By Robert Cyr
Jesse Suarez was 16 years old when when he left Mexico to work in California’s vegetable fields. Soon after moving to the United States, he was approached by a man from Argentina who offered him a job in Connecticut. Little did he know that the small New England state would have so much to offer him, namely, a future.
“I had never heard of Connecticut,” Suarez admitted. “I had no idea where it was.”
Despite not being acquainted with the geography of the United States, Suarez jumped at the offer and made the long journey across the country to pursue steady work and stability. Once he arrived, he began working his way up through the ranks of a Southington-based furniture company as a maintenance man.
His boss sent him to other stores around the country, training him on how to maintain their showrooms. After working for various distributors in the state, he bought Leon’s Liquors in New Britain in 2002. A year later, he unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the City Council.
Now 58 with two adult children, Suarez, a U.S. and Mexican citizen, said the majority of Mexicans who come to Connecticut – undocumented or not – hope to attain the American Dream and are simply looking for work.
“I’m the same guy I’ve always been, whether in Mexico or the U.S.,” he said. “I’m going to work until the day I die. I’ve never taken a penny from the government. We have the best Constitution in the world and the whole world should have it, too.”
Suarez joins millions who now make up the largest population of Mexican immigrants in U.S. history. The Mexican population in the United States has ballooned, with a record high of 33.7 million Mexicans living in the country in 2012, according to a recent study from the Pew Hispanic Center, making them the largest Latino demographic.
Connecticut has seen its Mexican population swell as well, with Mexicans now being the second largest Hispanic community in the state behind Puerto Rican residents. Willimantic, New Haven and Norwalk have the three highest Mexican populations in Connecticut, with 5.24 percent, 2.8 percent and 2.28 percent, respectively.
The report showed that 11.4 million immigrants were born in Mexico and 22.3 million born in the U.S. and reported to be of Mexican origin.While the largest numbers of Mexicans were found in California and Texas and surrounding states, all 50 states saw a long-term increase in Mexican immigration, Pew reported.
Although Connecticut seems very far from Texas, it’s the draw of employment that shortens the distance for Mexican immigrants, who have been known to complain that a 60-hour work week is “slow,” said Maria Harlow, executive director of the Spanish Community of Wallingford.
“The Mexican population comes to work, really, like most people come to this country looking for work – but Mexicans stand out because their work ethic is great and employers sometimes call looking for Mexican workers,” she said.
Wallingford, which is 1.6 percent Mexican, was a draw for immigrants promised positions years ago in now-defunct steel industries. Faced without jobs, some left the state, but others found other work in construction, factories and restaurants, she said.
“The workers were so good they really wanted more people like them working for their factories,” she said. “They started inviting relatives, cousins and friends, and that’s how it grew here in Wallingford. They’re just a really large, extended family.”
Mexicans comprised 64 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population in 2012 and accounted for 11 percent of the total U.S. population. A little more than half, or 51 percent of Mexicans are undocumented, and 55 percent of all immigrants who in the country are undocumented are from Mexico, the report said.
With application fees for working papers at $600 or more, it’s no wonder so many Mexican immigrants are undocumented, Suarez said.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “We can conquer outer space and put men on the moon, but we can’t let people on Earth move around freely to work.”
(Photo by billjacobus1 via Flickr)