‘Our family is now secure’: The journey of a new American citizen

Creating a world where Latinos have no barriers to reach their full potential is UnidosUS’s mission, and hearing stories like Matilde Pantoja’s makes us celebrate the power of our Affiliate Network, and their steadfast and comprehensive approach to guide our community to accomplish their American Dream. Canal Alliance believes that “everyone has the right to achieve their dreams,” and they support California’s Marin county immigrant community to create “a place where everyone can live, work, and succeed.” Matilde’s story is a motivating example of Canal Alliance’s goal of breaking the generational cycle of poverty and lifting barriers to their success. Below is Matilde’s story, told by Canal Alliance and posted here with their permission.

Matilde and her family have received support from Canal Alliance for years, from ESL to workforce development classes, including becoming citizens with support from our Immigration Legal Services team in the fall 2018.

Currently with the threat of the pandemic, she is facing new challenges, and is very worried about her disabled daughter who has cerebral palsy and her other younger children. She and her family live under the constant stress facing the pandemic. Matilde was working as a housekeeper and has continued to work once a week to pay her bills.

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Hear from Matilde the struggles she and her family are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic in our Jobs Report video.

MIGRATE FOR HER CHILD’S WELL-BEING

Matilde Pantoja is from the state of Jalisco in Mexico. In 1996, at the age of 18, she gave birth to a daughter, Lupita. Her delivery was very difficult and Lupita was born with multiple medical complications; soon after birth, the baby was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. As a young woman in a community with few job opportunities or supports for children with special needs, Matilde was anxious about how she and Lupita’s father, José Luis, would have the money to keep their child safe and healthy.

José Luis decided to go to the United States to earn money to send back to support Matilde and Lupita. Matilde herself was not interested in leaving home. Yet even with the money she received from José Luis, Matilde knew that her baby faced a dire future. Propelled by her love for her daughter, Matilde made the difficult decision to join José Luis, and came to San Rafael in 1997 with her daughter.

CANAL ALLIANCE’S LIFT

In Marin, Lupita received compassionate and expert care at a local medical clinic. Matilde also became pregnant with her second child. But the family faced other challenges: Matilde’s relationship with José Luis became strained, and she couldn’t work because Lupita needed intense care. Members of the community urged her to get assistance from Canal Alliance. “I didn’t want to ask for help, but I started to realize that some things were just too hard to do on my own,” Matilde says.

Matilde and her second husband, Miguel, with their two children and her daughter.

At Canal Alliance, Matilde visited our food pantry, which allowed her to feed her children nutritious meals. Canal Alliance also helped Matilde after her relationship with José Luis ended, and she suddenly had to care for Lupita and her younger daughter entirely on her own. We also provided rental assistance for Matilde during one of Lupita’s hospitalizations so that her family would not lose its housing.

As Lupita’s health stabilized, Matilde began taking ESL and computer classes at Canal Alliance to gain skills that would allow her to support her family. She received behavioral health care to address the trauma and stress she experienced throughout her immigration journey. Canal Alliance case managers also told Matilde about a potential pathway she could take to obtain a work permit. With support from our Immigration Legal Services team, Matilde obtained a work permit, which allowed her to find more stable employment, earn a higher salary, and dedicate more time to learning English.

HER AMERICAN DREAM FULFILLED

In 2001, Matilde met and fell in love with Miguel, an immigrant from Merida, Mexico. They married and had two sons. In 2018, after participating in Canal Alliance citizenship classes and many hours of study, Matilde and Miguel became U.S. citizens. We were pleased to honor Matilde, Miguel, and dozens of their fellow new citizens, at a naturalization celebration at San Rafael City Hall. “As citizens,” Matilde told us, “we are more comfortable and relaxed. We’re not afraid of being separated from our children. Our family is now secure.”

Matilde and her family at her citizenship ceremony. Photo by Canal Alliance.

Today, Matilde and Miguel are homeowners and are eligible to vote in upcoming elections. Matilde is one of three women who graduated from the third cohort of our construction academy, and Miguel participated in a business entrepreneurship course we recently offered. Miguel says, “It’s important to never stop learning. We dream of opening our own business as we plan for our family’s future.”

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