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A Dayton Mother Looks In From The Outside

A mother with her daughter standing on the front porch of a house
Nube with her teenage daughter, Kimberly.

Nube’s trying to get her kids out the door to school. Her six-year-old comes running down the stairs; her 15-year-old is up in the bedroom getting dressed. She and her children aren’t even five feet tall, but they fill up the kitchen bustling around trying to eat and get ready.

Nube is a compact woman with a wide smile—and she came a long way to Dayton. We’re not using Nube’s full name because she asked us to withhold it for her protection.

“I’m trying to forget about this forever”

Nube came to the United States from Ecuador in her late 20s.

Her story starts in 1997, when she left Ecuador to immigrate here. She tells me about her experience sitting in a chair in her wide, light living room in East Dayton—after the kids have gone, in the few minutes she has before work.

“The life in my country is very hard,” she says, in English. “That’s why we come.”

Even though she was trained as a nurse, she was barely scraping by in Ecuador, so after her husband went to the U.S, he called and convinced her to join him. The trip from Ecuador to the U.S. border took months. A lot of it was on foot, and Nube describes her feet bleeding and blistered by the time she reached the border in Mexico.

Then she got caught by immigration twice trying to cross the river into the U.S. She pretended to be from Mexico so as not to get deported all the way back to Ecuador.

The third time worked—nobody caught her as she waded and then swam to the United States.

“Finally,” Nube says, laughing. All this was nothing, she says, compared to what some people go through to get here.

“Everybody doing [the] same thing. Sometimes other people, it’s more hard for them. People die doing that, people disappear on the border,” she says.

Her trials weren’t over after the border crossing. Nube met her husband, and they moved to Cincinnati and had two baby daughters. When the girls were still little, he beat her up so badly she was hospitalized—multiple bones were broken in her leg. He allowed her to go the hospital on the condition that she wouldn’t turn him in to the police. After the incident, he disappeared—maybe afraid of being caught and deported. She doesn’t even know if he’s still alive.

“After that, my life changed physically and emotionally,” Nube says.

Her leg has never fully recovered, and neither has her heart. It’s hard for her to talk about. After sharing details of her story for nearly an hour, she gets tired.

“I can’t talk to you,” Nube says. “Because it’s hard for me when I remember.”

I am trying to forget about this forever, she says.

A Culture Clash

Nube and her girls came to Dayton for the calm, the tranquility, and the schools, and for the most part, she’s found the tranquility she was looking for. She has quite a bit of family here, and these days, her problems are more mundane—getting the girls to school, going to work. The biggest trouble, she says, is just the fact that her English isn’t great.

“The biggest problem that we’ve had is that I’m no longer able to help them do their homework,” Nube says, through a translator now. “I read a little bit of English but my comprehension isn’t great. I could help them through about 5th grade, but after that it is harder.”

And there’s a culture clash. Ecuador is really different.

Nube and her middle daughter in their kitchen in Dayton.

“I’m from a very conservative country,” she says. “Girls have to be in the home, do our homework, do the household chores, and always be by our fathers. But here, the girls aren’t like that...they have more freedom. And because my daughters were born here, they want to be a part of this culture. It’s a problem for us.”

Nube feels outside of it all—her girls' lives, the schools.

“I just wish the schools in Dayton would inform themselves a little bit about our culture,” Nube says.”

She says one time she went to talk to a middle school teacher about her fifteen-year-old, Kimberly, acting out at home. The teacher told her she, Nube, would need to be the one to adjust.

But now both the older girls are at the Dayton Early College Academy—when they started there, an advisor who speaks Spanish came to their house to see Nube.That meant a lot.

“It gives me more confidence speaking to someone who’s bilingual and knows our culture,” says Nube.

“This is the best thing I’m doing”

All her struggles—the trip here, the abusive relationship, the challenges with adjusting culturally—seem to be on Nube’s shoulders alone. She’s been by herself since her most recent boyfriend, the father of her youngest daughter, got deported a few years ago. She rarely talks about her past of abuse, and she's helped her daughter get therapy to deal with her memories of it. The one thing she does for herself all week, she says, is when she goes to English classes.

“This is the best thing I’m doing, my day is very busy every day,” she says, in English again. “But when I’m going to the school, I’m feeling like when I’m teenage.”

Nube wants legal status—she would have applied for the recent deportation relief ordered by President Obama which would have included some parents of U.S. citizens, but that policy, known as DACA/DAPA, has been placed on hold by the courts. Having legal status would let her go back to school and get qualified to be a nurse in this country.

Now she’s in the process of applying for what’s called a U visa, a special visa for immigrant victims of crimes used to encourage them to come forward. Because she did eventually go to the police about her husband, her assault could lead to her gaining the ability to stay here legally.

Right now, though, Nube’s life is all about her kids—she’s pleased they’re doing well in school. The oldest just got into college, and Nube is proud and happy, but doesn’t know how to give her advice on where to go. She just hopes she’ll stay close.

On our morning together, the whole family piles into the minivan—the six-year-old is still carrying breakfast, a bowl full of bright pink yogurt. They sit still in the back while Nube jumps out to scrape the windshield on an unexpectedly cold day. Now it’s 45 minutes of driving around before she heads to work cleaning hotel rooms.

Thanks to Ella Arnold of Antioch College for translations. Graduating Latino is WYSO's series on education for Latinos in the Miami Valley. It’s a part of the national American Graduate initiative, in partnership with Think TV. It's part of the public media initiative American Graduate, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.