The empowerment of an immigrant mother. “The biggest challenge in my life has been the fear of doing new things.”
On a warm June evening, families shuffle through the pews of a beautiful church in Hillsboro, Oregon. It’s graduation day for our Adult Education students. As families begin to settle down before the ceremony begins, the four women graduating begin to slip on their caps and gowns; a symbol of one chapter closing and another opening. For Margarita, this moment has been a long time coming.
In 2000, Margarita immigrated to the U.S. with some of her family members. She was 18 years old and full of aspiration. Her parents, who stayed in Mexico, were very poor. Margarita’s goal was to get a good job and help her parents build a house and survive economically.
She arrived in Oregon and started working at a nursery, where she would continue working for the next ten years. The days working outside were long and tiring, and didn’t leave her with much time to spend with her children. But looking for new opportunities wasn’t something that Margarita was comfortable with. She would hear people talk about how hard it is to find jobs here if you don’t have experience, so she stayed where she was.
“The biggest challenge in my life has been the fear of doing new things”, said Margarita.
Margarita only made it through the 9th grade in school. She was the oldest of twelve siblings, and her parents couldn’t afford to support her anymore. So she dropped out of school and has been working ever since.
“I always heard that if you have an education, you will have more opportunities,” said Margarita.
But throughout the years, she had to balance raising her kids while making ends meet by working at the nursery, picking strawberries and blueberries, and making Christmas wreaths during the winter months, leaving her no time to work on her own education.
When Margarita heard about our bilingual preschool classes offered to low-income Latino families, she immediately enrolled her daughter. Our Early Childhood Education Program works closely with our Adult Education Program, allowing mothers to learn while their children learn. This was when Margarita learned about our GED classes.
She thought, “Well , if she can learn, then I can learn too.”
With her daughter now in preschool, she had more free time to focus on her education. It wouldn’t be easy to balance work and school, but she was ready to give it a try.
When she first began the classes in our Adult Education program, she was scared — scared of failing — scared of trying something new. “In the beginning it was really hard,” she said, “But the teacher explained things very well. If we had questions, she always knew the answer.”
Getting a GED is no easy task, especially while working full time and raising kids. “You take the GED tests in science, social studies, language and mathematics,” says Alexandra, our Family Engagement Coordinator. “Once you pass all four, you get your High School diploma. So you need to study the entire book, which is basically all of the years of school, which is hard because it’s a lot of information.” Women in our Adult Education program can take our GED classes as long as they need to. When they feel ready, they take the tests.
“This year I’ve been dedicating myself more because I really want to finish it,” she says.
She always made sure she spent time with her kids — helping them to learn to read and with homework. She didn’t want them to have the same issue she had as a kid when her parents didn’t have time for her. So she would study at night, staying up until midnight or 1 a.m., and then going to work at 5 or 6 a.m. the next day. Some nights she wasn’t sleeping at all.
After three years of taking our GED classes, Margarita took her final GED test and passed.
“It’s been very exciting. It’s been difficult to really understand everything, but when you put your mind to it, it’s possible.”
On June 15, 2018, Margarita walked down the isle of the church and was handed her diploma while the crowd emphatically cheered on the graduates. She stood proudly with a beaming, fearless smile. There was no turning back. Her path now glistened with more opportunities than ever before, and she was not afraid.
She wants to study to be a teaching assistant for preschoolers, “Because I really figured it out, that if you can educate yourself, you can educate others.”
Margarita helps support her parents back in Mexico, who are doing well, and she is focusing on making sure her children know that anything is possible.
“I never really thought about doing different things, but now I know it’s possible. Everything is possible.”