The year was 1991 when we left. Never did I know I would leave my beloved country behind. A 12 year old, unaware of what the future had in store for us. Soon enough my quiet, uneventful life would be turned upside down.
Life in Michoacan Mexico was filled with freedom. We could go to different cities, and no one would tell us anything. “Ve a jugar con tus amigas, diviértete.” Go play with your friends, have fun, My mom would tell us. I remember spending hours playing with them, returning home very late. The night was dark, and the moon shone brightly. A beautiful night that would one day be blocked by tall buildings and closed doors.
I miss the beaches and markets from Mexico most. The place I lived, my friends. The beaches from Mexico were different from the ones here. The waters were always clear, and there were never too many people. It was silent, it was peaceful. It was my secret hiding place. Las olas eran bellas, the waves were beautiful.
There were also tables where people would prepare the coconuts for us. We could watch them all day, preparing our treats. The coconuts were sweet, the meat was always tender. I would describe the markets in Mexico to be very similar to the las pulgas, the flea market. Everything in the market was always exciting. The sliced fruit, the toys. We couldn’t afford everything, but looking through the markets was still very fun.
I will never forget the earthquake that occurred in the year 1985. We were outside when it happened, surrounded by tall, strong mango trees. I was very scared, my bones trembling with fear. I remember thinking: the earth is going to open up, It will eat us all. It would take all my family away. The trees around us would watch, unable to protect us, I thought.
I first heard of the United States from my uncle. He had succeeded in crossing over, and was there now. Hay muchos trabajos aquí, apurate antes que se terminan! There are many jobs here, hurry before they run out! We would be guaranteed a better life. From what my uncle told me that night, America was a beautiful country. There would be many buildings, many places to see. I knew it would be very different from Mexico, but I couldn’t wait for what was in store.
My dad was already in the U.S when we left. We would be facing this journey alone, without the man of the house, el que protege la familia. We followed, knowing life without him was too hard to live. We didn’t want him to go to the U.S, We didn’t want him to leave all 6 of us. We needed his help with daily payments, such as rent, and other expenses. How would we make a living? Even with my mom working day and night, washing other people’s clothing, she couldn’t do it on her own. We had to go to him, even if it meant leaving my lovely mango trees. Even if it meant entering a world entirely different from our own.
I was 12, my youngest sister Lucia (name changed) was 1, my brother Andres (name changed) was 4, the other sister Karla (name changed) was 6, and the oldest of us, my older brother Julio (name changed), was 14 at the time. We were all young kids when we left, unaware of the changes coming.
The Bus rides were what made the trip fun. It would take breaks along the way, which gave us the opportunity to be kids again, even if it was only for a second. We would get down, me and all my siblings running towards food. We would buy Aguas frescas. fruit drinks, chicharon with valentina, and tacos. Thankfully, there was always food for us to eat.
I had never imagined crossing the river to be a matter of life and death. One of my sisters began to drown, desperately gasping for air. She was playing tug-of-war with the river’s stream. My mom had also hurt her leg. She persisted despite the pain that spread through her veins. A strong woman she was, a strong woman she still is. Nunca se cejaba, she never complained. The helicopters up above us were monsters. They were singling us out, shining their blinding lights down at us. They had made it clear from the beginning: they didn’t want us to enter the United States. Like hunted animals, we hid under a large bush, all 6 of us. At that time I wished I was invisible. A reptile, a bug who could blend into its surroundings.
Something that always crossed my mind was whether or not we would survive the trip. We would hear about human trafficking, kidnappings, about people who got lost along the way. It was every parent’s nightmare to have their child taken from them. There were dangerous people everywhere, which made me question if we would ever arrive in the US.
The mountains we passed were enormous. I remember looking over the windows of the bus during our trips. We were so high up, I thought the bus would fall in. It was the scariest thing ever, I thought we would crash and die. The mountains would continue growing, until there was no way down. It would be the end for us, there would be no America, no Mexico.
My mom was always there, always taking care of us. She was the one who eased all my worries. No te preocupes Flor (name changed), todo valera la pena. Don’t worry Flor, it’ll all be worth it. We didn’t separate, not even for a second. We were always together. For me, she was the bravest person among us. Despite not knowing how to read or write, she made the journey possible.
