Suzy Fodor LeSage

Alumnus/a '95

Comments: In 1912 my Grandfather, John Karoly, was born in Calumet, Michigan. His parents, John and Mary Karoly, were Hungarian immigrants who came to the United States to earn a better living for their family. My great-grandfather, John, worked in the Michigan copper mines, and Mary cooked in a boarding house while raising four children. My Grandpa Karoly was the eldest, and the only son.

After a couple years of working and earning, the family returned to their village northwest of Budapest. They worked their farm, which still today in the village is reputed to have been fine, large, and prosperous. They celebrated with food, drink and dancing during harvest festivals and at Easter, on the Feasts of Saint Stephen and Saint Elizabeth. Before they knew much of one another, my grandfather’s and grandmother’s parents decided their children would make a good match, and on a clear day one May my Grandfather married Anna Fuchs, and a year or so later they welcomed their first child: a son they called Bela. My Grandmother tells the story of how the local physician held my Uncle up as a perfect example of a clean, beautifully cared for baby to all the local mothers one autumn afternoon; and my Uncle tells the story of when he fell off the wagon and the working farm oxen stopped still, hovering nearby, because they seemed to need to protect him.

The Second War divided Europe in the late 1930s, and to hear my family tell it, one joined whichever army was within one’s town. And one joined the army, or feared for their own and their family’s lives. My grandfather wore the Hungarian uniform, which was allied with the Nazi army. He was later taken prisoner and forced to work and fight for the Russians. Meanwhile, a Russian battalion took over his home and farm, where my grandmother and uncle and great-aunts still stayed. He loathed what he was losing to Communism, what its leaders were taking from his family, farm and his way of life.

When everything was over, he returned to his ruined village, while Hungary was handed to the Soviet Union. My mother, Elizabeth, was born into post-war Hungary in 1946, and life had become untenable (at best) and terribly unsafe for many Hungarians under Communism. After an ugly, violent confrontation with a Soviet soldier one late night, my grandfather fled Hungary, leaving behind his wife and two children, promising to send for them after he had earned enough money for their travel and citizenship into the United States.

John Karoly came to Cleveland, Ohio in the late 1940s; lived with an Uncle who had come over earlier and enjoyed some small prosperity; and he washed windows during the nights while he worked in the Cleveland steel mills all day. He eventually saved and sent enough money for train and boat passage for his wife and children. My grandmother tells of how her youngest sister snuck on the train with her all the way to the country’s border, and pushed pears wrapped in a handkerchief into my Grandma’s arms, as they said good-bye. My mother’s green card shows the face of a weary, outraged little girl who had just endured her series of immunization shots, after living for weeks in the bottom of a ship crossing the Atlantic.

Like most Hungarian immigrants, my grandparents worked extremely hard in the United States. John still worked in the steel mills, while my grandmother worked all day in a tool factory, both working 5-6 days per week until the day they retired. Their children attended Catholic schools, and the family lived in an old house (which had belonged to my grandfather’s uncle, and which they worked hard to restore and make habitable) in a Hungarian enclave within Cleveland, where they could still speak Hungarian among one another, attend Mass at the Hungarian parish with their friends (the parish was their joy), and celebrate as a community again during harvest and Easter and on feast days. They paid cash for everything: cars, furniture, education, and eventually a brand new house in a quiet eastern suburb of Cleveland. Not only did they remember their money-stricken war years, but being immigrants they probably could not have received credit from a bank at that time if they wanted to do so. They endured their share of classism and racism. When my own parents were married in 1969, my mother overheard a family member of my father’s unkindly refer to her as my dad's “little D.P.”

Despite their challenges and disappointments, my grandparents survived and thrived in the United States. It simply cannot be said enough, they worked terribly hard to provide a better life for their children. Their politics were staunchly conservative. They had little patience for others, whatever their personal or social challenges, who wouldn’t work, and work, and still work more to make their lives better. I remember many dinners with my grandfather as he decried and raged against the Soviets. I remember he adored Ronald Reagan, and he thought (to my own teen-aged mother’s chagrin) John Kennedy was cheater and liar. They saved all their money, worked together as a community in their beautiful Hungarian parish, and canned produce from their annual garden. They and their friends and neighbors were amazingly thrifty.

The stories I cherish and share with my own children (John, Stephen and Elizabeth) are of my time spent with my grandparents in their home in Pepper Pike and of their family life: growing the garden, making wine, harvesting honey from the bees in the backyard, frying sausage and rye bread within the potbelly stove in their basement on frozen and still nights near Thanksgiving; too many childhood wonders to recount now. My grandfather died a few days past Valentine’s Day in 1998. In the days before he died, I dropped my job in Atlanta, and I ran to Ohio, pasty lump in my throat, rubbing cool cream into his thin skin and dry hands.

Our lives are widely molded by people and experiences. My father’s job took us to the Southeast when I was small, and I consider the South my home. My parents still live in Georgia. I am the first (on both sides of my family) person to attend college, which I enjoyed and deeply appreciated throughout my four years at Notre Dame. My grandparents and parents were so proud to share my photos and news from Notre Dame with their friends and neighbors. Notre Dame rounded my view of the world, offering other perspectives and constantly reminding of that ultimate perspective God’s sacrifice and love for us.

Today, my husband and I live with our children in the Phoenix, Arizona metro-area. Arizona is a hot-bed of immigrant politics. Ultimately, the story of an immigrant is intensely personal, filled with challenges, large doses of unfairness, and always hard work and harder decisions. My opinions, personal and political, on immigration are of course influenced by my and my family’s experiences.

When I was a baby girl, I was diagnosed with a (blessedly minor) heart-valve defect. Upon hearing my sobbing mother share this news, my grandfather offered his heart, for me, to her. Here was a man who gave everything “His strength, courage, time, money, indeed his whole self” for his family and their betterment. He once offered to give me his own life, and in the end, I am trying everyday to offer and live my life as a testament to his.

