Starting Over With Nothing (Mexico)


I had no idea what was going to happen to me in the United States. I did not know what events would take place or how I would react when I got stuck in a difficult situation. My only motive was my two kids in Mexico and the better future that I aspired to give them.

My name is Maria Leon (name changed) and I was born in Zirándaro, Guerrero, Mexico. I was born in 1959. My family and I lived an extremely poor life where everyone around us stood in the same economical position.

I am honestly sad to call Mexico my homeland since it is very dry where I live and the conditions are terrible because we could barely afford used clothes and could not buy shoes for ourselves or our kids to wear. My daughter would pick up old rags that other people would throw away so that she could make her own dolls out of them since she had always longed for toys but she never had anything to play with. There is no good future for anyone living where I did because no fortunate person would help us out and people are left to suffer the conflicts of poverty and figure out how to save money with necessities and low wages.

I absolutely could not support the poverty and given that I already had nothing and I did not think that it would be possible to be more poor until I had my first and only baby boy, and not too soon after that, my second child who was the most precious girl I had ever seen. My brother and I decided to stick together since he was younger and I could not leave him on his own, so I took care of him.

Around 1980, I had been seeing my husband, who was my boyfriend at that time, and I was pregnant with my third child but sadly, it turned out to be a miscarriage which made my life even more difficult during my time in Mexico. My mother never put me in school because she said that school was for the lazy kids. Instead, she made me go work in the fields to help earn money. My father left me about a year after I was born because he lived in another part of Mexico, so my mother moved to Zirandaro with me and married a different man. I hated my mother’s husband since he would often hit me and they both lacked appreciation and love for my brother and I, which is why I did not beg for her to stay with us after she left when I was about eighteen years old. She was never really present and we worked to take care of ourselves, so it did not make much of a difference once she left.I definitely believe that she felt more love for her grandchildren than she ever did for her own kids, since they tell me that they have very fond memories of their grandmother from all the years that she would take good care of them.

In 1987, I finally decided that I could not wait any longer to leave to the United States. I had heard that there were many great opportunities and jobs, which I was in need of. My two children had already been born and I could not stand to watch as they constantly winced in pain every time they cut their hands from the field work or could not take care of the pain that they were experiencing in their backs and their shoulders as they stood in the hot sun with nothing to eat or drink. They had to work in these conditions each day so that we could earn more money, yet we were still very poor no matter how long we each worked. They had never grown accustomed to the painful conditions regardless of how many years they lived this way, and my daughter always feared the snakes that would slither through the fields. This was not the life for a child.

I wanted a better life for them, one where they do not have to go every day of their lives worrying whether there will be food on the table, or if they will catch the bus at 3:00 in the morning to go to the fields and work all day long in the scorching sun. They had no real childhood. They had many worries at too young of an age and I could not allow for them to keep living this unstable life. They were only young children and they already had daily worries building up as if they were adults. No five-year-old deserves this kind of life.

I am the mother. I am supposed to take care of them. They should not have to take care of themselves, nor worry about money and a job at such a young age. Once I made up my mind I was all set to go. I did not know what to expect. All I could do was think. I was not sure whether I would face bad luck or good luck and that is why I had to leave my children in Mexico, but my God did not close the doors on me.

I would say to myself, “Diosito, por favor protegeme. Ayudame a buscar una vida mejor para mis hijos quien no merecen sufrir” God, please protect me. Help me find a better life for my kids who do not deserve to suffer.

Although I had to leave my children at the ages of 10 and 13, I hoped that they would understand why I did what I did and keep in mind that I love them very much and will come back for them so that I could bring them back to the United States to live with me. I never said goodbye to them before I left because the thought of leaving them had already made a dent in my heart, so telling them and watching their reactions would shatter it. “Los quiero mucho mis amores. Prometo que los veré pronto y tendremos una vida mejor. Todo lo que hago es para ustedes” I love you very much. I promise I will see you soon and we will have a better life. Everything I do is for you. This is what I said to them when I first arrived in the United States and made a phone call to communicate with them.

The entire trip took place on a bus and occasionally, we would make stops in order to aboard a different bus. When I left, I cannot explain how much I missed my kids. I felt incredibly sad leaving them, but I knew they were in good hands when I left them with my mother to take care of them because she had changed since we lived together.

