ESL student interview

Jessica M-R has a foot in each of two worlds. Half her family lives on one side of the border, half on the other. But don’t call them “divided.”

M-R states adamantly: “My family is not divided. We are just in two places.”

M-R, 18, was born in Nogales, Arizona. When she was 7, her family moved to Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa in northwest Mexico. She lived there with her parents and two younger sisters up until two months ago.

This past August, she moved back to Arizona with her father and 16-year-old sister. They came here to give M-R better educational opportunities. She finds the separation difficult, and wants to return to Mexico. “My family was always together before,” she says.

She’s taking classes at Pima Community College so she can transfer to the University of Arizona to pursue a degree in industrial design or architecture. She takes after her father, a civil engineer, but leans toward the more artistic side of engineering.

M-R prefers life in Mexico over the United States. She finds the States more stressful.

“You can see the stress in people’s faces,” she says. “In the U.S., when a person is a child, they are preparing to be someone in life, to work and have responsibilities. I like that part. But here you have only responsibilities, no time for yourself. It’s the same routine every day. People my age work, go to school, the same every day.

“In Mexico they teach you, you have lots of homework and projects, but you know at the end of the week you will have fun and freedom. People my age go out, have fun, go to parties, after doing homework and other responsibilities. The stress will be gone — that’s the motivation.”

M-R is well aware of Mexico’s ugly reputation for brutality, especially in Sinaloa, her home state. Even so, she finds the unpredictable nature of violent crime here much more unsettling than the violence of the drug cartels, which she observes has its own logic.

“I like Obama, but I feel more insecure in the U.S., because of things like the shootings on the Interstate,” she says, referring to the Phoenix sniper who targeted traffic on I-10 in September. “Every time you turn on the TV, you hear that someone in Tucson or Phoenix has been shot.”

According to M-R, violence south of the border, unlike the random shootings here, is “all the narcotráfico.” It’s confined to the drug cartels and those who do business with them. In Mexico, she says, unless you’re associating with the wrong people, “If you see a person with a gun, you know he’s not going to shoot you.”

She described the popular perception of outlaws like Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa cartel. “We all see El Chapo like not such a bad person; he helps a lot of the poor. We prefer him to the President.” She says the drug lords and their henchmen don’t consume what they sell, so unlike gunmen in the United States, “they’re not crazy.”

M-R acknowledges that she might prefer Mexico because there’s comfort in the familiar. “If you move to another country, you feel more insecure because you don’t know the customs.”

But it’s much more than that. It’s clear that this aspiring young student is likely to return someday to make a contribution to the country she loves. She speaks proudly of Mexico’s beauty and strong traditions. And always, there is the pull of family.

“I am very proud of my parents because they made a lot of sacrifices to make opportunities in life for their children,” M-R says. In the future, she will likely use those opportunities to make them proud of her.