Ally Zamora


Comments: Growing up in Miami, Florida, a city whose inhabitants have made a point to integrate their Latin American customs with that of American customs, the history of my family’s immigration was a normal discussion topic. Like most people around me, I grew up listening to the “rantings of the elders,” except my grandparents were discussing a country that’s about 90 miles away.

My lineage goes back to Cuba. My maternal grandparents who had been living in the states for a few years had planned to move back to Cuba in 1958. Even though they had sold their home in Miami, upon their arrival to Cuba, they sensed too much uncertainty and decided to go back and resettle in the states; thus the transition was much easier for them.

While Castro had not yet stopped the exodus of Cubans in 1959, 1960, and 1961, no one was allowed to take money or valuables out of the country. This included cash from personal bank accounts, wedding rings and family heirlooms. All valuable personal items were considered “property of the Cuban people” and were confiscated if discovered. Later in 1961 the rules became stricter. In 1961, my paternal grandfather was imprisoned by the Cuban government for speaking against Fidel Castro. This posed a problem for my paternal grandparents who wanted to leave Cuba together.

Luckily for my family, my grandfather had connections with the Mexican ambassador. It was through this connection that he left Cuba illegally (as a political prisoner, he was not allowed to exit the country) for Mexico leaving behind his wife and two young children. In the meantime, my grandmother tried to secure a plane passage for herself, my father, who was barely two years old, and my aunt who was a not quite a year old. Although she had pulled together the money for a plane ticket, she missed her flight because upon the mandatory inspection prior to leaving, it was discovered that she had sold her personal belongings for the cash to purchase the plane tickets. She was told that the personal possessions from her apartment she sold were considered property of the Cuban people and therefore had to be replaced before she would be permitted to leave the country. It took weeks for her to replace these items, most donated to her by her family members.

Because of the tougher restrictions placed on all those leaving Cuba, when my grandmother was finally allowed to leave, she did so with her two children and three changes of clothing and a bottle of milk for her infant daughter. She had to leave her wedding ring behind. She carried with her a phone number of one contact in Miami. Upon her arrival, an older American man working Customs took pity on her, asked her if she had family and place to go. She responded no. He took out a dime from his pocket and dialed the phone number for her from a public phone. Although it took three months, my grandfather was able to secure passage from Mexico to Miami and was already waiting for her.

Through friends, they were able to make contact right away. After spending a time living in rented bedrooms, they moved into a one bedroom apartment in the ghettos of Miami where they lived with no furniture. They slept on a sheet spread out on the floor. As my grandfather worked two and three jobs, my grandmother cared for her two children and some neighbor’s children.

For both sides of my family, many problems were encountered when they arrived. Like most Hispanic Immigrants, some did not speak English. They also had one additional problem; scholarly degrees were not recognized in this county. Therefore, my grandparents and other family members were forced to take menial jobs; not your ideal American jobs.

Since my grandparents’ immigration, not much has changed. Both my grandfathers have passed away without ever seeing their homeland free. Instead we’ve only heard of the struggles of the family members left behind. Michael Moore recently released Sicko comparing healthcare in the US with other nations. He highlighted the “wonderful, free” healthcare program in Cuba. Little does he know what is really going on there.

He saw what Cuban propaganda wants everyone to believe. He doesn’t have family there with medical needs. Only those of us with ties to the Cuban people really understand the hardships and constraints placed upon them by the government. There may be education and plenty of doctors, but there is no access to medicine or medical supplies and that is just the beginning. And it is not because of the embargo. There is plenty if you are part of the power that rules. If you are a commoner there is nothing.

For example, if you are admitted to a hospital, you need to bring your own bed sheets and pillow, bed pan, soap and washcloth as well as any other basic necessitates. Oh, and bring family because there is no one to care for you either. These are the hardship that we as immigrants still hear of and struggle to understand. We can only help so much by sending much needed medicine and medical supplies among other necessities.

My paternal grandmother, who is one of ten children, has traveled to Cuba twice to see her family. After immigrating she returned hoping to see her mother who as ill, but didn’t make it in time. Her second and most recent return was several years ago to see her dying sister. She is also the only sibling to have immigrated. All her siblings are block by the Cuban government from coming, although some have found legal ways to immigrate.

Today, after the Castro regime has held an iron fist over Cuba, my family still looks forward to the day when we will be able to go back to see our family and our land. Although my father was born in Cuba, he feels American in many ways, and is grateful for what this country offered him and his parents and siblings. In Miami we are called Cuban-Americans.

But, deep down in his blood he is Cuban and always will be. And although I am American born and raised, and proud to be an American, I know and I am proud of my roots, I know the blood that runs through my veins is Cuban and always will be. It is a heritage I want to share with anyone willing to listen because I refuse to let it die simply because a cruel dictator has closed the doors to the island and has changed life there.

Yes, life is no longer as it was when my grandparents lived there and it probably never will be again. Still, I still hope and pray one day that I will be able to stand on the shores of Varadero Beach, known throughout the globe as one of the most beautiful beaches of the world, feel the breeze that sways the majestic Cuban Royal Palms of the island, and stand on the mountain tops where my grandfather’s family once owned a sugar plantation: a place I know only in pictures as my homeland.

Rev. Daniel Groody’s Story

Rev. Daniel Groody

In preparing "Dying to Live: A Migrant's Journey" Rev. Daniel Groody, C.S.C., discovered an illegal immigration story in his own past.

As Father Groody was searching for a producer for his project, he received an unsolicited contact from a former NBC Radio host named Bill Groody, who also was interested in immigration stories and who had left radio for television production. He soon became Father Groody's collaborator.

They discovered that each of their families' roots in the United States dated to a point in the early 1800s when two Irish brothers slipped into the United States from Canada. "Those men, who were our great, great, great grandfathers, eventually parted ways, and one became Protestant, which divided the family," says Father Groody.

