Yvette Meisser left Switzerland intending to move to Mexico, but instead ended up in small-town Texas. Life is very different from the Alps, but she says she could never go back to her homeland.
“We don’t want to go back to Switzerland,” says the divorcée with three young children. “We couldn’t go back”.
Meisser, 41, was born in Davos. Today, she’s sitting at a Starbucks in Huntsville, Texas, about an hour’s drive from Houston. She’s using the free WiFi to speak via Skype, since a storm caused a pine tree to fall on the power lines leading into the woods near the small nearby town of Trinity where she and her children live a secluded life.
Meisser has gone to all this trouble to share her story because, she says, “if it could help someone muster up the courage to go abroad and start a new life, I’d be happy”.
Two traffic lights
Tiny Trinity has just two sets of traffic lights, which suits Meisser and her children - Ian, 17, Noelle, 16, and Diogo, 14 - just fine.
They share their home with two dogs, which she and her colleagues rescued from local dog fighting rings and rehabilitated.
“Almost everybody has a weapon here. We don’t. We have dogs,” Meisser says.
The bigger dog once warded off an intruder in broad daylight. Meisser says there are some unsavoury characters in the area who “know that a foreign woman lives alone with her three children over there”, including crystal meth producers.
“I generally don’t feel scared,” she declares.
She leaves fear to her neighbours, many of whom voted for US President Donald Trump – more than 80% of Trinity voters went for the Republican presidential candidate in the November 2016 election.
“They voted for him out of fear,” Meisser believes. “Out of Republican tradition. And because the level of education here is very low.”
She says she knows people who are dependent on the Affordable Care Act spearheaded by former US President Barack Obama and which Trump’s administration is working to dismantle.
You don’t get left in peace in Switzerland, especially as a single mother. You are always told what to do.
But the Swiss woman rejects the typical portrait of Texas and its Republican “rednecks”, “because the generalisation is simply not true.” She points out that political views in the state are actually very diverse, especially in cities like Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and El Paso.
When she moved to Trinity, Meisser quickly noticed that very few people read newspapers. Instead, she found “the TV on everywhere” tuned to news channels like Fox and CNN.
“People here believe what they hear on the TV. A slogan like ‘Democrats want to rob you of your freedom’ is enough to make people scared.”
Meisser also senses a fear of illegal immigrants and Muslims in her community. She has witnessed protesters screaming at busloads of immigrants from Mexico but points out that “many of those who swear at illegal immigrants have employed a Mexican themselves to cut the grass for five dollars an hour”.
Although Meisser doesn’t know any Muslims in her community, her children experience how this fear manifests itself at school where she says anti-Muslim sentiment is propagated by some teachers.
The name “Trinity” comes from Christian theology and Meisser says that “the church has a huge influence here.” Out of curiousity, she attended a church service with her son at Christmas.
“We went in, and the preacher spoke about the hell and damnation that awaited us. We left and never returned.”
Meisser works in the Woodlands, a suburb of Houston. She travels 70 miles there and back six times a week and sells insurance.
“Insurance here is incredibly complicated,” she says. “If you know your stuff, you can make money with it.”
Meisser has this job, has insurance and is happy. It’s more than most people in the area have, she points out, especially since many jobs pay less than $7 (CHF7) per hour “so you need three of them”.
She used to work at a local juvenile prison looking after 15-to-18-year-old convicts. After two years, she couldn’t take it anymore “because I took my work home with me. That was tough”.
“The prisons here are often the ultimate place for gangs to recruit. That is sad. These are children who are the same age as mine.”
Swotting up with the children
Meisser doesn’t worry about her own children because they have already had to prove themselves in Texas. Before their first year of school, they couldn’t speak any English.
“I taught them two or three important sentences for school,” she says.
The school gave them three months to learn English, and six months to get good marks. So Meisser got to work.
“I took out the money from my pension in Switzerland and stayed at home so I could teach the children every day. I also did not have a work permit for the US back then.”
Now, five years later, she has a green card and hopes her children will receive theirs soon.
Finding peace and freedom
Why did Meisser leave Switzerland? To be left in peace, she says.
“You don’t get left in peace in Switzerland, especially as a single mother. You are always told what to do. People always doubt whether you are able to do something right. I didn’t need that anymore.”
She was used to travelling around, but there are things she misses like “Davos and the snow in winter”, and seeing her parents.
But overall, Meisser loves her life in Texas. There are many good things and good people, like her 80-year-old neighbour who spontaneously gave her a car when her old one broke down so she could get to work.
“The people here can be really nice if they want to be, and that is more important than mere politeness,” she says.
Then there’s that intangible freedom, which Meisser says “is greater here than anywhere else”. A sign hangs on her wall at home, which reads “live wild and free – or die”.
Are you a Swiss citizen living abroad? If so, add the hashtag #WeAreSwissAbroad to your photos on Instagram.