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Immigrant Women No Longer Invisible

La Raza, News Report, Fabiola Pomareda, Translated by Suzanne Manneh Posted: Jul 30, 2009

Traduccin al espaol

CHICAGO For 24 years, Griselda Esquivel has earned her living operating printing machines. Esquivel, who came to the United States from Michoacn, Mexico, sat with 40 other immigrants last Friday at Erie Neighborhood House, a community organization in Chicago, to be sworn in as a new U.S. citizen at a special naturalization ceremony.

It is unusual for this type of event to take place outside a courtroom, but it was conducted here because the organization has a 139-year history of supporting the integration of immigrant families into U.S. society.

Asked why she decided to become a citizen, Esquivel said, "Im 50 years old and I thought I wont be able to work and operate machines anymore. To get a better job you have to be a citizen."

Like many other immigrant women, she has overcome incredible barriers such as language, anti-immigrant discrimination, lack of health insurance and low wages.

She worked at Color Communications for 14 years, and for the last eight years she has worked at Sato Labels, where she operates heavy machinery printing stickers. She said she has medical insurance and good benefits, but it hasnt always been easy.

A recent study by New America Media and Bendixen and Associates paints a portrait of these immigrant women in the United States. The poll, "Immigrant Women: Stewards of the 21st Century," was the result of 1,002 interviews with immigrant women from 44 different countries.

The study indicates that women now represent 51 percent of immigrants in this country and the majority (53 percent) are Latin American.

It also emphasizes the new roles these women have assumed and their achievements. For example, immigrant women have been able to keep their families together, despite the hardships of immigrating and the periods of separation they may have had to live through.

The study notes that 97 percent of the women who were married in their home countries are still living with their husbands in the United States, and Griselda Esquivel is one of them.

Esquivel came here with her husband 30 years ago. Today they have three daughters, two sons and five grandchildren.

Other achievements, according to the poll, are that in a short period of time, immigrant women have found a way to make more money, assumed responsibility for finances and become more assertive as decision makers.

When asked their greatest challenge as immigrant women in the United States, 50 percent said it was "helping my children succeed," 18 percent said "keeping my family together," 17 percent said earning enough money to support my family," and 15 percent chose other.

In a faltering voice, Esquivel described her greatest achievements as "watching my daughters grow up and giving them a good education. The result is the reward they give me, that they are very good girls. "

The study also found that immigrant women are the catalysts for their families to become U.S. citizens.

Asked whether it was difficult to prepare for the citizenship test, Esquivel, who studied at Instituto de Progreso Latino, (www.idpl.org) in Chicago, said, "No, the most important thing is to practice, go to school. I reviewed the questions at home and practiced during my lunch time."

Her husband, who also became a U.S. citizen, encourages his Mexican American friends and family to become naturalized. "A lot of them are going to English classes. I tell them to help their families who dont have papers," he said.

During the swearing-in ceremony for the new citizens, one of the speakers said, "With God above, all things are possible." Griselda Esquivel nodded, looking straight ahead.

Photos by Fabiola Pomareda / La Raza

Related Articles:

Women Immigrants: The New Face of Migration to America

Women Immigrants Key to Family Unity

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