By Carrie Hatano
Boston University News Service
BOSTON – Peter Rodriguez speaks quickly. Words tumble out of his mouth in sudden bursts in synchronization with his hands, which flicker through the air like Fourth of July fireworks. His dark brown eyes focus on mine while we speak.
Born to an Italian-American mother and a Mexican father, Pedro Rodriguez Valenti was raised in Mexico City with his two brothers and three sisters. In 1998, when he was just 6 years old, his family moved to San Antonio, lured by the opportunities that awaited them in America.
In Mexico, Peter and his siblings went to a private German school, where they learned to speak Spanish, English, and German. Though he was young when he moved, he still has vivid memories of Mexico City.
“There, you’re a lot more aware of the poverty,” Peter says with no hint of an accent. “I still remember people’s faces that I saw on the side of the road. In Mexico, you can be really poor, poor, or rich.”
The cost of education and the poverty of the city caught up to the family, who eventually jammed all of their belongings into two pick-up trucks and drove to San Antonio. Peter’s mother was born in Massachusetts, which made her children U.S. citizens.
When they crossed the border in the summer of 1997, Peter was sitting on a cushion in the truck bed, sandwiched between furniture and soccer balls.
Texas’s population is becoming increasingly Mexican, with a 42.7 percent increase in its foreign-born population from 2000 to 2010, according to a recent Pew Hispanic Center report based on census data.
Despite this trend, Peter’s family stood out when they first arrived.
“We were the pioneers of the Mexican migration in San Antonio,” Peter says with a playful laugh. “Now, in certain areas it’s massively Mexican.”
Peter’s caramel-brown skin, dark hair, and thick eyebrows made him stand out at school, he said.
Though he hasn’t been back to Mexico City since middle school, his family continued to drive back down for the summers after they moved.
“We’d ride bikes, build forts, have mud wars, sell fish on the streets.,” Peter says with a grin. “Sometimes we wouldn’t get back until a week after school started, and kids would say, ‘We thought you died in Mexico.’”
Peter is now a 20-year-old sophomore at Boston University. As a mechanical engineering major, he spends 27 hours a week in class. He somehow still manages to play on two soccer teams, work in Cambridge as a landscaper, and play in an alternative band with two of his friends.
Despite his intense workload, Peter says he realizes that education is a privilege, one he’s been grateful for since his move to the U.S. After having witnessed the poverty that exists in Mexico, Peter says that he is determined to make his good fortune count.
Peter is part of the 29.4 percent of Mexicans who make up the United State’s foreign-born population, according to the same Pew Hispanic Center report. This doesn’t include the 9 million illegal Hispanic immigrants who the report said entered the United States in 2010 alone—an issue that has become a major point of contention among policy makers in recent years
Peter says that there were illegal immigrants enrolled in his school in Texas, because they would rather have kids in school than roaming the streets with free time on their hands
He reasons that the problem may be the people who knowingly employ illegal immigrants, not the workers themselves. Illegal immigrants only come here because they know they can get jobs, he says.
He says that younger children shouldn’t just be sent back across the border. After all, he was young when his parents decided to move to Texas. He was just lucky enough to have an American mother.
Peter was just a kid when he made the trek across the border, but it was momentous enough to make an impression on him.
“I remember one thing,” he says, speaking slowly for the first time during the interview. “I looked up and the sun was so bright. The sun was always so bright in Texas.”