Walk a Mile in Their Shoes: Interview with Alba Guevara
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Okay, my name is Alba. I have three children. I’m from Honduras. What more can I say? I work. I’m a single mom. I like to spend time with my family, with my children. I like to be at home. I adore being at home. I like to go out and do my hobby, shopping, (laughs) but I don’t do it anymore. And I like the beach, that is what I like most, apart from shopping, and that’s it, spending time with my children.
2. What made you decide to do this interview?
Because I like sharing things about myself. Maybe other people are in the same situation as me or have gone through the same thing as me, and well, I don’t know, they don’t talk about it or they can’t talk about it. And, that’s why.
3. Where are you from and why did you decide to come to America?
I’m from Honduras, and the decision to come here wasn’t exactly mine, but rather, my mom’s. I didn’t know it, that I was coming over here. And one day she told me that my sister wanted to talk with me, that I should call my sister, and I spoke with her, and she told me a date. It was like about a month away, or I don’t remember when, and she said to me, “This date, the 16th of September, I’m coming for you in Guatemala. Get ready, and I will pick you p there.” Well, I had wanted to come over here when I was really little, like 13 years old. My sister had gone over there but my mom didn’t let me come at that time. And when I was pregnant with Nohelia, she told my sister to come for me. And that was for the best, having come.
4. What was life like for you where you grew up?
Well, it was difficult, very difficult, but, compared with our neighbors, it was different for us. They were in a worse situation than the one I grew up in. Really hard, but compared to the neighbors, well, it was not as bad, but I didn’t, well, my mother decided for me to come. So, I was pregnant and she told me, “You’re going over there.” And I think that was the best, because Nohelia was born here and I don’t know what might have happened if she was born over there. Maybe I would have come and she would have stayed and I wouldn’t have been able to bring her. Maybe she wouldn’t have been able to come until years later, until I would have been able to do my papers. It was good, having come when I was pregnant with her.
5. What is life like for people in your country now? Do you still have family and friends there?
Yes, my parents are there. There’s more family, a lot of family, on my dad’s side. The people of Honduras are very poor, that’s stayed the same. Nothing has improved. It is a country very behind, very poor, and every time I go over there it is very difficult because I don’t like it anymore. I’m not used to being there; I feel desperate being over there. And, I don’t know, I’m used to living here. Life here is different. Compared to over there, it is more comfortable being here. Well, you have to work a lot but it is safer. Safety is much better here than over there.
6. What did you have to do to get here (i.e. paperwork, money, etc.)?
Well, money, because I didn’t have papers. I entered illegally. In that time, ’96, I entered illegally here. Compared with other people who have entered, mine wasn’t so hard because my sister brought me. She picked me up in Guatemala and I came with her. We didn’t pay any coyote or anybody, just the two of us came. So she looked for help during the entire journey from Mexico, for people to give her directions. We traveled in a small car and she would pay someone to bring us to certain places, for the directions and everything. So, it wasn’t so bad. I was pregnant and even with all that, the journey wasn’t so bad. I didn’t walk and it was very safe because I didn’t come with a coyote, which is so dangerous. I didn’t walk at all, and I came in the car with my sister until we arrived at the border. She came because it was time for her ticket to get into California, and she left me there with her mother-in-law, the mother-in-law of my other sister, and then they helped me cross, some little kids helped me cross. It wasn’t so hard. I feel like back then it was easy, and now it’s hard. 18 years ago it wasn’t so hard, I think. Now it’s dangerous, more dangerous than in that time. I don’t know how much money they paid for me to cross; I didn’t pay anything. They, my sisters, paid for me. They did that for me.
7. Once you came to America, what was life like?
Recently arrived, it was difficult, mainly because, well, I didn’t have papers, I was pregnant, and then my daughter was born about a week of being here. A week after having arrived, she was born and it was very difficult. When I arrived in California it was very difficult because I couldn’t obtain health insurance, not for me, not for her, for my birth. She was born and they denied me. Then later I moved to New York, three months after she was born. When I moved to New York, then things began to change. There I started to work and it changed a lot. I found more help for illegal people in New York. I feel that in this state they really help people who don’t have papers. And I was there, illegal, without papers, and there I could get help for my expenses, like feeding my little girl. They gave me public assistance. In California I couldn’t even have Medicaid. In New York they gave me all that. I felt like there it was easier and I couldn’t live in California for that reason. In New York things were easier for me.
