Immigrants José Marquez Remigio, Elvira Batista Pires, Marne Caetano de Jesus, & Carmen Lucia Pires Marquez
This week our chronicle shifts to my wife, who lives out her own immigration story every day. Born in Santos, Brazil, she came to the United States by plane in 1988, and became a naturalized American citizen in 1995.
Unlike the majority of my ancestors, who immigrated to North America hundreds of years ago, Carmen is a contemporary immigrant, who tells her story in first person, from her heart.
Curiously, Carmen’s father was also an immigrant. Born in El Grove, Spain in 1937, José Marquez Remigio immigrated to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1960 to live with his aunt. He married Carmen’s mother, Elvira Batista Pires, four years later. He was 27, she was 18.
Carmen grew up aware of her Spanish ancestry, and as a teenager she traveled to Spain to meet her grandmother and namesake, Carmen Remigio Consido, in the Spanish province of Galicia.
José Marquez Remigio was a mason by trade when he came to Brazil at the age of 23. Later, he and his wife, Elvira, opened a bar. Sometime after Carmen’s birth, José and Elvira grew apart, separating, and then divorcing.
José got a job working on ocean liners. Carmen had an opportunity to meet up with him in Portland, Oregon, and ride with him on his ship up to Vancouver, Canada. José died in Vigo, Spain, in 1995, at the age of 58.
Elvira fell in love with Marne Caetano de Jesus and together they had a son, Carmen’s brother, Marne, Caetano de Jesus, Jr.
Elvira’s pedigree is not well recorded. She knows the names of her parents and her paternal grandparents. As far as anyone can recall, her family has resided in Brazil for any number of generations.
Elvira’s father, Antonio Batista Pires, never had the benefit of a formal education. Throughout his life, he was unable to read or write. For a number of years, he lived on the streets in absolute poverty.
Never one to give up, he taught himself arithmetic, worked hard, and eventually earned a home for himself and his family. Carmen lived with him for a time so she could attend a good school in his neighborhood.
Antonio loved the United States of America. Although he never had the opportunity to visit, he talked with friends and family about his dreams of one day becoming an American citizen, and living out the American dream. Unfortunately, he would pass away in 1977, just a decade before his granddaughter realized his life-long aspirations.
Times were tough in Brazil during the second half of the 20th Century. The military Regine of 1964 to 1985 began as a great success story, but in the final years the economy was in shambles, poverty was at an all-time high, and thousands of Brazilians were deported, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered. Official censorship led many artists into exile. There were few opportunities for Carmen and her family.
Carmen married Ricardo Tunison Pinheiro. His family had connections in the United States. He moved to Oregon to find employment, and Carmen followed in 1988.
Carmen remembers her flight to the United States with clarity. Riding in a plane packed with exuberant Brazilian tourists headed for a Disney World vacation, Carmen sat alone among strangers, isolated and tearful after having said goodbye to her family and turning toward and unknown future.
In Salem, Carmen worked a series of entry level positions as she struggled to add both English and Spanish to her native tongue of Portuguese. She worked for a turkey factory, a chocolate factory, a film developing company, and a retail clothing store. She also worked as a custodian, eventually landing a job as a teaching assistant.
Her marriage did not last, but instead of returning to her family in Brazil, she was determined to make her new life in the United States work. Frequently holding three jobs at the same time, she needed every penny she earned just to survive.
In 1994, I was hired to teach sixth grade at Highland Elementary School in Salem, Oregon, the very school where Carmen worked as a kindergarten instructional assistant. A year later I was moved from sixth grade to kindergarten, and Carmen and I were assigned to work together. Our love for teaching five year olds ever so slowly grew into a love for each other. We were married in 1997.
After Carmen became a naturalized American citizen in 1995, she gained the legal authority to petition for a Green Card for her mother, Elvira. The immigration process today is slow and arduous. It took five years before Elvira’s name made it to the top of the qualification list. Pages upon pages of paperwork and document upon document were required. With each form came a substantial fee. An appointment date was set and Elvira was required to travel 300 miles from Santos, to Rio de Janeiro, to endure a medical exam, as well as present herself for an interview with a US immigration official.
