When I First Moved to the USA…

When I was 23, a big engineering firm hired me to design their products, processes and tools in their PNW facilities. At the time I was fresh out of college and had lived all my life in one place, a city of about a million people in a tropical paradise. My US Citizen status, awarded at birth, made me a unique demographic: female, hispanic heritage and available for work without a Visa or Green Card. Very nice things to be if you were looking for a job post 9/11 and while affirmative action policies were becoming a bit more helpful and less stigmatic. I didn’t mind taking advantage of any diversity and inclusion initiative that could open doors for my career. After getting hired I continued to support cultural awareness and knowledge transfer programs. The more people who became educated in the many world economies and traditions, the better. Drumming international business by proving cultural proviciency was key for the industry I worked, and still, work in.

The two weeks prior to my departure were filled with box packing and supply purchases. Since the culinary offerings were going to be different than those I grew up with my family knew I had to stock up on the essentials; sofrito (cooking base), 1 cent shower curtains, seasonings, adobo and a few samples of coffee and traditional candies for my boss and coworkers. Leave it to Latinos to give a gift on their first day on the job. (Gratitude is classy and ingrained in my DNA.) I also managed to pack my boyfriend, now husband, because if it were up to him he’d still be living with his parents. (His words not mine.) Saying goodbye at the airport was easier than I thought because the crew would come visit me during the summer or 5 months later. We didn’t say goodbye just “hasta luego”.

My mom decided I could handle the move and the apartment hunting on my own so she gave me a big hug and sent me on my way. Trust and confidence in myself and my abilities is one of the best gifts she has ever bestowed upon me. i spread my aluminum wings and flew to the Wesr Coast to start my adult life. Eek! If the adulting hashtag had existed back then you would have seen a plethora of tweets about how expensive rent was for a three bedroom apartment or how much Comcast charged for cable internet service. I still remember my hubby asking for a PS2 and a TV to play with because he was unemployed and bored out of his mind. Without a relocation stipend, I had to use my internship proceeds and offer letter to get most things on credit with small downpayments. Buying a queen sized mattress and a sofa occupied most of our free time because you had to go to a store to get it. Ordering online was barely a thing for household items or brand names. An air mattress wasn’t cutting it, and at $100, it was the cheapest thing we could find until our bedroom set was delivered 4 days later. Everything took twice as long as it does now.

People take for granted the struggles others faced because they were in a different time. To assume my salary and position were blessings or luck was a true insult. Scrounging up money wasn’t as easy as setting up paypal or gofundme accounts. You had to physically wait for the cash to make it across the sea and land to get to you. Dial up was the most popular means to access the internet and microtransactions weren’t even in vogue. You had to deal with a bank check or a Western Union teller. Actual people had to be engaged in the process of making sure you didn’t go broke or became destitute. Asking for a personal loan was akin to saying you were starving and needed help. Banks back then hated desperate people, especially those without credit or historical payment data and without Co-debtors, which meant you were asking mom and dad for a signature, you couldn’t get a loan. You had to make due with the hand life dealt you or risk the conditions of a payday loan. Budgeting was a balancing act on a tight rope but we managed well until my husband got a job at the same company. Double income, no kids  (DINK) was a lifestyle we welcomed until the wedding and family plans materialized. (The kids never came so I am still enjoying the freedoms and perka of the DINK status. We never thought having kids was going to be this difficult.)

Because of all this, I will never envy the new hires than come in with their iPads, iPhones, and their parents in tow. What drives me nuts is that the think we are like them. They were recruited through an accelerated hiring program and partnership with our University that wasn’t as strong when we graduated. To them, our company is one of many that fight for their talent. To us, it was a miracle they even knew our college existed. If those who came before me hadn’t proven our alma mater worthy of recruitment we wouldn’t be here today. It takes a village to make things happen. No kids, you didn’t earn it, it was facilitated for you. Work hard to deserve the opportunity since you are all once layoff away from an unhappy ending. (Been there recently, btw.) No one catered to me and my needs because the Baby Boomers ruled and owned the world. They were raiding 401k and pension funds that had been offered as benefits to retain my talent. Half of those benefits were taken away from me but you will never miss them because you will never know of them. Sad part is you tell me to be grateful for a job that has slowly asked me to do more for the same or less! Ugh. How do I reach these kids!

Which reminds me, my first day at work my car windows froze and had ice, a new and novel thing for a girl of the tropics. Seeing snow 9 months later was a joy until I had to learn to drive in it. Black ice became the stuff of nightmares. The summer was gorgeous and reminded me that it is the natural beauty of the place that made me fall in love with it. All these evergreen trees reminded me that there is beauty in nature’s ability to weather every storm. That’s exactly what being an adult would entail. Being resilient instead of unyielding, and perseverant instead of relentless. Speaking in my second language in a foreign culture made me stronger and braver; the courage we need to face the world on our own comes from experience and taking chances.

The next time you open Pokémon Go during your workday remember us, the kids that only had snake as a game in our Motorola Razrs. The generation that still memorizes credit card codes and telephone numbers. The poor souls that know things were different back then, not necessarily better. Calling home in 2005 required that I wait until 9pm or weekends to take advantage of the free roaming, long distance and minutes. With a 700 minute plan there were a lot of clever ways to get a message across and my mom knew that it only made sense to call if there was an emergency. The long winded communication was done via email because there was no 4G internet and texts were 25 cents each! I am amazed how far we have come in terms of telecommunications and technology. My mom couldn’t facetime me or Skype me. Heck, Facebook wasn’t even popular!

I can’t believe it has already been over a decade since the plane landed that Super Bowl Sunday. (We had to wait for our luggage to be offloaded from the plane because the handlers were watching the ending of the game.) I’m on my second home, third new car (five for us as a couple) and 8th wedding anniversary. Everything happens for a reason and I have to thank the two beautiful and smart women that pulled my resume from the pile and gave me a job. I owe them my life and my home. If you ever are in the PNW let me know and I will show you the wonderful empire we have built together for our Enginerd family. The best is yet to come, I hope…

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