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Spotlight | Encounters
June 24, 2022

ENCOUNTERS EIGHT ISSUE

he wind whistled loudly on a dark August day, and the massive droplets of rain pattered on the ceiling as Sofia kept her eyes tightly shut and prayed that she would soon hear from her family. There was no signal at the hospital due to the destruction caused by the hurricane, and a sense of uselessness weighed heavily on Sofia and the rest of the nurses that were on duty throughout the storm. They were still persisting through the difficulties brought on by the COVID pandemic, and the sense of uncertainty about the future was one that Sofia was far too familiar with.

The hospital had communicated to the nurses that they were required to work through the storm, and failure to do so would put them at risk of losing their jobs. This was not a risk that Sofia was willing or able to take. With a husband who had recently suffered an injury leaving him unable to work and two children who were still in school, Sofia was the sole wage earner in her family and losing her job was not an option. She had come so far to get where she is now...

Sofia grew up in a small rural village in Brazil in a large family but limited access to resources. She remembers while growing up, her mother often went hungry in ensuring that her children had food to eat. She recalls beginning to work at age 11 in order to help her mother with living expenses, while continuing her studies, and ultimately receiving her diploma. Sofia wanted a better life for her children.

At the young age of 21, Sofia gathered her courage and embarked on a long, perilous journey from Brazil to the United States. She understood that the journey to the United States through the Mexican border was one of grave danger, therefore she could not afford to rely on her family for emotional support through telling them about the details of her voyage - that she would be traveling through Mexico- as they never would have allowed her to go through with this plan. "It was such a difficult decision, and one that I had to make all by myself" she notes. This decision of not to share details of the voyage is common among migrants so as to avoid causing their loved ones additional suffering.

The plan was to arrive in Mexico, and from there travel in a car through the border with the help of coyotes, or individuals who smuggle undocumented immigrants across the border. However, when she arrived in Mexico, Sofia was unaware that she needed to have a visa, “I was traveling with two other men from my country, and after being detained by immigration for ten hours, one of the men I was with offered the immigration officers money. That is what people want, money. The coyotes that we had coordinated with abandoned us, so we took a taxi to a hotel in Mexico, and we met another coyote who agreed to bring us to the US."

“There were quite a few issues that arose, so we ended up staying in this hotel for ten days. When we were about to leave, the coyotes told us that they didn't have enough space in the car for us, so we ended up having to stay in a trailer for three days, from which we were eventually kicked out and brought to a house. I was the only woman in that house" they would try to follow me into the bathroom. I couldn’t sleep.”

“The men that were with me from my country would protect me; they would stand outside, in front of the door when I would use the bathroom, and would never leave me alone. If I were alone, only God knows what would have happened.”

Sofia recalls the terror and vulnerability on one afternoon “One of the coyotes told us that they were going to separate the men and the women. he brought me out of the house and into a car and tried to rape me in the parking lot. He began to take off my clothes and yell at me in a language that I did not speak. I was screaming and crying begging him to please not do anything to me.”

“They got in contact with a member of my family and said that he needed to send more money. I couldn't speak with my family, with anyone. The coyotes made all of the decisions. He told me that if they didn't receive the money I would not be going to the US, nor would I be going back home. He said that he could just kill us without a problem. I cried for my life.”

As women, they violate us, they harass us. What are we going to do? If we call the police, they will catch us too. Women face this added risk in the immigration process.”

There were few things that brought Sofia comfort through the long days and dreadful nights of her immigration journey. Among the limited items that she was able to bring with her, apart from the clothes that she was wearing, Sofia brought her father’s wedding ring. This symbol of strength and belonging guided Sofia through her process of migration and integration once arriving in the United States.

"I speak with my family every day, but I was unable to physically be with them for 10 years after leaving. I lost so many family members- my father, my aunt, uncles - and I was not able to say goodbye, or even attend their funerals, as I would not have been allowed to return to the family that I now have here” she wept. Sofia carries with her the memory of her loved ones who have gone and has made it a priority to keep their memories alive through telling stories about them to her children, and after 10 long years of hard work in order to attain proper documentation, she was able to visit her family, and bring her husband and kids with her. Now, 15 years after Sofia’s arrival to the United States she finally feels at home. She has a support system, she explains “"I have developed a group of friends here, of women from my country. We have become like a family. We support each other a lot.”The process of making a home and finding a sense of belonging did not come without hard work. She still faces obstacles that she faces to this day, after 15 years of living in the United States. "As a black female Latina immigrant, I have experienced a lot of discrimination and prejudice. Now, after obtaining documentation, I have begun working in health care. People will ask why I am here, stating that I am taking jobs away from Americans. They will tell me to go back to my country. I have heard too many comments like these. It hurts, but I know that I am where l am supposed to be. It pushes you to work harder. I would do anything for my kids, for my husband, for my family. For my community too, l always strives to give my 100%. I began working in healthcare a month before the Covid outbreak; I worked hard through the pandemic.” she states. And that she did. Working night shifts of 12 hours, Sofia was able to support her family and contribute to the greater good of society. Her message to those who are willing to hear it is “Not all immigrants are criminals. People come to this country to find better lives for themselves or their families. That is what I came here for, and every day I work harder and harder for this. When I left my country, I did not speak a word of English, I didn't have money in the bank, but today I work caring for people. Most of the patients that I work with I will never see again, but I give my 100% because I love what I do”. The process of immigration and integration for all immigrants is one of adversity. Through telling Sophia's story, I am hoping to show the human side of the immigration process. Far too often, immigrants are dehumanized and reduced to a statistic, or a stereotype, but these are real humans. They hope, they work, and they deserve respect.

 

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