Latinx Flint NEWS
By Alondra Rosas Ornelas | Latinx Flint Media
Cristina Gutierrez in front of the Frida Kahlo mural outside of the Latinx Technology and Community Center.
FLINT, Michigan – Somos Latinx serves to highlight and connect community members in Flint & Genesee County. Recognizing the experiences of families and individuals in our community reveals the complex experience of Latinx Life in the United States and in our local community. Somos Latinx drives civic engagement and awareness, such as the 2020 Census.
The following is a conversation between Latinx Flint Media and Cristina Gutierrez:
Where are you from?
Why did your family move to the United States?
Actually, we came because my dad was very abusive. My mom would leave us with my grandma and she would move to Monterrey, Laredo, different places to try to distance herself from him. We came to Rittman,Ohio, and then we moved to Bay City, Michigan.
How old were you when you came to the United States?
I think I was like five.
How did you feel about moving here?
Scared. Like I said, it was an emergency type thing and she just had to get away. I remember we had to stay at a hotel. It was scary because we knew we were leaving, but I wasn’t scared because we were with my mom. We were more excited to be with my mom because my mom, like I said, would go to Monterrey, go to different parts, so we would be left with my grandma. It was exciting that this time she brought us with her. So I don’t think we were that scared, but we were scared because we knew we were coming here. It was me, my mom, and my sister. And then we ended up in Ohio and then moved to Bay City, Michigan.
I try to look at my life like regardless of what we went though, we were so blessed because there are other people that had it way worse. So I think about the stuff we went through like it was nothing. It was just hectic moving here.
Do you remember what it was like living in Mexico?
I do because I think I came here at a perfect age because I remember a lot. My sister is two years younger than me and she doesn’t remember anything. I remember living in Mexico was a lot different than living here, that was a big change for me. In Mexico, we were out all hours of the night. I mean, it was dark ten o’clock and we were out around the corner at the tiendita. And here, you know, it felt like being locked in. That was like a culture shock to me. I was like, “Where’s the kids?”
Were you treated differently growing up?
You know, everyone’s experience is different, but I remember going to school in Bowling Green. It was just weird because there was noise all around me because I didn’t understand anything. And they didn’t even have any teachers that spoke Spanish, so I learned to read by seeing the words. My kids learned to read by the sounds, I still to this day could not tell you the sounds. But, they basically sent me to the end of the desk where the teacher was and gave me a bunch of books and that was my whole day. When we moved to Bay City, I had already learned enough English to communicate, but I never felt any prejudice. And you would think I would have because I was the only Hispanic in the whole school system at the time, but I never felt anything. And in Bay City, there were more Mexicans.
What was an obstacle you went through and overcame?
Probably getting my papers. Honestly, it took forever, years and years of being here. And what can you do? You can’t really do anything, you know? I don’t think it was learning English. It wasn’t, you know? It was finally being legal.
Bridging language & cultural barriers para una comunidad saludable!
What have been the happiest moments of your life?
Um, I don’t know. I don’t know if I can pinpoint it. I’m very like I see everything as a glass full, you know, so I can’t name like, other than my kids, you know, when you have them, but I can’t name just a specific moment. I will tell you, probably the day I got my papers. If I had to pick one, I would say that day. Because you wait so long and people don’t realize what a blessing it is. I tell my kids, you can do so much. And I didn’t really think about it because it is not really spoken when you are young, but when your friends are getting their licenses and they are applying for jobs, that’s when you find out that you can’t do any of that. Now I think there’s more opportunities than there were when I was growing up or maybe my mom didn’t see it and maybe my situation would have been different, but I wouldn’t change it. When I learned I can’t do those things I thought, why try? You know? And then it is like, why am I going to try in school? I think that’s why I started to look into baking and stuff too because I was stuck. I couldn’t work and I had Juan. I mean when I had Miquel (oldest child) I did work. I did babysitting and whatever I could do because I had a child and I had to support him. But when I had Juan it wasn’t like that. I used to work at an apple orchard and If I paid for babysitting I wasn’t going to be left with much money, so we decided to stay home. And I had always loved baking, so I just started playing around with it.
When did you start your baking business?
When I was little I never paid attention to that. If I could make tortillas and beans, that was good. As far as baking, my mom never baked. I remember her first cake was lopsided, but she was so proud of it. But when Juan was born and I made his first cupcakes, I really enjoyed it. And from there I would just begin to play with recipes and I would send them to church and with my husband to work and everyone started loving them. And then I was like, you know what? I am going to start charging. I could have used the money because we were barely scraping by. I finally decided that I needed to charge because they entered my deserts into an auction and it got high bids and I was like, I am selling them! And then I got into cake pops. They were new and they were hard to make. And then I got into the farmers market in my area and from there it just took off because I got to know a lot of people. And this has been the biggest blessing because I love it and I could do it all day.
Did you feel disconnected from your culture?
I would have to say when we were growing up, I did not. When We moved to bay city, my mom signed us up for a migrant summer school. So that is what helped me keep my spanish because we were around kids that didn’t even know english. I worked babysitting and my friends worked in the fields. They would go help their parents. And I did it one week because I need school clothes. And my mom was like, “You don’t want to do that.”
And I said,” Mom, I can do it.”
I made $250 and I was done. It was not for me. I remember we did a field and the farmer didn’t like it, so we had to go back and redo it. After that I was like, nope this is not for me, I will stick to babysitting. It was hot out there and there were no bathrooms. We were up at four in the morning and it was not for me. By being in the migrant schools, it kept me connected. And as I got older, I started hanging out with more chicanos.
What would be one thing you would tell your younger self?
Don’t give up. Try. I think that was my biggest thing, you know, I tried when I was young in elementary and middle school. When I got to the end of middle school and I found out I couldn’t go to college, it was discouraging. I started doing things I shouldn’t and hang out with people I shouldn’t and I had my first kid super young. But, that was the biggest blessing of my life because if I didn’t, God knows where I’d be. I had to grow up. After that, it wasn’t, Okay, I am not going to try because I don’t have my papers. No, it was, I need to try because I have him. I did go back to the fields after I had him, still not my favorite job. Then, I got into the orchard and eventually managed the store. I loved it, especially in the fall when it was busy. So, it would be to try. Don’t give up. There will be opportunities, create some. Find a way.
What keeps you motivated?
My kids. For Miquel (oldest child), when I had him, he was my everything to try to not fail. And as you have more, you want to keep getting better.
Did you complete the 2020 Census?
Yes, I did.
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