I first arrived in Tijuana in a very crowded bus that carried many people from Mexico who, like me, were looking for a better life. Then, I made it to San Luis with my husband and I got a job cleaning houses. The lady that I worked for would sell seafood and I would wake up at 5:00 in the morning to help her prepare everything before she sold it. I later received a ride in a car to Los Angeles where I stayed for a short while until another friend of ours named Juan brought us to East Palo Alto in 1987.

Juan lived there and so did a nephew of my husband’s, so we decided this was our final destination and we have been here ever since. It makes me laugh when I think about how I made it here. I had no papers and I could not believe that I had passed yet somehow, I did.

Since I’ve arrived, I have worked for more than 23 years and all of my shifts have taken place during the night. I have gotten used to it as this point and I believe this is what I will end up doing for the rest of my life.

The same year that I arrived in the U.S., I had my third child. She usually got sick and I constantly found myself taking her to the hospital which, thankfully, provided us with free service. Juan would give us a ride to the hospital and he would help us out tremendously since we had no car or a house. As soon as we finally got a car, that became our home for about a month until we could live in a house. This was the hardest period of my life when I first came to the United States.

One day, I was thrilled to hear that a secretary at a Bay Area Hospital had offered me a job. I informed her that I had just come from Mexico, I did not speak the language, and I was in need of money. She seemed very kind and asked me to come to her house with her so that I could help her out around the house. I worked from 8am to 6pm and I even completed tasks of higher difficulty such as painting her house. Although she seemed welcoming, she took advantage of me. When she finally paid me, she would bundle up the money tightly and stuff it inside my shirt to make sure that I did not see how much she had given me. Once I arrived home, I took the money out and when I saw that she had only given me 70 dollars each week. I found it absurd that she was rich and did not want to pay me the money that I deserved for completing all the tasks that she had asked me to with proficiency. She said she could help me get papers if I came to live with her and continued to work for her but I decided to stop working for her because I came for an honest and fair job, which this was not. That is how I suffered during my first year here.

However, I was very surprised to find that there were many kind and helpful people here and there was so much to do. There was never anything to do in Mexico, but in the United States I found myself a job sewing clothes from 5am to noon. Since I do not speak English, a friend of mine helped me get jobs when I needed them, which was a great help to me. As we continued to improve on our stability, I grew happier since I could soon see my children in Mexico again and I gave birth to my youngest baby girl.

Once I was economically stable, I went back to Mexico and brought only my daughter back with me since I could not afford to bring both of my kids. On the way back, in order to get past the border, we had to crawl on all fours and I was in pain the entire way as my skin scraped against the rough, rocky dirt, but I could not stop and risk that the guards would catch us and send us back. Once we had made it, my arms and knees were dripping in blood while my daughter had made it through perfectly fine. She had grown accustomed to these type of conditions while she worked in the fields. I later sent my husband to get my son and we were soon all together. It hurt me a little bit knowing that I was taking them away from their grandmother who they cared about very much, but they are my kids and I have worked hard to be where I am so that they could be happy and have a chance at making a future for themselves.

By this time they had already lived a chunk of their life without me since I had not seen them in about 8 years. My son was 18 years old while my first daughter was 16. We came back to the U.S. and as they have grown, I am remarkably proud of they ways in which they have adjusted to the new area and become more resilient and courageous in their own ways. I do not miss anything about Mexico given the poverty and the violence that often takes place. However, I do feel sad that I did not get to see my mother nor my brother before they died.

Since arriving here, all of my kids have pushed through to create a future for ourselves, and our family has grown and continues to do so as time progresses. I could not be happier to know that my son had created a family of his own. My oldest daughter found an amazingly loving husband and created a big family. My second daughter has accomplished her incredible dream job, and my youngest daughter attended a 4-year university. They have all come a long way and it brings the biggest smile to my face knowing that they are pushing their own kids forward to do the same and educate themselves while taking advantage of all the opportunities that they also dream of. Now, all I can do is watch as my beautiful family only continues to grow and it is all thanks to my loving God.

“Maria” was interviewed by a student in the Bay Area.

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