She and her companions walked for three days. They were without food, but they continued to walk- both out of motivation for the new life they were embarking upon and also out of fear of being caught and sent to a detention center, as she had been twice before. But her life in Mexico had been such that the daunting and dangerous journey across the desert and the consummate threat of apprehension by border guards was the best option for her future and for the future of her children. She was determined to make a life here in the United States, so that her young family’s future would resemble nothing like her own childhood on the coast in the Mexican state of Guerrero.
Many Americans will tell you that, while fresh off a cruise ship in Acapulco, or while strolling the beaches of Zihuatanejo, that Guerrero is a prosperous and safe region of Mexico. But for young Maria, raised in a home with dirt floors and no shoes of her own until she was a teenager, life in her coastal town was a struggle. When her father died, Maria was only six years old, but in many ways, she then assumed the role of the other adult in the home alongside her mother. She became the caretaker of her younger siblings, working to pay for food and clothes so that her brothers and sisters would have what they needed. Though she loved her family, Maria longed to be a child herself- absent the responsibilities placed upon her too soon; she longed to have toys and books, but more importantly she longed for an education. At a young age, Maria knew that this was not the life she wanted and understood that school was essential if she was going to create a new future for herself.
But that was not to be. Her own mother, having been deprived of an education herself, was only willing to sacrifice so that Maria’s brothers could go to school. Maria insisted that she would go as well; she passed the test to enter high school. Her mother cried each day Maria left for school; she hit her, resenting the few pesos it cost for Maria to ride the city bus to school. The guilt and abuse eventually took their toll: Maria dropped out of school and married a young man at the age of sixteen. Soon she was a mother herself, giving birth to two sons by the age of twenty. Her husband was earning the education she so desperately wanted for herself; she worked hard each day, both to raise the children and to earn the money that put him through college.
And so it was that Maria soon realized that the trajectory of her life was unintentionally following that of her mother’s. Unhappy in her marriage, she knew that she too would soon be raising her children alone, but was determined that they would know something different from the poverty that she had endured. With that, she made plans to cross the border in to the United States. She was very frightened both of getting caught and of the dangerous people only too willing to take advantage of the vulnerable immigrants entering this country illegally. Maria remembers on that third day without food, coming upon a farm growing avocados and oranges, grateful for having found food but grateful as well for rediscovering a little bit of hope- thinking that just maybe things were going to be okay.
It is now almost twenty-five years later. Those two infant sons are grown and in college. They too came into this country without papers and yet it is the only home they have ever known. Protected under DACA (Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals) until September of 2017, their financial aid and college degrees are now in jeopardy, to say nothing of the possibility of deportation. Though she made sure that all six of her children are earning the education that she was never allowed, Maria carries the guilt every day for the precarious position in which her two oldest sons have been placed, based on her actions so many years ago. After the treacherous trip across the border, Maria reached the Southeast, divorced her husband, and eventually would remarry a loving and supportive man, who was also an undocumented immigrant. Their four children, because they were born in the United States, are citizens, and that simple fact will ensure them a much easier path to college and careers than their two half-brothers.
A happy ending it would seem: the risks taken by a young woman determined to provide her family with a better future have paid off. She currently has four children pursuing college degrees, with two more who will in all likelihood follow in their siblings’ footsteps. However, the shadow that constantly lingers, casting a pall over the incredible transformation of one family’s future- made in one generation, by one remarkable woman- is the idea that one traffic stop, one nosy school administrator, or one overly inquisitive bank teller- and this life built through so much sacrifice, can come crashing down. This knowledge is a burden now shared by parent and child. For although the youngest four children are citizens, what happens if their mother and father are deported? The nineteen-year-old college freshman, with a generous scholarship to a highly competitive liberal arts school, knows that she will have to drop out and raise her brothers. And in that single stroke of American “justice”, so begins the cycle anew, that which Maria fought so hard to end, will then be visited upon her daughter: a young lady forced to abandon her own dreams to take care of her younger brothers.
This story of Maria was submitted by a Civics Club of mothers and daughters in South Carolina.