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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Alone And Pregnant In A Foreign Country

Being a mother isn't easy, and it's even harder when you're both single and an immigrant. But that didn't stop Maria Perez. RadioActive youth producer Estefania Chirino Perez tells the story of her mother's struggle, and what kept her from giving up.

My mother came to the United States with only the thought of getting to know a different language and the American culture. She didn't think that leaving her hometown would give her a whole different reason to live for.

That reason was me. I am her first and only child.

My mother left Veracruz, Mexico almost 20 years ago. She left behind her six siblings and her loving parents. Shortly after arriving in this new country, she found out she was pregnant.

When she got the news, my mom felt happy but also very worried. "I didn't know how to take care of a baby, and I was here by myself,” she said. “None of my family members were here to help me."

My mother always wanted to have a family of her own, but she didn't expect it to go like this. She was afraid that she was going to struggle in every aspect of being a mother. Fortunately, she said I brought her the courage and strength she needed.

When I was born, my mom said she stopped feeling lonely, and started feeling like she had something to fight for.No one said it was easy, but no one said it was impossible either.

She found a job that was right for her, at a hotel. But she had to figure out who could take care of me while she was at work. She wasn't sure who she could trust. At this point my mom started questioning herself: "I am going to do this by myself. Can I do it?"

One job couldn't keep up with the rent or the fast growth of a baby. My mother had to consider taking two jobs. She knew that with her lack of experience and English skills, she would only be able to find low-paying work. But she had no option, she had to take a second job.

She would get off of work very late and then have to pick me up from the babysitter. As she walked back home at midnight with me in her arms, my mom was praying at the same time, telling herself that everything was going to be okay.

The story wasn't always sad though. My mother is very strong and an important role model for me. Her own life has demonstrated to me that you can achieve great things if you want to. She started out as a housekeeper at the Hotel Max, but took initiative to help out and was promoted to supervisor. "Because I realized I could achieve great things, I decided to keep fighting," she told me. "I am really proud of what I am and all the work I have done."

She never gave up, and her hard work paid off. Now she is a manager at the hotel.

Just like my mother fights for me, I fight for her. She has given me so much. She has given me her life and strength. She wants me to be successful and prepared for life challenges. My mother's work at the hotel has been successful, but her most rewarding job she said is her job as a mother.

She works so much that she worries she's not spending enough time with me. My mom reminded me of what she always hopes her daughter will know: "I'm her friend, and she can call me. She can tell me I need to listen to her when something is important."

Being single isn't easy, but it did make my mother stronger. And not just that, being a mother brought tears of joy and a smile to what at first seemed to be a long journey. So my mother always tells me, "Just be strong and don't feel lonely, because always God is with everybody."

Today my mother, my aunt and I live very happily together in Seattle. We are one family that loves each other, and we know that the story does not end here. When I asked my mom if she has anything else to add she said, "Yes. I am proud to be Estefania's mother."

Now that I'm older I have a challenge. I am a junior in high school and I'm close to the last step before I head out into the real world. I want to be just like my mother. I want to achieve great things.

RadioActive is KUOW's program for high school students. This story was produced in RadioActive’s Fall Workshop in partnership with Neighborhood House - High Point CenterListen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook.