“Tengan hermanitas para que se compren una torta en la escuela.” Here’s some money sisters, buy yourselves some food at school. These are the words my father expressed to his younger sisters. In the municipality of Parácuaro in the state of Michoacán, Mexico there was a family of 16, consisting of the mother and the father, along with their 14 children – 8 boys and 6 girls.
My father was one of those little boys, his name is Miguel Cacho. He was born on August 27, in the municipality of Parácuaro. However, he was raised in the humid city of Apatzingán. His family lived on the top of a mountain in a little black cardboard house. The walls were made of wood and the roof was made of cardboards, and the ground consisted of dirt. The house was a single room, there were no bathrooms. In order to use the bathroom, they needed to go through the woods, they couldn’t afford toilet paper, instead, they used rocks.
“Most of the time there wasn’t food, but when there was, we only had beans, that didn’t bother me, I devoured them. At the age of 7, my mom would hang a cardboard box tied to wire around my neck, in which I would sell popcorn in newspaper cones to economically help out my family. As a child I always longed to own a toy, I would see that other kids had toys and I would envy them. I would ask my mom “Mami, no llegaron Los Reyes Magos? Mom, did the three wise kings arrive?” (In Mexico this is a holiday where children are given gifts, almost like Christmas). She would shamefully lower her head and respond with a no.
I was the youngest amongst the males in my house, so my older brothers would always send me to the store, however that store was miles away. I had to walk down the mountain, then cross a long river, and then go through the woods. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me shoes, I would always go barefoot, however, that wasn’t the problem. Being a young child I was scared of the dark, they would always send me during the nighttime, I would run as fast as I could. There was no light, the dirt would be flying all over, as I was walking in the woods, I would also hear ghosts and strange sounds. If I didn’t want to go to the store my brothers would beat me with the wires, but I still had to go. That’s why I decided not to complain and tolerate the fear I had.
As a young child, I wanted to have fun, I wanted to visit the place where I was born, and I wanted to visit my family. The only way to get there was by taking two buses, unfortunately, my older brothers were not the nicest. They had enough money for me to go on the bus next to them, however, they would leave me behind. I was left with no other choice but to run after the bus, I had no shoes but I was determined to catch up. When I caught up, the bus would just go faster. “I just wanted to have fun,” I thought to myself. I then ran so fast I caught up to downtown.
At the age of 9, my family had already moved to the city, there were more opportunities. I went out of my way to sell bread, I did this because I wanted my younger sisters to have food when they were at school, I wanted them to have a full stomach while studying. I had to sacrifice myself a little bit, but that didn’t matter, I would have to wake up at 4 am and start selling warm bread. I would be tempted by the smell, but I never ate it. I would finish selling bread 15 minutes before school started, it started at 8 am. I was a really good student at school, I was the best in my classes, I was good at math. During lunchtime I would give my little sisters money so that they could buy themselves food, most of the time there wasn’t enough money for me, but that didn’t matter, I just wanted my sisters to be happy and have something to eat.
As a child my dream was to become an architect, however, my dream was ruined when my older brother got shot. He was constantly threatened by gang members, they wanted him to join the gang, however, he refused, this caused anger in the members. Months later they shot him, he was seriously injured after gang members shot him, he was the one who was going to pay for my studies, but now I couldn’t. I was left with no other option but to drop out of school at just the age of 12.
Going to the US
“Todo lo que hice fue por mis hijas. Everything I did was for my daughters”.
I wanted them to be able to study whatever they wanted, I wanted them to do the things I couldn’t do. I didn’t want them to have full stomachs, I wanted the best for them. And the solution to all my problems was the USA.
Our life in Mexico was horrible, I barely made enough money to feed my daughters, but I was determined to educate them. I worked to make sure they have the necessities, a roof, food, and an education. One of the only things I could give them was my unconditional love.
I was never personally affected by the government, since we were poor they couldn’t take anything away from us.