Today, the cousins have formed Groody River Productions and have a second film already in production that will deal more specifically with the global face of migration, the American experience of migration, the Church's response to migration, and the theology of migration.

Prisma Garcia

Prisma Garcia

Prisma Garcia working at La Casa del Migrante

Both my father and my mother were born in Mexico. My father was born in San Luis Potosi and my mother in Cuidad Mante Tamaulipas. They came to the United States in need of a better future that they could not find in their own country. My father crossed over to the US at age 16 on his own to work in California and eventually Texas. My mother came to the US a few years later. They faced a struggle to survive in their country and thought that by migrating to the US they would find what they were looking for. Sadly, the struggle often continued in the US with discrimination and language and cultural barriers. They hoped to provide for their families because of the great need of employment and money. I believe my parents wanted to be able to give their own family an education and a healthy life. After years, the future they expected was granted to then by their hard work. Yet, the struggle transformed them from adolescents to adults, something that I will always be grateful for. Their courage and strength continues to amaze me.
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Jean-Marie Kamatali


You can find the story and my picture (together with my family) on the website of Parade magazine or on

This is my story, published in Parade magazine of July 2, 2006 under the title: “Freedom Is a Wonderful Thing.”

My whole life, I have tried to avoid politics. But in Rwanda, politics are impossible to escape. I was born in a village called Kamembe but moved to the capital because of my parents’ mixed marriage: My father is a Hutu, and my mother is a Tutsi. We thought we would be safer in Kigali.

I was a bright student, but mostly I was lucky. I am the first person in my family to receive a college education. After graduating with a law degree, I refused to work for the Hutu government. I never joined any political party, because I sensed the danger. But in April 1994, there was no escaping danger. It came right to our door.

That month, the Hutus declared a campaign of genocide against all Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The militia came and said, “We will kill you mixed people later this month. For now, bury your dead.” Each night they dumped bodies near our home, and my father and I had to bury them in mass graves. It was very traumatizing. While we buried the bodies, my father and I never said a word. What was there to say?

My parents slipped out and hid in a shipping container. I fled toward Congo--traveling by night, sleeping in ditches by day, until I was able to swim across the border. It was a long time before I learned that my parents had survived. But my mother’s entire family--my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins--was wiped out.

I traveled to Austria, where I met my wife and earned a doctorate in law. In 2002, an organization called the Scholar Rescue Fund helped bring me to America, and now we live in South Bend, Indiana, with our three children. It is strange and wonderful to raise my children in such a safe place. Strange, because I still have dreams where people who died in Rwanda speak to me. I remember running for my life and sleeping in ditches, and I can’t believe my journey led here.

Now I teach courses on human rights. I tell my students that terrible things like genocide take place if people aren’t aware of what’s happening in the rest of the world. In America you can feel the freedom. You can breathe. When I returned from a conference in Europe recently, an immigration officer at the airport told me: “Welcome home”. I don’t know why it touched me so much. Maybe at that moment, after so much time running, I felt I had finally found a place to come home to.

Sam Rumore

Alumnus '71

The Rumore grandparents

The Rumore grandparents: My dad is in the lower left and an uncle is lower right. The photo was taken around 1905.

My grandfather, Santo Antonio Rumore, was born on Nov. 2, 1861 in Bisacquino, Sicily. This is the same village where Frank Capra, the movie director, was born. My grandfather was the oldest of 12. He left Sicily in 1884 and arrived in New Orleans on Nov. 10 of that year. He had just turned 23. According to his naturalization papers, he lived in St. John Parish, Louisiana and worked on a sugar cane plantation, then moved to Alabama and worked in the mills, then moved to Virginia to work on a railroad, then moved to St. Martin Parish, Louisiana to again work in agriculture.

After years of working and saving he returned to Sicily and married my grandmother in 1898. My father, who was the oldest of 7, was born in Bisacquino on Nov. 7, 1899. My grandfather returned to America with his wife and infant son in 1900. They first settled in Louisiana and then moved to Bessemer, Alabama in 1904. Five of his brothers eventually came over to this country and settled in Louisiana and Alabama. Four sisters and two brothers, who were priests, remained in Sicily. My grandparents opened a grocery store and eventually had seven children. My grandfather died in 1931. My grandmother died in 1954. The family has propspered. I have many cousins who are doctors, lawyers, accountants, business owners, and we have one priest and one lay deacon. The opportunities for us in this country have been phenomenal.

In 2000, I became President of the Alabama State Bar, exactly 100 years after my grandfather came back to the U.S. with his little family. We have been blessed.

Patricia Baginski


My parents came to this country from the Irish-speaking part of Ireland in the 1950's and 60's. They met in Pittsburgh. My dad had had some English in school, but my mom taught herself English by watching the news and comparing it to what she found in newspapers. She then forced herself to practice at the grocery store, bus stop, hairdresser and anywhere people would speak with her. A cousin translated for my mom's first job applications, but this immigrant was soon able to function in English on her own. I wish my parents had rasied my siblings and I speaking Irish, but I understand their desire to see us fully function within their new society. They worked hard all their lives in construction, factories and service industries, contributing in many ways to their new country while maintaining ties to the old. My sisters and I learned Irish dance, and we all grew up watching Irish football (not soccer and not like American football) and hurling. Crunchies were my favorite candy as a child, and I make soda-bread like my mom..."What recipe?". Going to Notre Dame just seemed like a logical extension of being "Irish." My parents were so proud to see their first child go to college, an opportunity neither of them had had. Though they may not know it, my parents are the giants on whose shoulders I stood.

