ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — He was 14 when he came to this country in search of work to help support his family in Mexico.
It was the early 1980s, and Mexico’s economy was in shambles, the peso devalued, families going to bed each night with empty bellies, broken hearts.
It was easier then, if just barely, to cross the border to earn a little money picking crops, building houses, cleaning motels.
Joaquin Trillo made that journey many times over the years. Then in 1986, he was granted amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act and became among the more than 2.7 million immigrants already in the United States given legal status.
He still made it home when he could, and on one of those trips he met a woman, fell in love. He was working construction in Las Vegas, Nevada, when he learned he was going to be a father.
“Mom joined him in Las Vegas in January 1989, and I was born that April,” Anna Trillo said.
Six years later, the family welcomed a son, Aaron. Nine years after that came daughter Angelica. The family struggled. Anna Trillo recalls nights when she could read the weariness and the weight of the day on her parents’ faces.
But they never gave up. And they taught their children never to give up, either.
Joaquin and Connie Trillo instilled in their children the value of hard work, family and an appreciation of the educational opportunities they themselves never had, neither of them making it past middle school.
“So many times we only hear the bad story about immigrants,” Nieves Torres, a retired educator who has heard those stories, tells me. “But this is the real story. There are more stories like Anna’s.”
So we tell that story.
Anna Trillo, 32, graduated from the University of New Mexico School of Law in May and is studying for the state bar exam in July. But that’s just her latest academic degree from UNM. This year, she also earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. In 2012, she earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. And while on a “break” from those academic pursuits, she earned her master of business administration degree in 2015.
That’s not counting all the internships and externships, clerkships and fellowships, jobs, honors and her positions as president of the Mexican American Law Student Association and vice president of the Immigration Law Student Association, all which have kept her busy since she graduated from Moriarty High School with a dream, a passel of scholarships and the pride of her parents.
“My parents to this day always say if something was easy, everybody would be doing it,” she said. “What’s important is to search out every opportunity and take them on. We know that failure is a part of life, but for us it was not an option. For us, saying ‘I can’t do it’ is not an option.”
All three siblings have done it. Aaron, 26, is in his third year of medical school at UNM and volunteers at One Hope Centro de Vida, a health center run through East Central Ministries in the heart of the International District. He is also vice president of the Latino Medical Student Association and a YouTube blogger sharing his medical school experiences.
Little sister Angelica, 17, is the genius, Anna Trillo said proudly. On the day we talk, the family has learned that she is one of 51 winners – the only one from New Mexico – of the annual National History Day Contest, chosen from more than a half-million middle and high school students around the world to exhibit her research project in an online showcase presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Smithsonian Learning Lab.
Her topic – The Calutron Girls: Limiting Communication and Understanding for Atomic Success.
In addition, Angelica, who will be a senior at Moriarty High School this fall, is involved in Youth in Government, is president of her school’s National Honor Society and last November she participated in the Model International Criminal Court, which because of COVID-19 was held on Zoom rather than in Poland.
“These are opportunities we searched out,” Anna Trillo said. “It takes a lot of self-advocacy, especially when you’re from a public school in a rural area and you have parents who don’t know what is out there. We had to figure it out.”
Their parents figured things out, too. They wanted to raise their family in a rural community like the ones they left behind in Mexico, so they moved to Moriarty.
He worked on a sod farm and now drives delivery trucks and she worked in a bakery and now is a janitor with the Moriarty/Edgewood public schools.
Anna, as a child, often tagged along with her mom to read books in the school libraries and do math problems out of textbooks.
“I was such a nerd,” she said.
The family lived in a two-bedroom single-wide trailer on the sod farm for most of Anna’s childhood. Little by little, year by year, her parents built a home on a nearby parcel of land. They sold that house later and bought a 130-acre ranch with sheep and horses and a new place to dream.
“They never gave up,” Anna Trillo said. “We never gave up.”
She thinks of her immigrant roots as her strength, though there have been times when she was the only brown female, the different one, the one who had more to prove.
So she proves it.
“Sometimes you have to take a risk,” she said. “My parents did when they immigrated to this country to provide me with this opportunity and privilege. They taught me that anything is possible with hard work, humility and perseverance.”
That’s a story that continues to be written.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.