Maria del Carmen Ortiz


As Interviewed by MM, March 2015

In Her Own Words

My name is Carmen Ortiz. I am 44 years old, and I currently work for the state government.

I do come from a big family. I have five sisters and seven brothers, my dad, my mother passed away in í96, but still a large family. As far as inspiration, I would have to say my father. And, I say my father because as a little girl I remember watching him leave home to come to the States and work. He was a farm worker at the time, a migrant farm worker.
Yes, he was in Texas but he would be traveling toÖ he would travel to Plainview and Lubbock areas for work.

Initially, I did not. And, I did not want to come here because I was attending school in Mexico, and I was with all my family, and we were happy. It wasÖ You know, I was a child and things seemed fine back then, and so coming here was not something I was excited about because I didnít want to leave everything that I knew, and my friends behind, my family especially.

Not many that I recall, as far as incidents maybe personal disagreements, so to speak, among some of the neighbors, but nothing, nothing really major, Iím sorry. Everything seemed ok with school and my family. My family has always been very close and supportive of one another, and really, the family as a whole. So, I donít remember any major incidents.

Well, I think it affected me in different ways. Initially it wasnít as positive. It didnít feel that it was a positive change because I was leaving my friends, my familiar environment. And, I was having to learn a new language, first of all, having to adapt to a new school, new friends, newÖ you know everything, and so, it was really tough having to adjust to that change. I think the most difficult thing was the language barrier because at the time, I only knew Spanish. And, I remember once when I was in 5th grade in Chicago, the teacher would take the ruler, the meter stick, and she would hit our palm with it, if we spoke Spanish. So, you know, those, thoseÖ that was tough. But, it was also very good in the sense that I was able to learn a new language. And, so, I became bilingual which is a very good thing because, you know, I could learn, read, andÖ I could read, write and speak two languages now, instead of just one. And, so, that was positive and I made new friends. And, you know, I visited new places, I traveled. So, itís a good thing, Iím learning, I learned a lot back then, and Iím still learning a lot more.

Well, I was fortunate in the sense that I was one of the lucky ones to have been born in the States. Most of my family, if not all my family, at the time when I was little, were born and raised in Mexico. But, I, because I was born here, it was easier for me to move here with my parents. However, when we first moved, or immigrated, my parents couldnít afford a place of our own, so we had to live with relatives. And, that was an adjustment also. But, it was a change, and, as a family we stuck together and we just did what we had to do so we could adapt.

Well, the first time, cause there was two timesÖ The first time, I was probably around six or seven years old, maybe seven, I think. I left the school in Mexico and I attended a school in Pharr, Texas. And then, of course I went to, I went to Chicago, and then McAllen. And then, I ended up going back to Mexico. So that was the first run for me, immigrating to the States. And the second time, I was a little bit older. I had gone back to school in Mexico. And that was interesting, too, because I went from knowing Spanish only, to then English only. So, when I went back to Mexico, you know, after having been here in school, it was really tough because then English was my first language, became my first language, and Spanish my second. So, it was a struggle and a bit confusing. And, the teachers back in Mexico were a little strict, too. But, anyway, it worked out ok. And, so the second time I immigrated here, I was older, like I said, I was a teenager. And, I would have to say I was about 15 years old or so, and that was, I think that was less confusing and less hard because I had already lived here a few years. Right, I had a little bit of experience and also, I knew the language this time around. The first time I only knew Spanish but then coming here the first time, I learned English and then when I went back and came back again the second time, I was fully bilingual. So, it wasnít as tough as the first time. And, I was older too, so I was, you know, I was a little more mature, and, you know, better equipped to make the change.

Not in Mexico, in Mexico I wasÖ I lived in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico which is right across, itís a small town across the border from Hidalgo, Texas which is close to McAllen, Texas where I was born. So, it was really close to the bridge, to the States, it was only about 15 minutes drive or so, not too far.

No, not in Mexico. Again, as far as events, I would have to say school events, you know, that were related to, like, annual parades, and, you know, like national holidays celebrating the, Mexicoís independence, and events like that where we would have a big parade and we would participate. Those were fun, andÖ but, that was about the extent of events or, you knowÖ

I donít recall, you know, anyone majorly important. Again, I was a girl attending school. And then the second time I was older, but, you know, I pretty much just participated or focused on school and sporting events, but nothing major where I would, you know, have access to, you know, important events where I could meet important people.

Well, as I look back now, I think it was definitely favorable for me, veryÖ it was life changing. In Mexico, thereís not a lot of opportunities for people, much less for, you know, kids. Things are very different over there, we donítÖ So, it was, it was, it was, it is very different. Here, Iím very fortunate to be able to attend good schools and to have many of the freedoms that in Mexico, we maybe, people donít have today. We have access to good schools, we have access to good health care. Meals, you know, are free at school, you know, up to high school. In Mexico, I think high school you have to provide your own meals. And, so thereís a lot of differences, disadvantages and advantages hereÖ you know, more than any disadvantage when you compare growing up, you know, Mexico and Texas. So, Iím very fortunate. Initially, itís always difficult. It was really hard adapting and getting used to everything from the environment, you know, schools, the community, and even the food at school, you know. But, eventually you just..., as you grow up and you think back of how, on how your life was as a kid growing up, not to say that we lacked a lot because, really, the most important thing we had, which was our family unity and love and support. Thatís never changed, so that was really big and that went with us wherever we went. But, as far as our basic needs or, you know, food, shelter, access to go

Like I said, I work for the state government. I have been there for almost 18 years. I provide admin support to a group of state auditors and fraud investigators. So, itís a very interesting place, and Iíve learned a lot about, or very detailed information about, you know, the laws and the programs that are funded by the government. And, so, and you know, itís just, itís very interesting place. You know, learning about fraud and investigations regarding fraud, itís very interesting. I donít do auditing work, but I support a group of auditors and investigators, like I said. So, itís, itís a great place.

I believe Iíve been here long enough to where Iíve adjusted well now, and Iíve grown to love the place. Iíve also built a life for myself. A life, that I believe, wouldíve not have had in Mexico, had I stayed in Mexico. You know, growing up in a big family, we were very poor. I actually never dreamed of owning my own car, much less a home. I never thought that was possible, you know, coming again from a large family with very, very little, few resources. So, being here, having the opportunity to go to school and learn a trade or vocation, in my case, and just having the freedom as a woman to do what I felt I needed to do to learn to provide for myself has been very rewarding, difficult at times, challenging, but ultimately, itís been well worth the struggle. And, just, itís been a wonderful experience. If I had stayed in Mexico, I donít think I wouldíve, I donít think I wouldíve, you know, gotten to a place where I could feel like I could, you know, I could own a home, or even have my own car. Itís very different. I know for a fact that being here has allowed me to, living here in the States has allowed me that opportunity.

We immigrated with my family. And, like I said, we come from a big family, you know, six girls, seven boys. But, when we immigrated, it was the younger kids, it was four kids, and my mom and my dad. It was tough because we didnít have a lot of money, we had very little money. And, we didnít have a home so we ended up living or staying with my older brother. And, so, there was six of us in one room, my father, my mother and four kids. So, it was four of us that came with my dad. Thankfully, they too have had the opportunities that Iíve had to attend school here, to work and to continue to pursue our dreams, you know, in education and training, or you know, with the service even. I have a brother who joined the Army, I think in some ways because he was grateful to have had the opportunity to immigrate here, and because we learned to love our country so much that, you know, that we want to take advantage of these opportunities and do well.