By Anushka De
What is going to happen at customs?
That was Edwin Corona Brito’s first thought when he landed at San Francisco International Airport with his family. His wife, Edna Hernandez Amezcua, was holding the hands of their two children, now freshman Edana Corona Hernandez and senior Edrick Corona Hernandez, who were six and nine years old at the time. Each family member carried a single large bag with everything they had brought from their life in Mexico City. Amezcua wore two jackets and carried stacks of immigration papers, unable to fit everything into her one suitcase.
Amezcua and Brito had visited San Francisco and Vancouver, Canada on their honeymoon years ago. They were struck by how much they felt the lifestyles in those places differed from their own –– the cities were cleaner and there was a general precedent for following rules and order that they had never experienced in Mexico. They decided to fill out an application for the Federal Skilled Worker program to try to immigrate to Canada permanently and received a score of 62 –– five points under the necessary score of 67, which is determined based on their age, education, work experience, English and/or French language skills, adaptability to the new country and whether or not a valid job offer was available.
Undeterred, Brito and Amezcua shelved their dreams of immigration and Brito started his masters degree. The two had their son, Edrick, in 2003 and their daughter, Edana, in 2006. They lived with much of their extended family, including Brito and Amezcua’s parents, held comfortable jobs and saved their money.
The family travelled to the U.S. during winter, summer and Easter holidays and each time Amezcua arrived at a hotel, she would pick up the newspaper to read the prices of the homes. The couple observed the lifestyles of people in the U.S. diligently, from the schools available for their children to the feasibility of finding a job, always assessing whether immigrating was an actual possibility for them. While they lived in Mexico City, Brito was insistent on speaking English to his children at home to the point that Edana thought her father didn’t know how to speak Spanish.
Amezcua decided to start a graphic design business and one of the people who pushed her the most was her father-in-law –– but before he would loan her any money, he insisted that she present to him a detailed business plan. She attributes his insistence on the creation of that business plan as one of the factors that helped her business expand and give her the opportunity to start working with international clientele, including some customers from the U.S.
Brito, meanwhile, also faced changes at his job which led him to start working for his wife at her company. One of his main tasks was to communicate with their immigration attorney and start planning for their possible journey to the U.S, which they hoped would be made possible by the American companies Amezcua had begun working with.
“The [second-to-last] company I worked at [in Mexico] decided that it was time for us to stop our relationship and I was angry and frustrated at that moment, because it was not something that I decided to do,” Brito said. “But I think that was the sign that it was a moment to change. After that, I worked for our own company and it was like a door closed for a window to open. It was a moment to look forward for another option, and that option was coming here [to the U.S.]”
As the family continued saving money, Brito finished his masters and because of Amezcua’s relationship with U.S. companies and Brito’s degree, as well as a final push from Mexico's deteriorating security, the family saw the opportunity to immigrate to the U.S arise. Amezcua’s brother-in-law, who had lived in the U.S. for 20 years, helped the family begin the immigration process in 2010.
Brito started searching for jobs at U.S. tech companies and began interviews over the phone. The family hired an immigration attorney to guide them through the stacks of paperwork. They visited the Centro de atención a solicitantes (CAS) to deliver their paperwork, get their fingerprints scanned and pictures taken and request an L-1 Visa –– a nonimmigrant Visa that allows foreign companies to establish offices in the U.S. –– under Amezcua’s company.
The next step in the process was scheduling an interview with the U.S. Embassy. Brito and Amezcua were apprehensive prior to the interview –– they knew that the consulate could ask them any number of questions based on any part of their application, from their travel history to their education.
“You would have to wait in this big conference room [that was] just like a school gym with a lot of chairs and booths,” Edana said when recalling the visit to the U.S. Embassy. “It was horrible [because] as a little kid you're standing there and you feel like you're going to go to jail or you did something wrong because there's police and military officers everywhere. It was definitely a very scary process.”
Brito and Amezcua remember being asked about why and how long they wanted to come to the U.S. and what their intentions were. They felt lucky –– the hardest question in the interview was a request for a single sheet of paper that they had to find from that five inch stack. Their one year visa was approved in 2012, after a year and a half of the application process.
The family started packing for the trip one month before they left, and Amezcua told her children to take only their favorite possessions. The last person Amezcua spoke to at the airport before leaving her life in Mexico City behind was her father-in-law –– she thanked him for his support in starting her business because it was her business that had given her the opportunity to obtain the Visa, and he told her to take care of her family.
They landed in San Francisco airport on July 30, 2012, and Amezcua was filled with the excitement of starting a new life. Amezcua was also terrified –– she was not fluent in English and she knew that she would have to start conducting her business without having the time to translate requests from English to Spanish, but she remained full of hope for the life she was about to begin.
The family headed to Amezcua’s sister’s house as soon as they landed, and a month later, their children started school at John Muir Elementary in the ELD program. Edana remembers the culture shock of moving from a school in Mexico where she was the only girl out of the 11 students in her grade to a world where she says other girls bullied her and the intense competition in the U.S.
Edana’s initial difficulty with school was an ironic first experience –– education was actually the biggest factor in Amezcua and Brito’s decision to immigrate to the U.S. Brito believed that the U.S. puts an emphasis on entrepreneurship, leadership and critical thinking in contrast to Mexico’s education system, at the time which put more value on training students with the mentality of becoming an employee. Brito saw many of his younger cousins gain foreign study experiences in countries such as Russia and Switzerland and noted how they had different mindsets –– the same kind of mindsets he wanted to give to his children.
“That mindset where you're thinking beyond frontiers was the thing that we wanted to give [our children]. We are expecting them to not limit themselves and think about staying [in the U.S.] all their lives. They can be anywhere and they can perform their goals –– they can think globally,” Brito said. “The [idea] of working anywhere was not the way of thinking in Mexico at that time and now, I think we need to do things differently.”
Despite the benefits of immigrating, the process of constantly renewing their visas has been grueling on the family for the past seven years. Neither Edrick nor Edana can work or apply to U.S. universities without first applying for student visas, an obstacle that Edana knows few of her classmates will have to face. Renewing visas is an expensive and time consuming process but Edana does her best to support her parents.
“[This process] definitely gets challenging sometimes, but as long as we remember why we're here, I've never really been disappointed with what we did,” Edana said. “I've always seen this as a very important experience in my life, and it's taught that you can go wherever you want, you can be whatever you want as long as you really work hard for it.”
Brito and Amezcua believe that one of the most significant things they have learned in this process is the ability to accept that whatever happens will happen. They fought for their right to live and work in this country and to give their children the opportunity to live and think differently for years. Now, they believe that if it is their fate to continue to live here then that is what will happen –– otherwise, they are ready to go wherever the next chapter of their journey takes them.
“We have learned that we can do things — everything is possible,” Amezcua said. “One day, I found a phrase in Target that [said] ‘Dreams Come True.’ And it's real. It's real because we dreamed to come here, to live here. We dreamed to be different because it was so important for us to be different [than] the rest of the family. I think [we have learned] that if you have your objectives in your mind, you will be successful. And I think that dreams come true.”