From one home to another

Student moved from Mexico to McKinney in hopes of a better education

Neelam Bohra, Co-Editor

Her family would hike through the mountains behind her house, following the river to a waterfall where she’d swim, every summer. The summer before her sophomore year, though, she traded walking for a bus, and the Mexican mountains for Texan plains. And she came alone.

Senior Luisa Piña, born in Dallas, moved to Mexico with her family at age two. Sixteen years later, she returned to pursue an education, overcoming personal and academic hardship.

“I remember waiting for the bus, and it didn’t hit me at first,” she said. “I’d never been so far from my family for so long, so I didn’t feel sad. It felt more like I was going on vacation. I was just waiting for the bus with them, and then I got on the bus, and it started moving, and it took one day to get to Dallas. I barely said anything the whole time. I was dead quiet. I couldn’t believe what was happening.”

She always knew she’d leave, but she didn’t know when.

“It was always in the back of my mind,” she said. “It wasn’t until I finished 9th grade when my mom was insisting that I really should go. Everyone thought I was afraid, and kept saying, ‘you have citizenship, take advantage of it, since there’s so many people who would die to just get a green card and work over there.’”

Yet, she felt attached to her hometown—Tlatenango, in the state of Zacatecas—because it’s where her father is buried.

“I was 5 years old when he passed,” she said, “and my mom didn’t take me to the part of the funeral where he was buried. I only went to one day of the funeral. I didn’t really know what was going on. Only now do I actually know the story.”

It happened while her mom was pregnant with one of her two younger siblings.

“It all happened really fast,” she said. “He had played soccer. He was a body builder, and he had a tool store with my mom. He was a healthy person. He was always on a diet because he was constantly competing. He got diagnosed—he had cancer in his blood, and he was in the last phase—on a Thursday, and obviously my mom was like ‘it’s ok. We’ll fight this. Don’t give up,’ and he died the next Tuesday. It was a shock to everyone.”

Though she did not know the full story until age 10, Luisa remembers trying to understand the situation.

“I remember asking my mom if he had gotten his wings already, because I thought that when people died, they’d get wings to go and fly into the sky,” she said. “She was like, ‘Oh, we hid them behind his back,’ because he was laying in the casket. I remember he was wearing all white, and he didn’t seem sick. It just looked like he was taking a nap.”

Now, she appreciates her mother’s hard work even more.

“In Mexico, my mom had to take the role of both mom and dad,” Luisa said. “She had to work at the store all day, and after school I’d go and stay there until night when we’d go home. It was always hard for me because on Father’s Day, they’d have a festival at school, but it didn’t stop me from doing anything, or being a good student.”

Because Luisa’s determination never faltered, she decided to leave Mexico and stay with her aunt and cousins in McKinney after 9th grade, and attend McKinney High.

“When we were parking, I was like, ‘Oh my god, is this going to be my school?’ because I come from a school where we sat on the floor for lunch,” she said. “We didn’t have anything that’s here, so I was excited but scared at the same time.”

She said she wanted to see every detail on her first day.

“I remember the exact moment we turned into the main hall, and the bell rang,” she said. “I’ve never been with so many people. I remember hearing the sounds of steps on the upstairs floor and I saw a bunch of people coming out of the upstairs classrooms. In a second, the hallway was full of people. I’ve never seen so much diversity, so many different people in my life in just one hallway. It was overwhelming.”

After that day, she would spend four periods a day doing APEX, a virtual class, to learn English.

“After the first semester, I was already talking a lot in English,” she said. “I went down to two periods from four periods of English. The ESL teachers were really impressed, and everyone thought it was because I’m smart. But it’s more like, I tried. I told myself, I have to speak, or else I’m never going to learn.”

Yet, she had more challenges than learning English.

“I was sleeping in my cousin’s room, and she was already in college, meanwhile I was a sophomore,” she said. “We had different schedules, and I couldn’t do my own thing. She was sleeping in the morning so I couldn’t turn on the lights, I would get dressed in the dark and it was really uncomfortable.”

Because of this, her first semester presented obstacles.

“I was done, and wanted to go back,” she said. “Things happened, and I just wanted to give up. But my mom had spent so much money, and hard work, I decided I might as well stay one year and learn English. At least I’d go back bilingual.”

Along with that, she struggled with finding people who shared her goals.

“There’s a stereotype about Latin girls that we’re all partyers,” she said. “We like to go out. We’d rather pay attention to boys than to class, and we’re not smart. But I wanted to focus on school, and do something for my future, and break the stereotype.”

Luisa did break the stereotype. She did not go back, and instead worked even harder. Joining the National Honor Society and taking AP U.S. History, she showed her dedication to school.

“AP U.S. History was hard because I had no background,” she said. “I didn’t even know the first US president, but I took it. That first class, I wanted to cry so badly, because I didn’t take very good notes and I didn’t know how I’d study. That first quarter, it was awful.”

AP US History teacher Kristen Pereira helped her, though, and Luisa started sitting in the front of the class, unafraid to ask questions.

“I remember at one point just thinking, she knows how to do it, she needed that confidence, to come into her own and figure it out,” Mrs. Pereira said. “I think she started trying to figure it out, and she said, ‘I figured out how it worked.’ I wasn’t surprised when she passed the exam. She’s a hard worker, a grinder, and she does what she’s asked to do.”

Mrs. Pereira was not alone in her pride. Luisa’s mother, also named Luisa Piña, cannot join her daughter in America. She takes care of her parents in Mexico along with managing the tool shop. However, she talks to her daughter every day.

“I think that she is a very responsible kid, and every time she proposes herself to do something, she does it no matter what,” Mrs. Piña said. “She always puts a lot of interest and dedication in school. I’m sad about the fact that I can’t be there to celebrate with her, and that I will not be able to help her to pay off college if she goes to an American college. But I will be here to support her and love her on whatever she decides to do with her life.”

So far, Luisa has received $96,000 in scholarship money from Austin College. She hopes to become an international trade lawyer, and just received a job as an assistant at a law firm. Either way, Luisa does not regret boarding the bus that brought her here.

“I feel a strong attachment to this school,” Luisa said. “This school is what kept me here, because I had so many struggles in my personal life, and everyone said, ‘just move out of McKinney, go back to Mexico,’ but I just love this school. I would’ve regret not taking the opportunity, but really, this school is what kept me here.”