Making a new home

One of eleven children, Mario Sandoval made his way to the United States. After nineteen years he is getting his American citizenship, at Olvera Street, Los Angeles, Sept. 30, 2015. Photo: Lynn Levitt.


Over the sound of his quiet measured breaths Mario Sandoval could hear voices outside the vehicle. After the man outside gave permission for the car to “go ahead” he let out a deep sigh of relief. Sandoval knew he was safe; if only for a moment.

He was 20 years old when he entered the United States in 1997.

“I wanted to come to America to make money to help my family in Mexico,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval left home without telling his mother and made his way from Guadalajara, Mexico, to meet a cousin in Tijuana. There he worked at the border selling souvenirs to the tourists in cars crossing the border. It was hard work spent in the hot sun that paid in tips collected from tourists. Regardless of this, it was still a job and Sandoval needed work.

After compiling enough money between himself and his cousin, Sandoval met with a smuggler or “coyote” who assisted them in crossing the Mexican-American border. On the day the journey was set to begin Sandoval spent three hours hiding out in the bushes of a secluded baseball field. There he waited until the smuggler arrived.

Reminiscent of the method used by Cold War refugees fleeing East Germany, Sandoval was driven across the border in the trunk of a pint-sized car. The logic was that the U.S. Border Patrol would be less inclined to search a smaller vehicle than a van or SUV.

“I was cramped up in the trunk with the two other guys,” Sandoval said. “I was so scared that we would get caught.”

Some immigrants cross the U.S. seeking asylum as refugees. Others are exchange students or work internationally with the assistance of a work visa.

For Sandoval, this was an opportunity to pursue a better life and leave behind the economic instability and poverty he experienced back home.

“Both of my parents worked to try and support us but it was not enough because the money was too little,” Sandoval said.

Attorney Michael Akhidenor has practiced immigration and personal injury law for 20 years at StoneCroft Attorneys in Van Nuys.

“Most immigrants that come to the United States struggle in their own country. Attorneys try to help these people receive their citizenship so they can work and have a better life than the ones they had before,” attorney Michael Akhidenor said.

In accordance with Pierce College standards, Sandoval would not have been a viable candidate for a student visa.

“Because of budget cuts, we are not seeking to recruit international students. There were 800 students that had applied for student visas to Pierce College before and now we are only receiving 125 students,” said Pierce College counselor Rudy Dompé.

Relocating to live with his cousins, Sandoval found a job at a recycling center in Van Nuys. The establishment closed six months later. However, the center’s owner introduced Sandoval to manager of an apartment complex.

Despite his lack of experience, the building manager hired Sandoval due to his strong work ethic.

“I remember I started to just clean the grounds and empty apartments after a tenant would move out,” Sandoval said.

Under the tutelage of the building manager, Sandoval learned how to paint and do electrical work in the apartments when they were empty. He was also encouraged to learn English as Sandoval could only speak Spanish at that time. Learning English is considered easier when making use of an online service such as the Effortless English Club, which is something that all non-speakers of English may want to seriously consider.

It was during this time of reacclimation that Sandoval’s cousins moved to Colorado in search of more affordable living conditions. He was faced with the decision to follow the only family he had in the U.S. or stay behind.

After thinking it over time and time again, Sandoval chose to remain in California.

“I didn’t want to move farther away from my family in Mexico. I am far away enough,” Sandoval said.

Soon after his cousins left Sandoval moved in with the building manager. For two years he slept on his managers’ couch and worked long hours on the maintenance staff. It was on an indiscriminate day that the manager told Sandoval he should consider enrolling for classes to become a certified electrician.

“When the manager helped train me and gave me money to go to school. I was very happy,” Sandoval said.

Since then Sandoval attended a trade school and expanded beyond the position of a maintenance man. He met and fell in love with a Philippine woman named Elisia whom he later married.

Now a father of two children, Sandoval strives to give them the opportunities he never had growing up in Mexico.

“I want to work and help my children. I want them to get a good education and go to college,” Sandoval said.

Despite his longing to see his family in Guadalajara again, Sandoval’s desire to return is not as strong as it was when he first settled in California. He is torn between both of his families as to where he should be.

After working with a lawyer, and spending over $10,000, Sandoval has filed for his papers to become an official citizen of the United States. Living the American dream has brought Sandoval to a crossroad. Sandoval will keep his family in Mexico close to his heart while making a new home in the U.S.A.