The New Americans

Rosa Molina.

“Oh my God, I’m an American now!”

My name is Rosa Molina, but I do prefer that people call me Rosie.

How old are you?

I’m 36.

What do you do?

I work in a restaurant, at a hotel and in the hotel is a restaurant. I’ve worked there almost six years, serving food to the customers. I have a great time.

How long have you been in the United States?

I’d say almost six years.

Where were you born?

I was born in El Salvador.

What brought you to the United States?

I am a single mother. And even I studied my high school education in El Salvador I wasn’t able to support my daughter to give her a better life. So when I felt like I don’t even have enough money to buy my lunch, I said I have to look for something, and I came to the United States. It’s very sad because I left my daughter behind in my country.

Who did you leave her with?

My mother—she has died. I left my daughter behind, and then I suffered a lot because I didn’t have her, but I sacrificed because I wanted to give a better future for her and for me.

How old was she when you left?

She was 11, 10-something.

How old is she now?

She’s 15.

What year were you able to bring her over to the United States?

When I became a permanent resident in 2011 I filed for her residency, for her Green Card, and I brought her in 2014.

That’s a long time. That must have been painful.

It was. In the process to come here I left my daughter behind and my parents, they both died. And when I came to process my papers I lost my ex-husband, too. So it wasn’t easy.

Can you tell me a little about where you grew up in El Salvador and what it was like?

I grew up in a different family, because I came from a very poor family. My parents, they were very poor; they didn’t have enough money to support their children. I grew up with a different family that had a little more money, like I was able to go to school to study high school. After that I had possibilities, living in the city, to work, but it isn’t enough money to support your family. Sometimes I wanted to give $20 to my mother but I wasn’t able because I was only making $94 every two weeks.

Charlie Powell

Where were you working?

At first I was working in a restaurant, customer-serving, too. I have customer-service for a long time. After that I was working in the hardware store, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for minimum wage, $94.

When you got here, were people welcoming? Did you feel like you came to a place that was safe and comfortable for you?

Yes, I have no complaints. I feel like even when I came here I didn’t know any English, even to say one thing, but I was always good with people to say signs, to tell this is this, pointing, and people understood what I tried to say. A lot of people think since you’re from another country like the United States people feel like they have been racist. I personally never felt that. American people have been very generous to me. At work they appreciate what I do, and they give you the opportunity to move up.

When you were coming here, what was it about the idea of coming to the United States, I know a lot of it was about making money to support your family, but was there anything else you hoped to find here?

Yeah, my hope you try first to make a little money. When you see here how things are, people back home think because it’s the United States that money comes out from the sky, that it’s easy to make. That’s what people think. My big dream was to become one of the American people. Now I’m an American citizen.

When did you decide “I’m going to be an American citizen”?

Oh I was waiting. I was counting the days. Counting four years and nine months from my residency I said “I’m going to apply,” and I did it, because that was my dream. I want to do this. I want to become a citizen. And because I want my daughter to get citizenship through me because I want a better future for her.

When did you become a citizen?

July 12 of this year.

And tell us what the process was like? I think people think that falls from the sky too. It’s complicated, right?

It’s not complicated if you do the right things. When you are a resident or have permit to be here and do something wrong or not pay your taxes or get in a lot of trouble on the streets, that’s not good. To become a citizen you go through the FBI, they check if you paid your taxes on time, so you have to be responsible. It’s not easy, but you have to do the right things in life.

Did you have a lawyer?

No. I did it. I read a lot of the immigration things. It was not easy to do and it takes a lot of time. But for me it’s better to do it myself.

Tell me what it was like when your daughter was here and you got to be together.

I thanked God for everything, and I was thinking I’ve been suffering in life and now we are together. I say it was like almost incredible. I tell you. I almost cannot believe this happened. Especially this moment when I became I citizen, I told my daughter, and she was laughing at me, “Oh my god, I’m American now!” But that was not easy, I suffered a lot.

Do you plan on voting this year?

Yes, that is the most exciting part for me. The idea to vote is because you express yourself. That is our voice, to participate in our election, that is how we shape our future for all of us, our children.

What do you say to the Americans who don’t vote?

As a new American, I would encourage everyone to register to vote, because it’s the only way we can change our future, how we can participate. We cannot say “Oh I don’t like the system right now and the government,” but what are we doing? We don’t do anything! We just complain and don’t act. So we have to get involved with our democracy.

What does it mean to you to be an American, a citizen?

Now I have more dreams. I want to be successful in life. I am studying in school now for a CSS, a specialist of computer support. I want to get that certification. I want to be able to get a better job, because of the same thing. America doesn’t want dumb people. [Laughs.]

Does your daughter feel the same way? Does she feel like this is her country?

She loves this country. At the beginning it was hard for her, but now she’s doing great at school. She got student of the week last week and this week in English class. So her English is maybe better than mine now. She knows. She knows the difference between El Salvador and here. She knows the opportunity.

Do you have an idea of what a “real” American is?

I think a real American is—we are all immigrants. We are all to stay together for one purpose, to do what I said before, to participate in our democracy is the best thing we can do, and that way we can choose our leaders. We don’t think about the separations, about color, about race—we are all together, all this country was built by immigrants, and we have to stay together. We don’t have to look for differences in others.