Living in the United States is a dream many foreigners strive for, but often the reality of life here isn’t what many Latinos expect.
Maria del Coral Morales, Angel Avila and Pablo Martin are three Latinos who came to the Philadelphia region to live the American Dream but found a reality far different from their expectations.
One dream-crushing reality, for example, was discovering that the amount of money they believed they would earn in the U.S. was exaggerated.
Maria del Coral Morales thought she would earn substantially more working in the U.S. than what she was making working for Volkswagen Group in Puebla, Mexico. While in Mexico she understood that one day of work in the U.S. is equal to a week’s worth of work in Mexico.
When Morales finally found employment in Philadelphia she was barely scraping by. She worked for a food market in Center City but said she was abused by her employers and couldn’t afford to pay her rent from her paycheck.
Not long after arriving in Philadelphia Morales said to herself, “I committed the error of my life.”
It has been nearly seven years since Morales left her family in Mexico. She hasn’t been home since 2005. She thought immigrating to the U.S. was going to change her life for the better but now she is not so sure that her life is markedly better in America.
During her journey from Puebla to Philadelphia, Morales’ grandfather died and her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She worked so hard to make it to the U.S. and spent so much money to travel here that she couldn’t return once she learned the bad news about her family members.
It took several years for Morales to finally establish herself in America. She decided to move out of Philadelphia. She worked catering parties and cleaning homes before she found solid employment as a nanny.
Morales hasn’t been alone in her journey.
According to studies published by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in 2008, the immigrant population of the greater Philadelphia region grew by 113,000 between 2000 and 2006. It also reported that the Latin American and Caribbean population made up 28 percent of the immigrants and refugees living in Metropolitan Philadelphia.
The U.S. Census Bureau calculated that 48 percent of the newly arrived foreign born population that came after 2005 were from Latin America and the Caribbean as well.
Angel Avila is the owner of Sabor Latino a restaurant and bar in Upper Darby. His business is a popular spot for Latinos to come and feel at home.
Avila said, “They feel comfortable and safe here. They feel like they can fit in.”
Avila knows that it’s not always easy for Latinos who have immigrated to the U.S. without their families. He said, “If a relative dies they can’t do anything. They can’t pay their last respects. They can’t return.”
Avila identified another common experience for Latinos. A man will leave his country in hopes of earning more money in the U.S. to make a better life for his family but a man’s wife and children may be left behind because the whole family cannot come together. After months or even years of separation, the wife becomes fed up and leaves her husband.
Avila thinks the pain and suffering that many Latinos go through is incredible. Yet he hears some Americans saying, “The Latino is the one stealing our jobs.” Avila doesn’t believe Latinos are stealing jobs from Americans often working manual occupations that most Americans do not seek out.
Avila has been in the U.S. since 1984. He is a native of Cuenca, Ecuador. When he arrived to the Philadelphia area, he worked as a dishwasher and then took work repairing shoes. He later opened his own shoe repair shop and put himself through school at Temple University.
He’s worked his way up to owning the restaurant and became a financial adviser and compliance officer with HSBC Bank. Despite what he has accomplished Avila said, “No matter how high you get, you will always be a minority.”
Pablo Martin’s American dream was to make his first million dollars. He said, “I believe the American Dream does exist.”
Martin is living a dream. He owns 5 percent of Drivehere.com a business in Norristown.
Martin is from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has been living in America for 12 years. He came to the U.S. and stayed the legal way.
He first applied for a student visa and attended Montgomery County Community College. He then enrolled at Gwenyd Mercy College and received his bachelor’s degree in business administration.
One challenge that Martin pointed out is that international students have to pay three times what U.S. citizens pay for higher education. However, that a degree from a U.S. university is key to getting a good job, Martin said.
“If you want to come to the U.S., it’s easy if you follow the rules. I do the visa process. When the visa expires, I renew it,” Martin said.
Martin’s employers Car Vision and now Drivehere.com have provided his worker visa to stay here.
Martin also said, “Unemployment is the biggest enemy.”
Martin discussed the unemployment situation. He said, “In the ’90s, the U.S. needed a lot of people because the unemployment was 5 percent. They needed the 15 million people to do the work. You [the U.S. government] let them [immigrants] come in. The government didn’t look at the other side.”
The challenge the U.S. is facing with illegal immigrants, Martin said, has been coming for more than ten years.
Barb Jackson works managing the Rosa Photo Van at 1550 Callowhill St. that sits a few hundred feet from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Office of Philadelphia. On a typical day Rosa will see about 30 customers and over 80 percent of them are non-U.S. citizens who make Jackson appreciate her home country.
After talking with immigrants Jackson said, “I’m humble about a lot of things. I feel blessed in this country.”
Many of the immigrants will share their stories.which typically aren’t happy, with Jackson.
“They talk about how they have suffered before coming to the U.S.. Of course I feel it. It hurts,” Jackson said.
Jackson said he believes there are hard-working immigrants living in Philadelphia and the United States. “These guys are in this country working. If these guys are coming in this country and working, hey, I’m all for it.”