much, he would sometimes go without eating and giving my brother food or my mom, and since he lived by the beach he would go fishing. And if he got lucky that day they would eat, or if they didnít: then a day without eating. So, yeah, when he came here to the US he found a job. My aunt was here before him so my aunt got him a job where she worked and he won twenty-eight dollars a day, which was better than what he was doing back in Mexico so he would send my mom all of his paycheck to Mexico to help with my brotherís medical bills, and later, a year later, my mom later came, realizing that, she needed also to come, because I mean, they needed to be together, so yeah.

So the kinda case that my dad experienced is that when his boss told him that when he completed a job he will pay him by the end of the week. So my dad completed the job, everything, and the boss didnít actually complete his promise, he didnít pay him, he told him he would pay him, like, the week after but he was like ďI donít have the money now, Iíll pay you later,Ē and Dad was like, ďokayĒ, but he realized it was like a month later, his boss hasnít paid him yet. So thatís when my dad came looking for help and he came here and my mom experienced the same thingÖyeah. They were basically working as slaves, they worked their butts off, but they didnít get paid at all, so it was like really injustice. So they had to come, they had to go somewhere to look for help, I mean like, they have a family, they have to feed their children, they have to, like, they have bills to pay, I mean, and it was like, during tax month, so they also had to pay taxes. So it was like really unfair, and, like, every time I talk about it, it makes me really mad.

They went to school from five years old -- pre-K to sixth grade was my dadís. And then my momís was pre-K to 8th. So they didnít go to school for a long time. They dropped out at a pretty young age, to help out their families with money.

Yeah, they, they wouldnít get paid, so, theyíd kind of get paid, like, four dollars a day, and for my mom that was a little bit for seven sisters, plus their parents, four dollars wasnít enough. And as well as my dad they would go days without eating, yeah, so.

Yeah, a lot of people with cases right now. Especially during these winter months, like you know Christmas time was around. So, not a lot of people were getting paid because they wanted to afford presents for their children and all that. So, I mean there was also families that wanted to buy their children presents, but I mean, couldnít because they wouldnít get paid. And it was really sad, and right now thereís a lot of people with new cases coming in. It gets really packed. And people just come here sometimes just to learn how to defend themselves, their rights.

Oh. I wanna be a lawyer, specifically in immigration, so I actually wanna come back here, at Workerís Defense, and help out, and of course, raise some family of mine. Probably, I donít know, I wanna move out of Texas. But I also wanna stay in Texas because this is where most cases for immigration happen, so, itís likeÖI kinda wanna stay here to help. And because itís something part of my life, something thatís actually impacted me, since I was little, so yeah. I kinda want to stay in this place, kinda help out here, and Iím hoping either to get my first job, just to get some money, or just volunteer, for my high school years.

I think the Texas government should see workers as someone, as someone that are like them. To not think that they are different, to be treated equally and not get, not be unfair with them. Because they are also here to work, just like them, to take care of their families and get somewhere in life. So.

I would tell them to stop being unfair to people that are just like them. They just wanna get their families somewhere in life, they just wanna get them a good life where they can succeed and be someone. They donít wanna be treated unfairly. They just wanna be like them. Weíre all the same. Itís just by color, thatís pretty much it.