American girl from Mexico shares profound thoughts
She was born to Mexican parents, spending almost half her 11 years in Mexico. She’s spent the next half living in Park City, learning English and studying her favorite subjects, math and art. Some who don’t know her would define her as a Mexican. Her American friends see her as American. But, she stresses, she simply wants to be Perla Santana.
Santana has gentle eyes that look into your soul and a soft voice that seems almost a contradiction to the strength of her convictions expressed in her written words. She writes poetry and is a student at McPolin Elementary School.
Six years ago she spoke no English and knew little of American culture. Now that she is fluent in English and has embraced American culture, she and her friends comfort new kids from Mexico. "I have a friend who has been here from Mexico less than a year," Santana said. "People don’t listen to her. I try to get my friends to hang out with her so she isn’t so lonely. She is learning English."
"It doesn’t cost anything to help, Santana said. "I know how they feel because I was once one of them. I felt, ‘Oh gosh, I don’t want to be here.’ It was really scary."
Santana sees more similarities in all people than differences, but not everyone sees it the same. "Some people don’t want to hang out with Mexicans because they are a different color. People who don’t speak Spanish think we’re different because of that," but she added, "Almost all the people in Park City are nice to my family."
Santana is proud of her Mexican heritage. She is also proud to be an American and embraces American culture. But she doesn’t want to be stereotyped. She makes no apologies for any differences people see in her, and even embraces the differences. "It is better to be who you are rather than pretending to be another person."
She said of her American classmates, "some do understand how harsh it is not to be from here." She said some of these friends help her with English, and she helps them with Spanish. Like other American kids, she loves pizza, hot dogs and ravioli.
Santana has two sisters and three brothers. Life is not easy, but no one is complaining. In fact they love Park City. Her mother holds two jobs cleaning restaurants and her father works construction, to give her and her siblings a good life in their new country. One of her sisters is in college, also working, to help pay family bills, rent and pay for groceries.
Perla tries to accompany her mother and father when they are in public, as her parents do not speak English, and rely on her for translation. Her mother is learning, Perla said, adding that her mother enhances what she lacks in speaking skills with charade-like gestures.
The Santanas moved to Park City to be with relatives who already lived in the town. They haven’t seen family members in Mexico City for six years.
"My grandpa would like to visit, but he is afraid because of what is happening here," she said of families been torn apart by deportation.
Santana already has a general idea of how she would like to live her life. "I would like to help poor people, help kids who don’t have parents or don’t have enough food."
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Buses, trains and gondolas doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but they make up the transit alternatives for the mountain transportation system the Central Wasatch Commission is trying to create, mostly in the Cottonwood canyons.