Paul Heineman

Alumnus - Class of 1982

While I assume that most of the debate will focus on the legal and moral issues of how to deal with the multitude of non-status immigrants in our country, I would like to focus some attention on the federal infrastructure. For argument's sake, let's assume that the prospect of mass deportation is off the table. That leaves the options of whether the 10+ million immigrants should be able to apply for permanent residence/naturalization or some lessor, guest-worker status. Both options assume the existence of some administrative infrastructure that would be able to deal with this flood of applications. Unfortunately, the USCIS is broken. My wife, a legal immigrant, applied for naturalization in January 2005 and passed her test in October 2005. We are still waiting for final dispostion, nearly two years later. The USCIS has informed our congressman that it cannot provide any timetable for her application. We have been told that these elephantine delays are a result of an increase since the 1990s of about 500,000 naturalization applications per year to about 800,000. So what do you think is going to happen when those 10+ million file their papers? Any rational discussion of this issue needs to include a major overhaul or massive funding increase to the agencies charged with reviewing immigration applications.

Sergio L. San Pedro and family

Taken on the day of my daughter's senior prom (in Puerto Rico, the family attends the prom).

Sergio L. San Pedro


I arrived in Puerto Rico as a resident alien in May 1962, when I was just 7 years old. I had been born in Cuba. After my father was imprisoned following the Bay of Pigs fiasco, my mother took the three kids and went to her family in Spain. My father joined us months later and we migrated to the U.S. Puerto Rico was a choice because it was part of the U.S. where Spanish was spoken.

When we arrived, my father had no job, knew no one and had scarcely enough money to survive for a week.

If we made it, it was because he was educated, a hard worker and unafraid, since he had nothing to lose.

Sergio L. San Pedro and wife

My wife and I in front of the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas. We now live in Grapevine, Texas.

He managed to educate his four children, two of us went to graduate school (one at MIT and I got both my degrees from ND).

He eventually retired and is enjoying a reasonably comfortable retirement.

Now living in Texas, I hope that my success and my example can show other Latinos/Hispanics that you can make it, you can live the dream and you can succeed.

Elizabeth Ferrufino


I am a child of Salvadoran immigrants and I am named after an important woman in my father's side of the family, my aunt. She was the first person in my family who broke through the "frontera." My family is from El Salvador and in the late seventies and through out the eighties; El Salvador was in a bloody civil war. My aunt was 19 when she decided to come to the U.S. on her own. She traveled by foot and in sometimes in cars to get to the U.S.

She arrived to the U.S. and she started to work in maintenance. Shortly after she met her husband, a jeweler who was under paid and had a dream of starting his own business. My aunt saved enough money to bring in my father at the age of 17, and her other two younger brothers.

By 1977 she had most of her siblings with her, a home, a husband, and she had given birth to a son that year. When my mother met my father, she describes my aunt as being a hard worker who moved heaven and Earth to help her husband open a jewelry store.

My aunt went door-to-door selling jewelry to raise enough money to by little store in Washington D.C. Later she saved money to buy an apartment building and to send herself to cosmetology school. After she became a certified cosmetologist, she opened her own salon; I was about two years old. When my aunt died, she had a cosmetology school full of Latinas willing to learn and to get ahead in life. My aunt was their mentor, teacher, and friend.

My father came to the U.S. at a very young age and he immediately started to work. He worked, as a bricklayer, a construction worker, and he never turned down an opportunity to assist a handy man or a contractor. My father absorbed everything and learned to be a plumber, roofer, contractor, and just about everything except being an electrician He gave 20 years of his life to a construction company on the East coast before being laid off.

My mother, who also is from Morazan El Salvador, came to the U.S. with a visa. She is a hard worker, who always had a full time job and was a full time mother to my siblings and me. For over 20 years my parents have been productive members of society. Today, they own a small business and they are happy.

Hard work, sweat, and pain were the price my family paid to get to the U.S. and to earn enough money for themselves and their families back in El Salvador. Today, I have the opportunity and the privilege to break yet another fronteraÂť and to earn an education that will get me ahead in life.

Daniela De Luna


"A­ vienen los bolillos!" That's what my Mexican cousins called my brother and I whenever they saw us crossing the wooden plank over the sequia that served as a little moat before reaching their humble house in Zaragoza, Coahuila. In the beginning, too shy to say anything we just hid behind my mother's legs. Then I would come to confuse the term with bolitas. At the time it was taken as an insult on my part, I fought back with claims that we were not fat or round like a little ball. Looking back, I think that being called bolita would have been a more appropriate term instead of bolillos or "white bread".

Growing up, they bounced my brothers and I back and forth between the Mexican-American fixation we experienced daily, and a parallel reality we could have lived in Mexico. Any opportunity whether it was a weekend, month, or day long trip to Zaragoza, they ingrained the idea that ancestors are who we will be one day. My ancestors who migrated to the United States were not men and women from 100 years ago who traveled by boat, horseback carriage, or swam across the river as wetbacks. They were my mother, father, grandmother, and even myself who took an hour-long trip by bus or car crossing the Cinco Manantiales, Piedras Negras, and finally the Camino Real Bridge to reach Eagle Pass, Texas in the United States.

Divided by a body of water known as the Rio Grande, the impetus and inspiration to live a better life originated in Mexico, but the opportunities and access to a better quality of life were to be found in the United States. Each one of the people mentioned above, and so many migrants before and after share stories of hardship, love, and pursuit of happiness that pushed them to chase the great "American Dream."

My grandmother came to the United States because of a love lost, on the other hand my mother arrived on account of a love found. Hipolita Alvizo was born to Maria Elena and Apolinar Alvizo on February 3, 1940 in Zaragoza, Coahuila. Yet, it would be in the Ejido Porvenir a ranching community next to Villa Union, Coahuila where she would first meet her future husband. The third born of ten children, Hipolita had two older sisters Irena and Maria de Jesus in addition to younger siblings: Guadalupe, Santiago, Ricardo, Maria Luisa, Maria de los Angeles, and Rosario. At the age of 20 she married Pablo De Luna five years her senior. Pablo originally belonged to a family in Allende, Coahuila.