A lot of our trip was made up of orders. When we were told to walk silently, we would walk silently. When we were told to walk faster, we would walk faster. My mama, my brave mama, even she had to submit to their orders. The coyotes. They were the ones getting us around, listening was the least we could do. Even hiding inside houses required silence. “We can’t be heard by anyone,” they told us. Te van a correr de aqui, te van a mandar a Mexico si te oyen. They’re going to kick you out, they’ll send you back to Mexico if they hear you. So we remained in silence, hearing the neighboring kids play in english. That was me once, playing freely with my siblings. I envied them, for the fun we couldn’t have. How I wished to have my mango trees back. We were only a few feet away, these people and me. They were playing, unaware of us who listened to their laughter. I wished to join them but I was trapped. Trapped behind 4 walls, finally arrived in the country of “freedom.”
It frustrated me. I didn’t understand the english language. I didn’t understand the neighbors, I didn’t understand people who spoke to me in the stores. No one understood the language I was so proud of. Desculpe, puedo comprar una media libra de bistec? Excuse me, can I buy a half a pound of steak? No response, just head shakes. I felt rejected, ignored. Regardless, I was happy to finally see my dad again. I embraced him, finally feeling safe in his arms. I was home again, everything would be like before. I just knew it. Nothing could break us now. My dad was living in an apartment, renting one of its rooms. It was small, but it would do for the time being. Back in Mexico, the land was flat. There were no two-story houses, no apartments with stairs. This apartment even had an elevator and stairs! It would take us up, it would take us down. Unfamiliar with such a machine, I would get dizzy every time.
One of my aunts helped enroll 3 of us into school. She was able to speak English, unlike the rest of us. Estudien bien, echales ganas. She said going to school would help me improve in English – she had heard about my frustration. Study well, work hard.she cheered us on, and I felt my entire being filled with excitement. This. is.what. I. came. for. We would be able to learn all subjects needed, we would learn the English language. I thank my aunt for what she did that day. If I didn’t enroll into school then, I’m not sure my English would be as good as it is now.
School was really hard. I didn’t know the language, so learning was difficult. The students in class kept a distance from me, they didn’t make an effort to help me out. I felt little, como una hormiguita like a little ant compared to them. I had no idea whether or not they were saying something against me. It didn’t matter how badly I wished to learn. The language barrier would always make it difficult.
9 – Eleven. September 11, 2001. I would hear people talking about the event, about the terrorists. Terrorists, in America? Who knew of such a thing? I worried the same would happen to us. It was here where I learned about suicide bombers, about terrorists, about dangerous attacks. So many deaths, it was a period of tears and chaos. The towers had gone down, and so had my confidence in America. Suddenly I found myself wishing to be back home. Back home where none of these things existed.
I will always dream of going back to school, of getting my high school diploma or GED. I had tried to go back to adult school in the past, but I couldn’t couldn’t continue due to us moving away. I would like to get a small career in childcare. I like teaching kids new things, doing arts and crafts, reading to them. They’re just so curious about everything, so willing to learn. Watching them always gives me hope for the future.
One of my biggest accomplishments aside from adult school was learning how to drive. It was a big deal. I remember the nervous feeling of that day. The uncertainty that came from taking the written test. I had done my part in studying, now I would have to wait… But after failing my first test, I felt very sad. I had put everything into succeeding, but once again, I had failed.The second time I took the test, I made sure to study the dmv booklet with care, reading from the very first page to the last. It had been worth it, because this time I passed. My mother’s words from the past came into mind: No te preocupes Flor, todo valera la pena. Don’t worry Flor, it’ll all be worth it. I’m most proud of my driving test, which I passed on my first try. I took the wheel in hand, driving with confidence. I was handed my drivers license a week later, feeling happier than ever. My driver’s license, an accomplishment I will never forget.
Something that saddens me a little is what I’ve observed from those around me. They work, work, work, and work nonstop just to make a living. It reminds me of my parents, of how hard they would work in Mexico. My mother would spend hours scrubbing, hours surrounded by the soap’s bubbles. She did it for the sake of her children, always keeping us in mind. My uncle might have been wrong. There is no way life is easier here, with everyone around me juggling different jobs. They barely have the time to be with family because of it.
I admit there’s times I wish to go back. I have dreams sometimes, about my past. We would return back home, we would play in our pool, we would climb the mango trees. The day would end perfectly. Back at home we’d lay in bed, taking long peaceful naps. There were no obligations in Mexico, there was freedom. No bills, no payments, no debt. A dream I wish to never wake from, a place I wish I could return to…. If only.
This narrative is based on an interview with “Flor” was done by her daughter.