In 1986, President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Thanks to the act, certain illegal immigrants who lived United States were able to obtain a green card, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Among the lucky ones, was Jackie Hernandez’s father, who had crossed the border from Mexico to San Diego without documents and without a real plan.
“He didn’t know how he was going to get a go,” Hernandez, a child and adolescence development major at Point Loma Nazarene University, said. “He was what people call a coyote.” He knew, however, that he wanted to have a better life, she said.
“The city my parents came from – Leon Guanajuato – is a pretty good place,” she said. “My family still has a house there, but you just don’t make much money living there.”
After a few years and a trip back to Mexico, during which her dad met her mother, Hernandez, a first generation American, was born.
Once he established himself in America, Hernandez’s dad put his cooking skills to work and found a job as a chef. Her mom, on the other hand, stayed at home with her and her three older brothers until they were old enough. At home, Spanish was the main language.
“My first language was Spanish,” Hernandez said. “But my three brothers learned English and, at some point, I didn’t want to speak Spanish anymore. My mom pushed me to keep speaking it. Now, I struggle with some words. I speak a little bit of ‘Spanglish’.”
Hernandez is part of a big chunk of San Diegans who speak at least another language. Data from a 2013 report by the County of San Diego, indeed, reveal that 20.60 percent of the population over five years of age is bilingual.
To this day, Spanish remains the predominant language in Hernandez’s household. “Both my parents speak Spanish. My dad can carry a conversation, and he is very friendly,” she said. “But my mom is very shy, so she prevents herself from speaking English.”
Despite potential language barriers, Hernandez saw her parents build “a steady reality around them” as she grew up.
“They have some friends and a few acquaintances. The can reach out to people if they need help,” she said.
If any struggle was present, she said, her parents made sure she would be sheltered from it. “They tend to keep things from me if they think I can’t handle them.”
After more than 20 years in the United States, her mother and father are saving up to finally get their citizenship, a process that is going to cost them $725 each, according to USCIS.
“We are a low-income family,” she said. “And my parents’ main priority has always been providing for me and my brothers, so they waited to apply for citizenship.”
“But they are very excited,” she continued. “They would have gotten it sooner, if they could have.” At last, it seems, two more Americans are about to be born.