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First Generation American

by Justine Bayod Espoz

I am first generation American and a mix of three different cultures: Spanish, Chilean and American. 

My mother was born in Saragossa, Spain shortly after the Spanish Civil War, which left the country in the hands of Fascist Dictator General Francisco Franco.  From 1939 to 1975, Spain was a country in which basic freedoms, especially for women, were non-existent.  Women were not allowed to have their own bank account, could not work or travel without the written permission of their fathers or husbands, could not move out of the familial home unless married or ready to joint a religious order, and the list goes on.

As a teenager, my mother already knew that as a woman in Spain she had no real future, so when the American medical student who she’d been dating proposed marriage upon completing his studies in Spain, my mother accepted, knowing that she’d have more opportunities and rights in the United States. 

My mother’s first marriage lasted 15 years.  During that time she’d held down full and part time jobs, taken care of her household, managed to get a degree in English and graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with honors. 

A few years after her divorce from her first husband, my mother met my father at a party in Evanston, Illinois.  Although they never married, they were together for five years, during which time they decided to have a child together.

My father was born in the copper-mining town of Chuquicamata, Chile.  My father and his family had been ardent and outspoken supporters of democratically elected Socialist President Salvador Allende, who was assassinated during the military coup d’etat that left Dictator General Augusto Pinochet in power. 

Under the dictatorship, my father and his siblings were thrown into prison and tortured for their political beliefs.  In the long run they were lucky, as my father’s sisters received political asylum from France, where they live to this day, and he and his brothers from the United States, where they too continue to live.  Had it not been for this asylum, my father and his family could have ended up like the tens of thousands of Chilean “desaparecidos” (disappeared), people taken from their homes by the military and never seen again.    

My parents met in a country that was not their own, a country that had given them the opportunity to live new and better lives, meet and have a child; a country that allowed me to grow up in freedom, without fear of repression or reprisals for my beliefs and ideologies or exclusion and oppression because of my sex. 

I am a product of all three countries and cultures, and I am happy that Chile and Spain are now democracies, although the slate of history’s monstrosities has yet to be wiped clean in either country.  It is strange to think that I am here today because of the injustices suffered by my parents, but I suppose that for the romantics and idealists still out there, it is evidence enough that good things can come from bad situations.


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