In their eleven years of marriage, Pablo and Hipolita made their home in Zaragoza only twenty minutes away from Allende, close to my great maternal grandparents. Throughout this time, my grandmother gave birth to six children: Juan Manuel, Maricela, Jorge Arturo (my father), Martin Apolinar, Nereida Elizabeth, and Teresita de Jesus. At the time, my grandfather Pablo worked as a construction worker in San Antonio, Texas. Only four to five hours away, San Antonio represented a the growth and development of a modern age in comparison to the sleepy town in Zaragoza. He returned to Zaragoza on the weekends to spend time with his family, as well as tending to his ranch in Allende. In the meantime, my buelita Pola ran a small convenience store in Zaragoza; together the two provided a comfortable living situation for their six children. However, that would all change in 1972.

During a construction trip in San Antonio, my grandfather would suffer an accident that would take away his life at age thirty-six. As a result, my buelita Pola was left a widow, primary caretaker, and provider of six children at thirty-one. With the help of my grandfather’s pension check as well as her own earnings she did her utmost to provide the essentials for her children: ropa, techo, y comida. Equipped with only an elementary education and aware that her pension would not sustain the family forever, my buelita took the initiative to move the family to the U.S. to better provide them with a greater sense of certainty, stability, and opportunity in their future. Fortunately, her children supported her decision and looked forward to a better life in the U.S. Back in 1977 it took only three months to attain ‘Permanent Resident’ status in the United States; today, attaining any kind of legal paperwork to enter the United States can take any time from a couple of months to a few years.

Driving a 1971 blue Impala, my buelita drove an hour from Zaragoza to Eagle Pass with her six children accompanying her in 1977 to meet up with a family friend. In Mexico there were always tales about going to the Norte, a place where one reaped harvests for gringo farmers making good money in the process. One could follow the crops along the Eastern and Midwest U.S. through the late spring til the early fall, making enough to last the entire year. Enticed by the possibility, my buelita only stayed in Eagle Pass for a little over a month before heading up North as migrantes. The first stop was in Illinois and later Wisconsin where the family picked corn, asparagus, among other crops. As the season ended, they headed towards North Carolina working in tobacco plantations. For the family, the hard labor was secondary to the excitement and adventure of traveling throughout the United States.

With the earnings made from the first trip to El Norte, my buelita was able to make a down payment for the house in which she still lives in today. They continued to travel up North for a few more years, until one by one her children started finding work in Eagle Pass choosing instead to remain in Texas. Eventually, my buelita also found stability working in an elementary school cafeteria.

Settled in the United States, the family was eager to return home to Zaragoza whenever possible to keep in touch with family and friends. For those who had never been up north, it seemed like the De Luna’s were living the American Dream without knowing or imagining the struggle and hardship of migrant work. Today, this illusion still attracts men and women, young and old to come to the United States from Mexico. Even though my dad was the third of six kids, he was actually the first to graduate from high school in his family in 1981. He overcame the language barrier at a young age, serving as the interpreter in the family during trips up north. Despite starting late and leaving early as migrants, he had a buena cabeza for school and never gave up. At the time, college was a great luxury available only to those who had the money for it. As a result, my father never pursued a college education. Nonetheless, he followed in the footsteps of his father in construction through the welding trade.

In contrast, my mother led a very different type of lifestyle in comparison to my father. Up until when she got married, her entire life revolved around the small town of Zaragoza. A native of Zaragoza my buelito Faustino Romo Leija was born on February 15, 1920 four years before my buelita Dominga Narvaez who celebrated her birthday on April 9. Coming from large ranching families, my abuelo continued the tradition and became a well-known rancher and farmer in the area. The two of them were parents to seven children: Santa Teresa, Pablo, Sara, Raul, Jose Maria, Dora, and my mother Bertha. Being the youngest, my mother was spoiled in the sense that at the time she was growing up the family had moved from the rancho to the pueblo. Growing up, my mother had the privilege of trips to Eagle Pass, with my buelitos and my Tia Dora. She would always recount of how they would go to the office supply store and buy new school supplies in the United States.

As a teenager in the small town of Zaragoza, Betty (as my mother was known) knew of Jorge but did not think too much of him. It was not until he finished high school and started frequenting Zaragoza more often, that they developed a relationship. After finishing la Prepa at a private Catholic school in Allende called, Colegio la Luz, my mom had the luxury of going to Monterrey, Mexico to pursue a medical career paid for by my abuelo. Too homesick in a vast city, my mom decided to come back to Zaragoza a few months later to work as a secretary for a nogalera. As Betty's and Jorge's relationship matured they followed the tradition of pidiendo la mano (ask for hand in marriage) to proceed with an engagement and wedding.

Since my father was already living in the United States, my mother would follow him leaving her family behind in Mexico. On July 27, 1985 they celebrated their marriage with a huge pachanga in Zaragoza. A week later my mother made her way into the United States with her new husband. My mother did not have to adjust to much to life in the U.S., the Eagle Pass population is about 95% Mexican-origin. Unlike other places around the country, if you did not speak Spanish you were actually in the minority.

Almost a year later on July 26, 1986 they returned to Piedras Negras, Mexico for the birth of their first daughter. Why Mexico, when I could have been born a U.S. citizen? Well, at the time my mother had a distrust towards American doctors, so that would explain why today I am still a Permanent Resident, as opposed to a U.S. citizen. This is why I say, that the migrant journey continues with me. In elementary school, I learned how to read and write in Spanish before learning English. Any vacation time or free days, my mom would board the bus or car and take us to Zaragoza. For my mother, it was important to continue to relish the culture and life experience of her own.

My brother and I grew up prietos from spending too much time in the sequia, with a taste for menudo and barbacoa, and a love for the rancho. The trips to Zaragoza represented a travel back in time to when people drew water from a well for lack of a public water system, sat in the mesedoras under the nogales drinking Coca spending their afternoon talking in the absence of cable television, and several family members living in the same block. Looking back, I see these trips as essential in understanding where I am going and where I am coming. Yes, I am the bolilla who will forget some Spanish words when talking to my older cousins and family members, but at the same time I am also the bolita that bounces back and forth between a present and a not too distant past.

