Margarita Jimenez’s father unexpectedly passed away when she was eleven years old. Her mother and three older siblings wondered how they would survive in Torreón, a desert city in Coahuila, México. Margarita remembers her own grief, but more vivid is the pain and fear of those around her. She had always known money was tight, but without her father to provide for them, soon bills went unpaid and food became scarce.
Sadly, the wages her brothers procured from part-time jobs, while they attended the local university, couldn’t meet expenses. Her mother forbade the boys to quit school to work more hours. It had been a point of pride for their father, a humble handy man, that their sons would earn college degrees. A few months after their father’s death, Margarita’s 18-year-old sister resolved to go to the United States, determined to find work and send home money.
As an undocumented immigrant to the U.S., Margarita’s sister encountered obstacles which sometimes put her life in jeopardy. Earning enough to support herself as well as provide for her family in Mexico became overwhelming. Margarita’s mother couldn’t bear the burden she had become to her children any longer. The 42-year-old widow packed up Margarita and migrated to the United States to find work cooking and cleaning, two skills she’d spent decades honing while raising a large family.
Arriving in San Diego was so alien that Margarita’s first eleven years in Mexico seemed a distant memory. Nonsensical sounds came out of people’s mouths. No matter how their voices grew louder or they repeated themselves, she couldn’t figure out what they tried to tell her. The other kids had alternatively lighter or darker skin and eyes than her friends in Coahuila. She encountered cultures, religions and lifestyles she didn’t understand.
In time, Margarita made friends. She learned to communicate in English and became accustomed to living in the United States. She discovered, though, that after she completed middle and high school, as an undocumented student, she wouldn’t be able to afford to attend college, the way her brothers had in Mexico. No way could her mother scrape together enough money to pay the much higher tuition for non-resident students on a housekeeper’s wages.
After high school, Margarita took a job at a delicatessen. She worked extra shifts, countless hours, to earn as much money as possible. One day, she would reach her dream of going to college to get a degree in Business Administration.
By the time she was 20 years old, she obtained her legal residency in the U.S., but by then, she had married her husband, David, and delivered her daughter, Samantha. She continued working as her family grew; her son, David Junior, was born two years later, and in four more years, Karla arrived. It seemed Margarita would have to give up her dream to pursue higher education. With a family of five, she had to work to help with household expenses.
Then fifteen years after high school, with encouragement from her husband, Margarita decided to go back to school. In 2010, she enrolled in classes at the University of Phoenix to earn her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business. She juggled school, work, and family, and more than once, she wondered if she could keep up the frenetic pace. Her husband helped in every way possible; picking up kids from school, taking them to soccer games and practices. He also took over his uncle’s landscaping business on weekends to make extra money, so she could work fewer hours. Their children were understanding when she had to cancel or opt out of family gatherings to complete assignments.
Although going to school, studying, writing essays in her second language, cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, doing laundry, and trying to meet her children’s needs left little time for sleep, Margarita’s family was her motivation for finishing her classes and earning her degree. She wanted to show her children the importance of getting a college education by being their example. Along the way, she changed her major and received her Bachelors of Science degree in Finance in July, 2014.
“That day I will never forget, seeing my family cheering for me [at the graduation ceremony],” Margarita said. “They were proud of my accomplishment.”
Margarita credits her tenacity to her hard-working mother and supportive husband. Her mom modeled how to be a strong woman, to appreciate every blessing in life, and to never give up. David senior’s optimism, belief in her, and his commitment to their family got Margarita through those times when the finish line, holding that college degree in her hand, seemed too far to reach.
Since graduation last June, Margarita received a raise at the accounting firm where she works. The most satisfying accomplishment, though, is the light she sees in her children’s eyes. The kids have historically done well in school, but now they have witnessed, first hand, how goals and dreams can come true.
“Regardless of how old you are or your background, everyone deserves to be successful in life,” Margarita points out. “Challenges may [arise]…but don’t give up…obstacles only make us stronger.”