As a child growing up in Ciudad Juarez, Alexis Mesta loved racing his bike with his neighborhood friends and watching Saturday morning cartoons on TV, especially Courage the Cowardly Dog. He loved eating his grandma’s homemade food and spending time with her. He says he was a carefree, well-adjusted boy, blessed with loving parents who wanted the best for him.
That life ended when, as a teenager, he moved alone to El Paso to create a new life for himself and help his family. Today, Mesta, 22, works two jobs, studies for his master’s in business administration at UTEP and has sponsored his mom, dad, sister and brother to live in the U.S.
“I wanted to sponsor my family because I wanted my brother and sister to have the same advantages that I did,” said Mesta, who was born in El Paso and is a U.S. citizen. He has a big dream for the future – someday owning a ballroom and event planning business specializing in weddings, Quinceañeras and anniversaries.
“Sometimes with work and school I feel overwhelmed, but it’s something I do because I do it for my family. I want them to have a better education, a chance at a better career and a better life.”
Mesta says he grew up thinking he was born in Mexico but found out he was a U.S. citizen when an uncle and aunt who lived in El Paso invited him to move to El Paso and live with them.
At age 15, he took them up on the offer with his parents consent. He moved in with his relatives and enrolled as a sophomore at Parkland High School in Northeast El Paso. There was only one problem: Mesta had grown up speaking Spanish and didn’t write, speak or understand English.
Learning English suddenly became a priority. He approached his teachers and explained his situation. Some were understanding but others not so much, he says. His chemistry teacher made no effort to help him. And his English teacher, although a bit more understanding, raced through lessons making it difficult for him to keep up. To stay on top of assignments, he spent hours with his head buried in dictionaries to translate his assignments from English to Spanish and back to English to hand in.
“When I came here I knew zero English and every day I woke up worried about how I was going to communicate with other people,” Mesta said.
He still remembers a presentation he did in front of students for a health class. His topic was on sexually transmitted diseases. Although the teacher asked if he wanted to present in private, he said he wanted to present in front of the class because he had been a great public speaker in Mexico.
The class burst into laughter when he pronounced the English words as they were written. For example, instead of the English pronunciation of ‘use,” he said the word using the Spanish pronunciation (oo-say). Meste was mortified by his mistake.
“Because of this it took me forever to tear down that barrier of trying to speak English. So now I’m super hard on my brother and sister and want them speaking English right away,” he said.
When he turned 21, he decided it was time to reunite with his family. He says he wanted his 15-year-old sister and 8-year-old brother to have a better future. With money he had been saving up from two jobs, he decided to sponsor the four members of his immediate family to become US residents.
Although the sponsorship has been expensive –– at $2,000 plus fees per person –– Mesta says it’s better than coming home to an empty house.
Before his family moved to El Paso in 2016 he managed to see them only once a week for a few hours. The brief reunions were emotional and filled with tears.
The self-proclaimed “mama’s boy,” said that without his parents, he had to fend for himself. If he wanted food or clean clothes he would have to make it happen on his own. The weekend before he moved to El Paso his mother gave him a crash course in how to wash, iron and cook.
He still remembers how hard it was for him to memorize the route from school to his relatives’ house so he could walk home alone at the end of the school day.
Fortunately, he and his Juarez family reunited in El Paso in 2016. His sister was 15 and his brother eight. His mother left her job as an accountant, and his father his job as a cementer for Cemex in Juarez to live in the US with their oldest son.
He still remembers the day his family crossed the border in a 2001 Mazda Tribute filled with boxes and pulled up in front of the house he had rented for them in Northeast El Paso.
“After seven years of living apart from my family, I never imagined that we would live in the same house again,” Mesta said emotionally as he recounted moving day which began at 4 a.m. and ended at midnight. “I was so happy, like a kid with new toy. Finally, after seven years I felt my sacrifices and my loneliness was paying off.”
Although they were finally reunited not everyone was happy,
His sister Natalia says that life on the U.S. side of the border is different from what she is used to. “I miss my life in Mexico,” Natalia said. “I grew up accustomed to a certain way of life since I was young. I love my brother and appreciate everything he’s done but the culture (here) is different.”
Alexis agrees that life in El Paso is different than it was in Juarez. He says El Paso is “way cleaner,” the city smells different, the water tastes different and even the sunlight looks different from this side of the border. El Paso houses to him smell like perfume.
Although adjusting has been hard on each member of the family the youngest Mesta has had the easiest time adjusting.
“Honestly, when my parents said we were moving to the U.S. I was not happy with that option,” said Jose Ramon Mesta, now age nine.
Jose Ramon is the spitting image of his older brother and grew up without getting to know him because of the family separation. There is a 14 year age difference between the two brothers.
“I didn’t remember I had a brother until he would come to see us on the weekends. I grew up without him so I wouldn’t cry like my sister would when he would leave,” Jose Ramon said.
Jose Ramon says he was able to make friends on the first day of school and has won spelling bees and storytelling contests in his fourth grade class at Crosby Elementary. “I admire my brother because when he was trying to live his life in the U.S. no one was with him,” he said.
Working two jobs, studying towards a master’s degree and helping support his family financially might seem like a heavy burden for a young adult, but Alexis Mesta says it’s well worth it when he sees his siblings following in his footsteps, learning English, attending school and landing on the A/B honor roll.
“Everything I do, I do it for my family,” he said. The thing I had to do, turned into something I wanted to do because I do it for them.”