According to my buelita Pola, the hardest obstacle in her life was not coming to the United States, but losing her husband. In contrast, the many blessings that she has received she accredits to her migration resulting in a continued faith for a transnational God that has maintained her spirit throughout the journey. My father does not speak too much of his experience other than he does not regret coming to the United States, if anything he is happy to see his children attend the institutions he never had access to. On the other hand my mother takes a humorous approach. She says, "Antes tu abuelo nos traia de viaje a Eagle Pass, y ahora solamente puedo ver". Today she must work for what she wants and needs, no longer provided by a caring father ready to splurge on his youngest daughter. Moving to the United States marked a shift in becoming more independent and seeking resources to aid your development. In my case, I am very grateful for the opportunities laid out before me as well as the strength granted by God to overcome the various obstacles that have presented in my life. Each migration to the United States is a step forward for the next generation. Still there is a need to bounce back and be more than a bolilla, and be willing to recognize and still visit the roots and strengths of the past that continue to fortify the future.

Fatima Monterrubio


It was in the midst of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 that my great great grandmother, Ignacia Gonzales, who was widowed, fled to Galveston with her five children whose ages ranged from 12 to 17. At this point, my great grandmother, Adelita Obregon was dating my great grandfather, Julio De Pavia. Having heard that he had been killed in the revolution, she was shocked when he came to Galveston in search of her months later. They were married in Galveston and decided to take a train to New York for their honeymoon. However, my great grandfather was detained. Since this occurred during World War I, he was thought to be a German because of his accent. He was finally released after proving that he was really a Mexican national. After a year of living in New York, they decided to return to Mexico, where the revolutionary violence had ceased. My great grandparents took a boat to the port of Veracruz and moved to Mexico City, where my grandfather, Eduardo De Pavia was born. He met and married my grandmother, Esperanza, and had five children. My mother, also named Esperanza, is the oldest of their four children. In 1977, my mother met my father, Arturo, and on May 16, 1981, they were married.

Since one of my grandfather's aunts had remained in Texas, she moved to Houston, where she raised her family. My grandfather remained close to his cousins, and my mother would often go to Houston to visit them. It was there that one of my mom's Mexican cousins met the friend of one of her American cousins. They were later married, and since my dad was one of the few who spoke a little English, he sat with the groom's parents, at the wedding. My dad offered to drive them to the airport the next day. It was on the way to the airport that the groom's father and founder of an engineering corporation, promised my father a job, provided he obtained his master's degree in Chemical Engineering. At that time my dad was to be transferred to a different department within the company he worked for in Mexico. Rather than be transferred, my father took this as an opportunity to use his severance pay to come to the United States for graduate studies, which had long been his dream, since growing up in a small town, Zacapu, Michoacan, with his twelve siblings. He had noticed that many engineers came from abroad to give courses at a nearby chemical plant, and he thought, "Why can't I do that?" This was the time to make the dream come true; it was now or never.

At the time my parents and two older siblings were living in Irapuato. Just before I was born there, my parents began selling everything: our house, our furniture, their wedding gifts, our toys, and even our pillows. I was born November 27, 1988, and a few days later we took what little we had and spent Christmas in Mexico City with our family. January 9, 1989 was a day that forever changed our lives; we took a plane and moved to Kingsville, Texas, where my dad would attend university.

That first night everyone slept on the floor (except for me since I had a bambineto) in our one-room, roach-infested apartment. About a month later, we managed to get university housing, which was much better, but still nothing compared to our nice little house in Irapuato. We didn't know anyone in Kingsville, and my dad spent all day either in class or studying. My mom had a very hard time adjusting to our new life, "Just imagine: it's hard enough getting used to one new member in the family, but having to take care of a newborn, and two other children, in a new country, with a new culture, and a different language! Those first six months were the most difficult of my life."

She told me she felt overwhelmed even with something as simple as grocery shopping, "There were 20 different brands of cereal and soap. I didn't know which to get and I kept having to convert dollars into pesos and pounds into kilos." My mom had to adapt to cooking with new kinds of food and not having a phone though she was used to calling her mother everyday in Mexico. Fortunately, my mom found comfort in one thing that was universal, our Catholic faith.

As May of '90 neared, my dad was finishing his studies, and got quite a shock- he would not be graduating. One of his professors told him that since he had not completed his thesis, he could not graduate, despite the fact that my dad had been very clear about his goal of graduating by May. My dad was exasperated; we had no resources left to stay in the U.S. Rather than give up his dream and render the difficulty of the past few months useless, he decided to talk to his professor. They reached an agreement in which he would take five intensive summer courses, since the professor managed to find him a scholarship. However, we had no money left to live off of, so my dad borrowed some money from one of his brothers so that we could stay. He completed his studies and graduated May 25th. The very next day, we moved to Houston and my dad started working that Monday. We've been living in Houston ever since and try to go back to Mexico ever year for Christmas.

Reflecting on the story of our immigration has made realize how fortunate I am that my family and I did not move to the U.S. because of a lack of opportunity, starvation, or unemployment. Instead, we were blessed in coming in pursuit of an educational and academic goal.

Javi Zubizarreta


If it weren't for sheep, I wouldn't be here today. In the 1930's, my grandfather Jauquin left his home and his wife to work in America. Times in Spain were tough, especially in the Basque region, and it called for desperate measures. My grandfather - my Aitxitxe - had heard from friends about sheep herding in America, how you didn't need to speak English or have any previous experience, and decided to try it out. He came to the United States without knowing anyone or any English, but somehow he managed to make it across the country to Idaho.

In the mountains of Idaho, entirely alone with only his border collie and flock of sheep, my grandfather roamed the Idaho landscape. Each day began early, baking bread underground and checking on the flock. At night he would stay up often until sunrise, either with a sick ewe or alone at the fire, rifle in hand, watching for any bear that may threaten his flock. Across the Idaho mountains my grandfather roamed, seeing another person only once every few months. All the while my grandmother - my Amuma - waited in Spain. The two had no way of communicating. My grandmother never knew her husband had been bitten by a rattlesnake, my grandfather never knew that his wife had been in the bombing of Geurnica until they were once again united.