8. What helped you get to where you are today?
The one who has especially given me a lot of support is one of my sisters, my oldest sister. She was the one who brought me from Honduras. She is the one, in everything, is always keeping an eye on me, even when I got separated. Economically she has helped me a lot. She is always looking out for me. When I am unsure about making a decision about something, she gives me ideas and asks me, “Do you think that would be good?” She supports me. Of the family, of the sisters, she is the strongest. She has been through many things. She is the one who always stands up for everything. She is the one who always, when something happens in the family, is the one who we always talk with about things. And she is supportive through all things. She is one of the people who has motivated me when I have been sad, shattered. She talks to me and is a great support. And my children, who are the motors of my life.
9. How do different generations in your family experience America (i.e. immigrant-born vs. American-born generations)?
Well, it is very different, a lot of difference. When one is raised there, it is another type of upbringing, another culture, many things. Here children have more; that is what I have seen. They are freer to express themselves; they aren’t so submissive, they have more freedom. The kids, I don’t know, grow up better here. In everything, because compared to how I grew up there, how my parents grew up there, the difference is huge. When I went with my children to Honduras, they saw everything you see over there. They were scared by what they saw, by what there is, the poverty that’s there, the difference. He went, my son, and he really likes to play football. He had to take off his shoes to play like the other kids because they don’t have shoes for playing. And he wanted to do that, too, because he wasn’t going to play with shoes when the other kids didn’t have any. That was one of the things that he saw, that they don’t have shoes. He says they didn’t have clothes to wear, two changes of clothes and nothing else. What is here and what is over there is very different. The food over there is not so abundant, and here, well, food is left over. I think that, I don’t know, there are people that say that here they’ve gone hungry but I don’t think so, because here if you go to a church, they give you food. I’ve gone hungry recently when I got separated. I won’t forget it. We spent two weeks without food, without anything. I went to a church over here, and they gave me food and that’s how we made it. But compared to the hunger that you stand over there, which is a real hunger, a hunger of not having anything, it doesn’t compare.
10. Have you preserved any traditions, foods, languages, or customs from your native country?
Yes, we always speak Spanish here at home. It is very infrequent that we speak English. We eat foods like we ate there. I’m used to making food, the food that we eat in Honduras, like beans, rice, just like we eat them there. I don’t eat tortillas but the kids do. We eat cheese, cuajada (curd), mantequilla (Honduran sour cream), and food in the same way as I cooked it there. Green bananas, plantains. For us bananas and plantains are different, they are different things. Ripe plantains or green ones, or green bananas, is what we eat, tajadas (sliced). I’ve always been used to making them at home; we don’t change a thing. Traditions. Like what we make for holy week, we traditionally eat dry fish for holy week, so I always make that. For Christmas I make tamales, it is what we traditionally make in Honduras, and the food we make during that time, that I always keep making.
11. How does your cultural heritage affect your views on immigration?
In understanding what’s happening and what has always happened around immigration, why one comes, making the decision to come, to risk one’s life. Including the people who bring their small children, and they bring them risking their lives, no matter what happens, many things, things might happen to them. But I see that is by necessity, that they bring them, because life in Honduras isn’t easy. And maybe it’s the same in other countries, too. Not just in Honduras but also in other countries, and they bring their children because they want something better for them. And if they bring them over here, here they will be better, and they will be better with their family members, they will be more saved. And it’s bad that people think the opposite, that maybe the kids from there are coming to do things they shouldn’t do here, that they are people that are no good to live in this country. But, that’s not always true, not everyone is the same, there are all kinds, and the majority of them are coming because of necessity, to find something better, for the lives of these little children. I think that all of us deserve an opportunity and a better life, and they are looking for something better for those children.
12. Anything else you would like to add to the end of the interview?
For people to be conscious, that life in one’s country isn’t so easy. It is very different for the people who live here or that maybe have never lived away from here, that they haven’t suffered problems, hunger, danger. It is very difficult for those of us who have been raised in other countries, in such poor countries like Honduras. We know what happens there, how you live there, how difficult it is to be able to survive with so much danger, with so much hunger, so much need. It is different, right? The other side of the coin there, here, and maybe there are people who don’t know anything about this, maybe they think the opposite because they haven’t lived what one has lived, what one has been through. And I think that’s why they think that way. We all deserve a change, an opportunity to try and change things, and to have a better future for our family.
Ms. Guevara, thank you so much for being willing to share so openly about your story.
Here are some photos of Honduras: a boy that brings milk to the houses and a baker making breads called “polvorones” and “tortas,” and some kids playing soccer.