With her dictionary in hand, Lilia and Teodoro attended any and every English class they could find. They quickly found refuge and instruction at local churches, where volunteers worked with immigrants from around the world teaching them English. It was at a local Catholic Church, explained Lilia, where she first made friends. At the time, there were only two other Hispanic families, but the small group bonded together over traditional recipes, tortillas brought in from Atlanta, a common language, and perhaps, their “otherness.”
The sense of “not belonging” wore off after a while as other Hispanics moved into the area; the sight of their tan skin was no longer uncommon. All of that changed, however, on Sept. 28, 2011, when HB56, referred to as the “toughest” immigration law in the nation, went into effect.
“It was a reminder that we are truly not free,” said Lilia. “For a long time, we had managed to exist unnoticed, following the “laws,” in quotation marks, as best we could, since technically, as an illegal immigrant we are already breaking the law. We came here to work. It was never our intention to be a burden to the United States. It did not matter how many hours we had to work, we understood that working was the only way to get our family ahead.”
That is exactly what she and Teodoro vow to continue. The Espinoza family, like many other undocumented immigrants, remains suspended in reality: they believe this is their home, but they do not have the legal right to proclaim it. Their ties to this country are strong, in their opinion, rooted down by years of learned American traditions, yet not planted on legal, fruitful earth, according to the laws of the land. And so they remain, in the shadows, illuminated by their hard work and determination in the eyes of some, yet cast aside by their appearance and foreign customs in the judgment of others.
“I maintain a good spirit because I believe God sent me what I refer to as angels, American families that I work for who understand my situation,” Lilia said.
The angels that line her driveway are but visual reminders, ceramic representations of those she encounters on a daily basis. Each step on the stone driveway marks the belief that something greater exists, that something or someone, is looking out for her family.
“I’ll die here in order to stay here,” she said, as she clutched her small, aged hands together. “This is my home.”