Finally, my grandfather returned from the Idaho mountains to his home and family in the Basque region. He raised children and raised a business from the money he earned as a sheepherder. His children, however, grew up in a Basque region very different from the land he knew as a child. My father grew up in a time of political oppression and fascism. At school, my father was expected to speak and be Spanish, yet at home his family struggled to maintain a Basque identity. After leaving the Spanish school for the Spanish army, my Basque father decided he had had enough of the oppression his people faced. Seeking a better life for himself, my father came to America.

When my father first arrived in the United States, he didn't speak the language and had no idea as to where he would go or what he would make of himself in this new country. He lived in New York and in Boston, he worked in construction, and he struggled to learn the language. Discontent with a life of minimum wage in cities far too crowded, my father wanted more. Recalling the tales of his own dad's life as a sheepherder, my father sought out the place he knew as "Ee-daho".

Luckily for my father, sheep herding was still a thriving industry in Idaho for the Basque people. Soon, my father found himself alone in the mountains with only a dog and his flock. After a year of solitude, my father came down from the mountains to the city of Boise to work in a cardboard manufacturing plant. In the city he found other Basque people, many of whom also herded sheep and had come to find other work. He also found a Basque schoolteacher, who's own family had come to America to herd sheep. Within a month my mother and father were engaged, and five months later, they were married.

Living in Idaho, I'm surrounded by the mountains, and they are what I miss most here in Indiana. Every morning you awake to see their grandeur and awesomeness dominating the horizon, and I can't help but to imagine the history they hold for my family. Two generations of men in my family, on both sides, came to this country to herd sheep. They led solitary lives away from civilization, but they worked each day from sunrise to sunset in the hopes of a better life.

These stories are adapted from NDWorks:

For Rodriguez, family tree is a teaching tool

By Kyle Chamberlin

His mother was an Irish Catholic from Boston, his father a Mexican-American migrant worker. Fresh off his first job as a paperboy, Marc Rodriguez joined a Milwaukee grocer’s union at age 16. If asked to predict the future profession of this blue-collar young man, few observers would have forecast the academy. Yet Rodriguez always knew he wanted to be an agent of social change, and he found that opportunity as an assistant professor of history at Notre Dame.

A physician and a “man of the classics,” Rodriguez’s maternal grandfather recognized the value of an education and guided his grandchildren to the professions or academia. Able to graduate from high school despite having worked in the fields from age five, Rodriguez’s father was the fortunate exception among his nomadic peers. Two worlds collided when his mother volunteered for a service project with migrant farmworkers after college—and met her future husband.

Witness to both the upper-middle and poor working classes, young Marc had a lot of questions about the world. What had led two people from such different backgrounds to the social protest movement of the 1960s? Why did his mother’s family have so much and his father’s so little? Most important, what cultural dynamics led to the evident contrast between their two worlds?

These nagging questions combined with his family’s focus on learning led Rodriguez into higher education. After brief stints as a lawyer and a professor at Princeton, he took a position teaching Mexican-American history at Notre Dame. Rodriguez’s primary research and upcoming book focus on how diverse groups, from Mexican-American farmworkers to student activists, shape the message of ethnic participation as Americans.

“Don’t forget where you came from,” says Rodriguez, who finds that most undergraduates come into his class with little recognition of Mexican-Americans as a long-term community. Using his own family tree as a teaching tool, he shows how Mexican-Americans are not a new population, but in fact a multi-layered group with deep roots in the United States.

Students are not the only ones who can be unfamiliar with the society they live in; teachers can be naive as well. Rodriguez’s constant criticism of the academy is that it fails to reflect the world around it. While many professors, especially at elite institutions like Princeton and Notre Dame, are often sons and daughters of former professors, Rodriguez brings a fresh perspective to academia. He takes pride in being a living example that social mobility can be realized through motivation.

For Rodriguez, motivation has never been in short supply. He completed his doctoral coursework before attending law school and then proceeded to write his dissertation on the weekends while working towards his J.D. While many would find this path unorthodox, he apparently found it helpful. “My law classes shaped my dissertation—the legal training really helps me get to the point in both my writing and teaching,” he says.

While he is a member of the Notre Dame Law School faculty, Rodriguez currently focuses on teaching history. “I love classes with critical students who always have something to say and challenge me,” he says. He particularly appreciates the religious discussion possible in a Notre Dame classroom, leading as it does to fruitful discourse that is lacking at many other institutions. Teaching “some of the best students he has ever taught,” Rodriguez feels fortunate to have the opportunity to share his unique heritage with passionate young Notre Dame minds.

A different kind of Notre Dame graduation

Adapted from a story by Carol C. Bradley:

You’re a recent immigrant from Laos and speak very little English. You’re one of the fortunate ones, though, because you found a job cleaning offices.

Your supervisor has told you to mop the floors and to make sure you do a good job. You reach for the floor cleaner—or what you think is the floor cleaner—and try to remember what your supervisor told you—or what you think he told you—about how to use it. Do you put a half cup of the blue stuff in water? A full bottle? Do you mix the blue liquid with the green? Or was it the red? What if it isn’t really cleaner, but a wax?

Your head spins as you try to figure out what the words mean, and how you can complete the assignment of cleaning the floors without understanding the words on the bottle or the oral instructions of your supervisor. One mistake and you could ruin a floor, mix toxic materials, or even lose your job!

Such is the scenario repeated every day across every state in the Union, as millions of immigrants struggle to hold down jobs and learn English on their own.

The University, however, has taken steps to help those immigrants, and two separate classes of employees recently graduated from English as a Second Language (ESL) classes as part of their jobs on campus.

