I was only 13 when I made a life-changing choice. All I was thinking about was all the pressure of my family depending on me. I was afraid. I was only a kid, after all; I felt like a porcupine at a balloon party. But all I knew was I needed to succeed and help the people I left behind – succeed in the U.S.
I grew up in San Nicolas, Durango, Mexico. It was a beautiful little town. We all knew each other. Everyone lived off themselves, off their own harvesting. We were all like mini self-helping factories. Sometimes we would give each other stuff, between neighbors. We were very poor; we played with rocks, and swam en “los arroyos y en la agua prieta.” The rivers and lake.
When I was 13 years old, my father passed away, he was the one harvesting our food. Without him, my 7 siblings, mother, and I would starve. Since I was the oldest, I had to go to the U.S. to send money back to my ma. My family’s future depended on me.
Before I came I had heard there were better opportunities. That was my mindset. Help my “mamá y mis parientes.” My mom and family. It couldn’t be that hard, right?
Leaving was really hard. As a thirteen year old, I still needed my mom. I wanted to bring her and my family with me. My friends, my town with all my neighbors. I wanted Mexico to be the U.S. so I didn’t have to leave.
I tried to cross to the U.S. many times, but each time, I got sent back. The first time was the hardest. I was with my friend, and together we hired a coyote. The man knew the desert. We walked for a whole day and night. I was tired, but too afraid to sleep. Afraid of the alacranes and being sexually forced into things. We ran away from him and the whole time I was praying: “Padre nuestro que estás en el cielo…” meaning dear father in the sky.
There was nothing I could do, I just knew I had to give my family a better life.
When we got here, we settled in a town called Westminster, in Orange County, California. We stayed at my mom’s friend’s house. He was distant family. He didn’t make us pay rent, or pay for food. I didn’t speak English at all. And finding a job that would hire a 13 year old Latina who didn’t go to school there or didn’t speak English was very hard. Once I found a job, it was still hard to get there. I didn’t know how to use a bus, and I had a night shift.
Everything surprised me when I got there. It was my first time leaving San Nicolas. The furthest I had gone was the town next door, Santiago Papasquiaro. And we went on horses and “burros,” donkeys. So seeing all the cars, the buildings, everything amazed me.
My Tió Nico really helped make this new adjustment easier. He knew my situation and encouraged me. He never gave up on me, and always pushed me into making more out of my best.
Today my life is great. I do miss my homeland, but I still go back and donate things, help them, pay to rebuild homes. Everyone I left behind is here. My siblings, my aunts, uncles, my mother was here too; she passed away and it was hard for all of us. Especially her grandkids. But I’m happy I was able to help them. I have a great job, as a nurse.
Thank you to my Tió Nico for helping me succeed.
I’m glad I made the decision of coming. If I didn’t come, we would have all been over there, and my siblings wouldn’t have given me these great nieces and nephews. And I would not have had my two children and my two lovely grandkids. But I left. We’re all here happy. I’m proud of myself for building up the courage to go to this balloon party, and try to fit in.
I thought it wouldn’t be so hard. But it was the hardest thing ever. I don’t regret it. I came and learned English, I came and got an education. And at first I thought I wouldn’t make it, but this country DOES have better opportunities. But never easy ones. And once you feel satisfied with what you have done, you can share it with others, just like I have come to this country to share my culture. And now share my story. We all deserve the right to an education; one shouldn’t have to cross over a border fighting for their life, JUST to have a better life. Because no human being is illegal, and the only race is the human race.
The story of Irma Nevarez was written and recorded by her niece, Valerie Nevarez.