Lesly Gallegos: No child should go to bed hungry
My name is Lesly, and I am a 20-year-old first-generation immigrant living in Merced, California. I was born in Mexico City, and, at the age of four, I crossed the Tijuana border with my mother and younger brother who came to America in hopes for a better life for me and my family.
Our transition to life in a foreign country has made me the person I am today. I wouldn’t be standing here if it wasn’t for everything I’ve been through, and for my parents’ sacrifice. Their dreams, hopes, ambitions and values are being manifested through me. When we arrived, we had nothing but the clothes on our back and a week's worth of laundry. We were in a very vulnerable state because of the culture change, language barriers, food scarcity and the fear of reaching out for help. I remember my mom saying she wasn’t hungry and giving us her portion of a meal, so we wouldn’t go to bed hungry. When my sister was born here and automatically became a U.S. citizen, we had basic food like cereal and milk through WIC, but had to ration it for a month or more. It may seem like the most basic food that everyone has in their home, but to us, it was everything.
My community is made up of so many people who are immigrants. I help new immigrants transition into their new lives, especially by speaking to their children, so they can help their parents adjust. It’s hard being a young person and seeing your family going through a difficult time, especially during a pandemic. Being an immigrant is not only a status, but a part of me. Even though my family does not struggle with food anymore, I can relate to the struggle of other immigrants because of my experience. This deep connection is why I want to become a paramedic and assist my community through a service that is available to everyone.
Now, seeing how something we needed to survive could be available for all immigrant families, regardless of status, is amazing. There are so few programs that are accessible, especially to non-English speakers. And, immigrant families who can’t work because of their status also can’t apply for unemployment or food benefits. If WIC was open to all immigrants — documented or not — families could forgo the stress of thinking if their child will go to sleep hungry.
I hope that reaching out to [other Spanish-speaking people] through my experience will encourage them to come forward to get the assistance they need. There is so much fear that is tied to law enforcement, deportation and status that shouldn’t limit them from receiving help that they need so desperately.
If Food4All passed, it would mean so much to all immigrants because it would provide the most basic essential need — food. [Being able to provide for their families] would give them something to be proud of and allow them to work harder rather than stressing about where their next meal would come from, or if their kids are getting the nutrition they need to do well in school. Immigrants come from so many countries where all they know is poverty. Their purpose for coming to the U.S. was to fulfill their American dream. This bill would be a relief and answer to their prayers.