Current law has no provision for any US citizen to petition a Green Card for anyone other than an immediate family member related by blood. Carmen could submit a petition for her mother, but not for her stepfather, Caetano. After Elvira immigrated to live with us in 2000, she filed official paperwork to petition for her husband to have the legal right to join her in America. The same arduous journey repeated itself over the next five years.
Today, Carmen’s parents both live with us and enjoy the freedom and economic opportunities of living in the United States of America.
The United States has given Carmen opportunities she never could have realized in Brazil. At the same time, she has faced hardships and racism with her status as Naturalized immigrant.
Carmen went back to school and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the field of education. She was the first in her family to attend college. She moved from being a teacher’s assistant, to being a licensed classroom teacher. For the past 15 years Carmen has taught hundreds of kindergarten students, introducing them to literacy, mathematics, and science. Most of her students have been native Spanish speakers, and she has been able to teach them content in their native tongue, while simultaneously giving them access to English.
Carmen has also suffered hardships. Unfamiliar with the language and culture, she struggled to find her way. Everyday tasks such as filling out forms were quite literally foreign to her here. In Brazil, all documents were required to be filled out in cursive. In the United States, such forms were brusquely delivered back to her with the demand for her to print her letters.
Having left the white collar, professional job of teaching in a private school in Brazil, for the blue collar work of plucking turkeys and cleaning public toilets, she was frequently made to feel “less than,” rather than recognized as a person working hard to support herself. She encountered too many people who viewed her as ignorant, as a result of her limitations in English, rather than someone striving to master a second (and third) language.
But she never gave up. She endured to thrive in the American Dream, first described to her by her grandfather, Antonio. Realizing the social and economic power that comes from formal education, she nurtures her students every day. In addition to academics, she teaches them to value and respect one another, and to appreciate and seize the opportunities in their reach.
The United States of America is a nation of immigrants. Generations of people have come to these shores in search of freedom, opportunity, and a shot at the American Dream. We are stronger as a group than we could ever be as individuals. We must remember and celebrate our collective heritage.
Has your family benefited from immigration to America? Do you believe our diverse population makes us stronger? Do you want to be part of the solution? Consider the following:
Brazil Foundation works to transform Brazil for the better. They work with local leaders to promote equality, social justice, and economic opportunity for all Brazilians.
Brazil Foundation enjoys the highest rating given by Charity Navigator, a perfect score of 4/4.
The foundation focuses on five specific areas of need:
- Education and Culture
- Human Rights and Civic Engagement
- Socioeconomic Development
- Social Enterprise
The area of Education and Culture clearly hits home with Carmen and with me. The lack of access to quality education in Brazil has led to an increase in social inequality throughout the country. Carmen, herself, lived with her grandfather to have access to a quality education, as the school by her parents’ home was far inferior.
In Brazil, less than 15% of the adult population has completed high school. There are nearly 10 million youths between 15 and 29 who neither study or work.
Brazil Foundation funds innovative technologies on topics such as professional training, financial education and entrepreneurship, teacher training, culture as a tool for social change, and early childhood education.
Please consider a donation to Brazil Foundation, and help them bring equity to Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world by population.
up until this week, I have highlighted charitable organizations which support immigrants and refugees, but given the nature of this week’s publication, I find it fitting to highlight a charity that helps Brazilians.
Viva o Brasil!
Please go out of your way to be kind to immigrants and refugees.
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Thanks for reading!
Carmen’s Family Tree (Maternal):
- João Batista Pires & Benedita Batista Pires
- Antonio Batista Pires & Maria Santana
- Elvira Batista Pires & Marne Caetano de Jesus (stepfather)
- Carmen Lucia Pires Marquez & Me (Alan deMeurers)
Carmen’s Family Tree (Paternal):
- Juan Marquez Consido & Carmen Remigio Consido
- José Marquez Remigio (biological father) & Elvira Batista Pires
- Carmen Lucia Pires Marquez & Me (Alan deMeurers)
Running count of family immigrants = 50