Family finds the American dream in Craig
Editor’s note: The following is the fourth story in a six-part series examining the impact of a growing Spanish-speaking community in Moffat County. It will look at social ramifications from those on both sides of the issue.
Jaime and Maria Sandoval are on the verge of the American dream.
Jaime has a good job as a stone mason in Steamboat Springs and Maria works part time at the Visiting Nurse Association.
Their two children, Christina, 12, and Jaime Jr., 9, enjoy school and do well in their classes.
Jaime and Maria have worked hard in the past few years, saved money, and are on the verge of buying their first home in Craig.
“A lot of good things have been coming together lately,” Jaime says at the kitchen table after a long week of work.
Like many young couples who have worked hard and persevered through difficult financial times, the Sandovals say they are excited to see their hard work paying off.
The Sandovals might be more appreciative than others might regarding how their life is unfolding because they’ve lived in a world where poverty is the norm.
About 14 years ago, the couple moved to California from Mexico.
Jaime found decent work and he and Maria began to adjust to life in the United States.
Both of their children were born in California, but after they brought their children into the world, Jaime thought it might be good if they could grow up near their grandparents in Jaime’s home town of Aguascalientes, Mexico, a city of about 1 million people.
So after nine years of life in the United States, Jaime decided to move the family back.
“I wanted to try and make a living in Mexico and be closer to my family,” he said. “That’s why we went back.”
Finding work in Mexico is not difficult, Jaime said. But finding work that allows one to earn enough money to support a family of four is another story.
A job that caught Jaime’s interest was driving a truck delivering bread products to grocery stores.
But the job did not pan out for Jaime.
“I tried to find good work, but sometimes it seems I get discriminated against worse in Mexico than I do here,” he said. “I went seeking jobs and they told my I was too old. I was 34.”
Other jobs Jaime found would have paid him $5 a day at best, he said.
“There’s a lot of work available there but the pay starts at $3 or $4 a day,” he said.
How does a family live on $5 a day?
“You eat a lot of beans and tortillas,” Maria said.
Jaime agreed with his wife.
“Families go out and buy one liter of milk and that’s it,” he said.
Finding out he couldn’t provide what he wanted for his family in Mexico, Jaime turned an eye back to the United States.
“I came here and started working when they were doing the Steamboat Grand,” he said. “That’s when we found out Craig would be a good, inexpensive place to live.”
Jaime came alone first to work on the Steamboat Grand Hotel, and moved his family to Craig two years later.
Jaime got his residency as soon as he moved to Craig.
Once residency is obtained, a person must wait five years to get citizenship in the United States, Jaime said.
Jaime’s five years came up a month ago.
Jaime was declared a United States citizen on July 19 at a ceremony in Denver.
Along with 73 people from 32 different countries, Jaime said he stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance before becoming a citizen.
If someone is married to a United States citizen, he or she can become a United States resident in three years instead of five.
So now that her husband is a citizen, Maria said she would apply for her citizenship in three years.
Despite living in the United States for almost 12 years, speaking English is still a challenge that Jaime must face everyday.
“I don’t think people understand me so I only speak when it’s necessary,” he said. “It’s frustrating.”
But living in Craig has forced him to learn English, he said. Unlike the nine years spent in California, where he said it seemed everyone spoke Spanish.
“In California, I didn’t need to learn English,” he said. “Here I have to.”
Luckily Jaime has Maria to help ease the transition.
“I’m always there so I do the speaking,” she said.
Maria first learned English when her family moved to the United States when she was in the fourth grade.
Maria spent three years in the United States, during which time she said she learned English.
“Those were hard times,” she said. “It was hard to adjust and I was a very shy child.”
Maria said she remembers being self conscious of her teeth, which were stained from the high amount of fluoride used in the water systems of Mexico.
When Maria was ready to start junior high school, her parents decided it was time to move back to Mexico, but Maria had learned enough English during her three-year stay and speaks fluent English now.
Because she is bilingual, Maria is called up on a routine basis in the community for translating purposes.
She works part time at the VNA as an interpreter, helps the landlord at the apartment complex when interpreting is needed and interprets every Saturday night at Saint Michael’s Catholic Church for its Spanish Mass.
Before Maria came along, the Gospel and hymns would be read and sang during the service, but no sermon would be given because the priest could read Spanish but could not speak it.
“One day I just told Father Roger I could translate,” she said.
Now an entire service is conducted in Spanish every Saturday night with the assistance of Maria’s interpreting.
In the home, Maria and Jaime speak Spanish, while their children speak English.
Jaime will say something to Christina and Jaime Jr. in Spanish and they will respond in English, he said.
Because the children have lived most of their lives in the United States, it’s their Spanish skills that are lacking, Maria said.
“Sometimes I make them tell me things in Spanish,” she said. “But they’re slow at it. They have to redo sentences and they sound funny. They still understand everything, but they just need to practice with speaking.”
She said she’s happy her children learned English at a young age, she said.
“It’s hard,” she said. “You have different sounds for each vowel.”
She said she finds the different lengths of time it takes people to learn Spanish interesting.
For some it takes five years and others 15 and still others never learn, but she said she thought it was important that Spanish speakers who move to the United States learn English.
“Everybody should learn,” she said. “We are the ones who move here and we should be responsible to learn and adapt.”
Jaime had a simple explanation for why the Hispanic population continues to grow in Craig.
“Everybody is trying to find a place where they can make a decent living,” he said. “When people hear about the situation here, they want to come.”
While Jaime understood why so many people like themselves continue to move north across the border, he said it scares him a little after living in southern California for many years.
“California is not much different from Mexico. Wages are bad in California,” he said. “I’m worried about it. I don’t want Craig to be like that.”
But as long as good jobs are to be had, people will continue to come, he said.
“Everybody has a right to look for a better life,” he said. “In some of these countries, it’s never going to happen. As long as people keep finding work they’ll keep coming.”
Despite the life the Sandovals have found in Craig, Jaime said his parents have no interest in moving.
“Every letter they write they ask me to come back,” he said.
But they don’t plan on returning any time soon.
“After so much moving around, we plan on staying here,” Maria said. “That’s why we’re buying a house.”
Life is good, she said.
“We’ve been treated well,” she said. “We have no complaints. The children do well in school and they like it here.”
Being homeowners seemed like a distant dream a few years ago, both Maria and Jaime said.
“We’re a little surprised,” Maria said. “As soon as we moved to the United States we were thinking about it and here we are.”
Craig is what they were looking for, she said.
“We like Craig,” she said. “We like the size of the town and the people are nice. It’s affordable. It’s small, but we have everything we need.”
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