A Ticket To Opportunity

Alicia Alvarez Mon
Alicia Alvarez Mon / The Immigrant Story

Alicia Alvarez-Mon found the sense of freedom she was looking for as she gazed over the roofs of Paris from her small attic room. She had just started her first  job away from home as a nanny in Paris.

“When I looked out my window, I could see the roofs of the whole city,” she remembers. “Some churches and other people as they hung their clothes. I would wave at them, I loved it. It felt like I was in a dream.” 

Alvarez-Mon was born in Madrid, Spain, in 1964. A Catholic family, five children and their parents lived in a small house in a friendly neighborhood.

“My best friend lived next door,” she recalls. “I used to call through the window of her house and we’d meet to play in the street.” 

For Catholics, Three Kings Day on Jan. 6 is like Christmas. Once, when the holiday was approaching, Alvarez-Mon overheard her aunt advising her mother to explain to her and her siblings that the Three Kings did not exist, because otherwise she would have to buy them presents and there was no money. This was the first time Alvarez-Mon became conscious of money issues at home. 

After she graduated from high school, her friends went on to further their studies. 

“But college was too expensive for my family,” she explains, “and jobs weren’t easy to find. At the time, women only had secretary jobs.” 

Alvarez-Mon had a strong interest in languages. In high school she took French and cleaned houses and babysat in exchange for extra French lessons. She decided to become an au pair in France to learn more. She worked for one year cleaning houses to be able to buy her ticket for France.    

“My father was proud of me,” she says, and recalls him telling her, “you are going to learn the way life is.” 

After a twelve-hour train ride, she arrived in Paris with no idea how to find the family who had hired her. Alvarez-Mon only had pictures of the boys she would be taking care of, so she called them and described what she was wearing, emphasizing her pink shoes. 

“I was very lucky with the first family I got; they were wonderful,” she says. “I had my own place, one with a view of the whole city, and the kids were great.”

During her free time she would take French classes. After one year Alvarez-Mon’s contract ended, and she decided it was time to move onto her next adventure. 

“I now wanted to learn English, so I thought London would be a good place to go next,” she recalls. Her experience with her first job in London was not good but, through friends, she eventually got other jobs and spent three years working as a nanny for several different families. 

Through one of her nanny jobs, she heard of a Lebanese family that might need a nanny in California. 

In 1990, Alvarez-Mon got a tourist visa, which enabled her to come to the United States and she set off for to look for opportunities in California.

Through a friend, she found an opportunity to become an au pair for an Indian family. This family was different, she says. From the beginning they told her that her only job was taking care of Natasha, their newborn baby. 

Meanwhile a friend helped her with documentation for a student visa and she enrolled in a local college. The family for whom she worked helped her by paying for her college.

“They became my family,” Alvarez-Mon says “Thanks to them, I am what I am today.” 

She stayed with them for three years. Natasha is now 35; she became a teacher and learned Spanish from Alvarez-Mon.

While in university, Alvarez-Mon strived to learn more languages and explore.

“I got my bachelor’s in French and a minor in marketing,” she says. “I took any job I could find with the goal of pursuing an education. I worked during the day and attended school at night for years, even while raising my children. I earned my master’s degree when I was 45, along with three teaching credentials and worked in the high-tech industry for 25 years, all thanks to my education and background.”

In 1987, Alvarez-Mon married a man from Palestine who was studying to become an engineer.She now lives with her husband and two children in Campbell, California, which is close to Saratoga. She worked as a Spanish high school teacher, mostly with the Latino population, and now works as a substitute teacher at the same high school her children  attended.

She is writing a book called Get a Life, in which she takes the reader through the journey she experienced during the five years she was an au pair.

“I wrote this book because I didn’t want to forget,” she says. 

Looking back, Alvarez-Mon says, “This country gave me what other countries didn’t; it gave me the opportunity to become what I wanted through education and hard work. In my country you don’t have that opportunity. Life is hard but if you take chances, things happen, and it is important to know that there are more good people than bad in this world.”