This spring’s ESL class included University employees from El Salvador, Mexico, Laos, South Vietnam, and Bosnia. Instructors from the South Bend Community School Corporation’s adult education department teach the 14-week class for employees of Building Services, with funding provided by state and federal workforce development grants. A separate class—which graduated 11 students this spring—is offered for Food Service employees.

“It’s a remarkable program,” says Alan Bigger, director of Building Services. “The School Corporation supplies instructors, software for the Rosetta Stone language learning program, and they bring in laptops.”

Notre Dame also demonstrates commitment to the program by paying employees to attend the Saturday classes, says Greg Long, instructor for the program and adult education supervisor for the SBCSC. Campus representatives, he says, were very willing to cooperate in the development of the curriculum, which focuses on specific work-related language and communications needs. In the campus workplace, employees need to be able to fill out damage reports, and are often called upon to give directions to campus visitors.

The program teaches more than just language skills, Bigger says. “It teaches computer skills, reading, writing and even cultural skills.” The problems of explaining English idioms such as “shake a leg” and “hit the ceiling” were recounted with much laughter in the ceremony, which was attended by the students, their families, supervisors, and other University representatives.

During the ceremony, graduates of the program offered moving testimony about the effect learning English has had on their lives; several asked that the Rosetta Stone language immersion software be made available for use by all in the Building Services training room. Gary Shumaker, director of facilities operations, agreed to the request before the ceremony was over, although he added—in a reference to Alan Bigger’s Irish heritage—that he’d have to make sure that the program understands blarney.

The ESL program, says Bosnian Jasmina Penic, “Made my job easy. I show directions to visitors. I love everything about Notre Dame. It’s a great place to work.” New ESL graduate Hue Phan says, “It’s hard to learn a new language. The teachers are wonderful. We improve very much.” Born in South Vietnam, Hue Phan was imprisoned by the North Vietnamese for eight years before coming to America “from Saigon to here,” he says. “We all refugee from different countries,” he says. “We grateful. The job save our lives, and save our family’s lives too.” While learning English will be helpful for his work, the most important thing for him will be the language skills he brings home to his family. His children are growing up in America, and will marry and have children of their own. “This class bring us English to speak to our grandchildren.”

She searches the phonebook for fellow Rwandans

By Carol C. Bradley

Alice Cyusa

Rwandan refugee Alice Cyusa’s goal is for her family to become Americanized without losing their Rwandan roots. Photo by Carol C. Bradley

At the time of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, Alice Cyusa, financial and reporting manager for the biological sciences’ Haiti Program, was finishing a master’s degree in economics at Odessa State University in the Ukraine. “After I graduated, I couldn’t go back home, so I went to Switzerland,” she says.

In 1997, Cyusa (pronounced cue-sa) returned to Rwanda, and she and husband Jean got jobs in banking—she was a loan officer at a bank in Kigali, the capitol, while her husband worked for the World Bank.

“Everything was fine, life was good,” Cyusa says. “I had another baby.” But in 1998, her husband became the target of government persecution—he was arrested, released, and re-arrested. In 2000, he fled Rwanda. Cyusa soon followed. “My family was no longer safe in Rwanda,” she says.

Traveling with her children and fake documents, she fled first to Uganda, then to the U.S. and Atlanta, Georgia, where her sister-in-law lived. But she didn’t have a work permit, and didn’t have the money to apply for asylum. A friend told her there was a program that could help her—the Notre Dame Legal Aid Clinic. “Two days later, I got on a bus and came to South Bend,” she says.

Cyusa lived at the Center for the Homeless for six months while the clinic lawyers worked on her case, and as part of one of the Center’s programs for residents, volunteered at Notre Dame in the Office of Human Resources.

She found her current position by checking campus job postings online. The job description could have been written with her in mind. “The Haiti Program was looking for someone with accounting experience, who speaks French, with management skills and experience working in developing countries,” she says. She’s held the position for three years. “I am one lucky immigrant,” Cyusa says. “Asylum seeker or refugee, we are all immigrants. I was very blessed.”

Cyusa made a two-week trip to Haiti over the summer. The Haiti Program, which is part of the biology department’s Center for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, works to eradicate the parasitic disease lymphatic filariasis. The program received a $4.2 million grant from the Gates Foundation; she helps sub-grantees Hopital Sainte Croix and the Congregation of the Holy Cross in Haiti administer the grants.

On her journey to legal status, a job at Notre Dame and eventual citizenship, Cyusa says, “Without ND Legal Aid, I couldn’t have done it. They helped me fill out paperwork and went to Chicago with me to court. I know they helped almost every single Rwandan person living in the Michiana area.”

The Rwandan community in Michiana numbers around 300, Cyusa says. Many were in the area as students in 1994, and were unable to return home. About half, she notes, came afterwards as refugees. “My people say everything in life happens for a reason. There’s a reason I was brought here. Because we were new (to the Rwandan community), we were the perfect people to build a bridge between those who came before 1994, and those who came after.”

With the idea of creating a Rwandan organization in mind, Cyusa went through the South Bend/Mishawaka phone book—it took her a week—and looked for Rwandan names. “We needed something in common,” she says. “We have one language, the mother language Kinyarwanda. We all have the same cultural traditions.”

In 2005, 250 Rwandans gathered at the Center for Social Concerns, and BEWRA was founded. The name means, “be proud,” she notes, but can also be read as “be Rwandan.” The goal of the organization is to teach children the language, games and traditions of the country.

“We are trying to build a community,” she says. Although Rwanda is a country of deep ethnic and political divisions, her hope is that in America, children of Rwandan immigrants will grow up as friends—becoming simply Rwandan-Americans, “Or American Rwandans,” she says. One day, she hopes, there may be a Rwandan cultural center in South Bend.

“My goal is to be Americanized without losing our traditions and culture, and to pass those traditions down to our children. I made a promise that my children will know their roots. Maybe, by God’s help, my dream will be fulfilled.”