Living Her Own American Dream

Less than 20 years ago, Ninfa Patino came to the United States from Mexico without knowing how to speak English. Now, she is a successful small business owner and active member of the community.

Though the stock market and national economy have been in flux these last few years, Ninfa Patino has continued to build her American dream right here in Half Moon Bay.

Patino's American journey didn't begin once she arrived in California less than 20 years ago. As she , her dream began growing up in the small town of Apaseo el Alto in Guanajuato, a state in central Mexico.

"Although life was easy at home I was fascinated by the stories told about the United States," she wrote in "," her first column for published in Half Moon Bay Patch.

The stories she heard as a child, Patino recalls, were about California, Miami, and New York, and involved what many consider to be the conventional symbols of the American dream: nice cars, big houses, and good jobs. Growing up, Patino's interest led her to begin speaking to an imaginary friend named "Orson Bill" in her own made-up version of English.

Though she loved reading and learning at school, Patino's parents decided that she should stop going to school after finishing sixth grade so that she could help take care of her six brothers and sisters. Patino complied, but continued to read books and magazines all the while fulfilling her new responsibilities at home.

She moved on to taking new jobs cleaning houses in town as a way to help her parents. At the age of 21, she met a man who returned regularly to Mexico in between periods of work in the United States. The two were in the midst of talking about a future marriage when Patino suddenly found out that she was pregnant — and alone.

With her baby's father out of the picture, Patino decided to follow that dream from long ago — the American dream she first encountered as a child — by getting her papers to come to the United States.

"Leaving Mexico was an emotional time for me and I didn't know what life held for me in the land 'of easy living.' I was also worried the only person that would understand my English was my old friend, Orson Bill," Patino wrote in her column on Half Moon Bay Patch.

As a single mother working to make a living without any knowledge of English, Patino returned home to Mexico for two years to plan her next steps.

Upon returning to the United States, Patino first settled in Modesto, then Half Moon Bay, and then Millbrae. After living in Millbrae for a short period of time, she realized that she appreciated the support that she received from Half Moon Bay's small and close-knit community, so she returned to the coast.

Once settled, Patino got to work.

She cooked and cleaned at the bed and breakfast downtown for the next eight years — but also worked at learning English, which the inn's owners helped teach her.

Always seeking to expand and grow, she took on cleaning houses on her own. Throughout this time, she continued to take care of her daughter, though she wished she had more time with her as well as time to participate more fully in her daughter's education.

Seeking a change, she started her own housecleaning business.

In the beginning, it wasn't an easy transition.

"I didn't know if I was making the right choice for my daughter's future," she recalled.

But Patino's persistence paid off.

"Business was slow in the beginning but I did have more time for my daughter and, with my developing vocabulary, I was able to begin to volunteer more at my daughter's school," she wrote in the Half Moon Bay Patch column.

While she remembers being nervous about volunteering due to her emerging English-speaking skills, Patino received support from the other mothers.

And as her English skills improved, she moved on to serving on a variety of at Half Moon Bay High School, learning new skills at held for parents at the , and voraciously favorite writers Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros, Don Miguel Ruiz, and Barbara Kingsolver in Spanish and English, along with the poetry of Gary Soto.

With her daughter's graduation from this past June, Patino is moving into a new stage of her life. Though she knows that life is unpredictable, and that challenges may arise when she least expects it, Patino says she is thankful to the Half Moon Bay community which supported her along her journey so that she is now in the position to give back to the community as a volunteer herself.

All the while, she continues to work hard at her business and be optimistic for the future. In the long term, she knows that she holds the key to creating what she foresees for herself — no matter what America will encounter in the next few years to come.

Reporting contributed by Dirk Alvarado.

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