Photo: Cessylia Journey by Anne Little
This beautiful profile was created by one of our contributors Anne Little. Ann is a freelance writer/photographer for over twenty years. Her work can be found at http://www.annlittlephoto.com/.
Cessylia didn’t want to move from Mexico. “That wasn’t important to me. I had work all the time,” she says.
In her early twenties, she was an administrative assistant at a Renault car dealership near Monterey, Mexico and lived with her parents. “I never understood why people came here (to the U.S.). I would watch the news and see that people had drowned trying to cross a river. Why did they want to take that risk…to leave everything?” she says.
But, in 2006, because of a twist of fate, she found herself stranded and needing a job in Montgomery, Alabama, historically a place of brutal discrimination toward non-whites and ground-zero for some of the most frightening anti-immigration laws in the U.S.
The Road to Alabama
Cessylia’s family traveled often when she was a child in San Nicholas de los Garza, Neuvo Leon. Though money was tight, the family annually drove to Chapultepec Park, once home to pre-Hispanic civilizations. There, she, her sister and cousins raced up the steps of the Teotihuacan pyramids, where ancient Toltec Indians once performed sacred ceremonies to their gods. Some interpret the name, Teotihuacan, to mean, ‘place of those who have walked the road of the gods.’
“Every year, we went there to Teotihuacan,” says Cessylia. “You have something, and you never see how much it is worth.”
As an adult, she often traveled across the U.S. border to shop, and once even took a bus to Canada just for a wedding.
So, when a friend who had a job in Montgomery asked her to come for a visit, Cessylia, then twenty-seven, went without hesitation. She was on a college semester break and thought she had enough money for a vacation and a return trip to Mexico. She would “tomar un tiempo parci mi,” meaning, “take awhile for myself,” she says.
But, once in Alabama, things were more expensive than she had expected, and her money soon ran out. “Shopping,” she admits.
Without a work visa, she applied for a food preparation job at a nearby restaurant.
Into the Heat of Discrimination
“That was a very hard job,” she says. “I hurt so much. My legs. My hands. Some days, my boss forgot to give me breaks. I don’t think he cared. It was horrible.” She wasn’t accustomed to working quickly with knives and food slicing machines and frequently cut her hands. “Almost every day, I had a new cut.” She says the manager often told her, “You’re too slow.”
At that time, she knew almost no English. She told herself, “I could do this.” Her friend told her to quit. Eventually, she did. By then, Cessylia began to live in fear.
Then, in the ninety degree heat of a Montgomery summer, and with no car, she began the task of finding another job on foot. She had heard of a Mexican restaurant next to Walmart. She could go there and ask other Latinos if they knew of a job opening. With a friend, she walked two hours on the treeless Southern ByPass. Finally, they hitched a ride with some Latino men who they didn’t know.
After finding a job opening at a factory, she pleaded to the Hispanic manager to hire her. He knew she was an undocumented worker and had no experience as a factory worker but hired her anyway.
Life in Montgomery quickly improved for Cessylia. “That was when I met my husband. Three weeks later, we started to go out,” she says. His name was Cameron, and he was white. “I never thought of a white guy with blonde hair,” she says.
He attempted to talk to her but didn’t know any Spanish. By then, she could read some English. To bridge the language barrier, they took pieces of paper at the printer station at work and wrote notes to each other in English. He invited her for dinners at his house and cooked quesadillos and nachos. She laughs that, after those two meals, he never cooked again. “He tricked me,” she says with a grin.
Now married to Cameron, Cessylia now chooses to stay in Alabama, and, after a long, expensive process, she was granted permanent residency in the U.S. in 2011.