“Ahora es el momento, ya me llego mi oportunidad, me voy para Estados Unidos. The opportunity is here, it’s time I leave for the United States”. These are the words I expressed to my daughters as my journey was beginning. “Eso es lo más doloroso por lo que un padre puede pasar, dejar a sus Hijos sin saber si los iba a ver otra vez. That’s the most painful thing a father can go through, leaving their children behind without knowing if they’ll ever see them again.”. My daughters would beg me to stay, they didn’t want me to come to the US. “Es necesario. It’s necessary” I replied to them as I exited the door.
I was crying the whole journey, it was so painful leaving my daughters behind. The only thing I could think about was them, “Mis hijas son todo para mi. My daughters are everything to me”. I heard that the journey was very difficult, especially through the desert. But that didn’t matter, I knew that if I didn’t do anything for my daughters, no one would, I was accompanied by my youngest daughter, she was around 2.
We took a bus to Agua Prieta, Sonora. The duration of the bus ride was about two days. When we arrived we waited in a house, where a lady fed us, we had to wait 1½ days until everyone arrived, the coyote (these are people who are trained to smuggle others into the US, they are paid thousands of dollars), then gathered everyone (the coyotes usually smuggle people in large groups; the more people, the more money that is made in one trip). From there we got into vans with the destination of a place 10 hours away from the border (10 hours walking).
We were tired but we had to walk if we wanted to get to the border by the nighttime, we were going to cross during the nighttime. We finally got to the border, we then went under the metal border and continued to walk. We had to get out of the desert by sunrise, as this would make it more difficult for the “Migra. Border patrol agents” to see us. I was carrying my daughter and pieces of luggage, my daughter cried and I was tired, I felt weak and exhausted. The coyote said that he would help me with my luggage, so that I would only have to carry my daughter. However, he left us in the middle of the Sonoran desert, he stole our luggage.
My daughter was crying with hunger, her clothes were all torn, I couldn’t feed her because of her milk, the water, and our clothes were in the luggage that had previously been stolen. I was desperate, I wanted to return to my country, with my daughters. But they were my motivation, they were the reason I continued. When the sun rose we arrived at a highway, I was waving at the cars to give me a ride, at that point, it didn’t matter I just wanted to stop walking. One of the cars passing by was a Border Patrol car, it saw my daughter and I and picked us up. I begged them for milk, I wanted to give my daughter food, unfortunately, they said no. They told us to go back to our home, if we didn’t they would fingerprint us, I decided that it was best to leave.
They returned us to where we had started walking, I was frustrated. I called a family member of mine, I told them the story of what had happened to us. She sent us money so that I could buy clothes and food for my daughter and me, she then called a relative to come pick us up. We spent 2 days preparing to cross the border, they told me that I was going to cross first then my daughter so that by the time my daughter had crossed I was waiting for her. They gave my daughter and me false papers, I successfully crossed the first time. But my daughter didn’t, she couldn’t pass.
I was without my daughter for 5 days, in the meantime, I was locked in a hotel room, as the city I was in was a border city, I feared that if I left the room I would be sent back to Mexico. During the time I spent in the hotel, I was only given a cheeseburger from Mcdonalds every day, that’s it, not even water. I wasn’t aware that I could drink the tap because in Mexico you can’t, the tap water in Mexico is not sanitary. During those days I felt like I was going to die, I didn’t feel well, I missed my daughters. My daughter wasn’t able to cross, my relatives then decided to send me to San Francisco on an airplane. When I got to San Francisco I got the news that my daughter had successfully crossed, the next day she was sent to San Francisco.
“Tengo que ahorrar para traer a mis hijas. I need to save up to bring my daughters” This was the mentality I had, I was determined to bring my daughters and be united with them.
“Me voy a poner a trabajar. I am going to start working” I said the day I arrived in San Francisco. All of my relatives told me to rest as I had blisters all over my body and I was tired, but I knew that I had to work. I was eager to bring my daughters. I would work on weekdays, I didn’t care how much money I made as long as I made money. I wanted to have my daughters with me and pay off the debt I had. I remember the first $100 bill I owned, I was so excited, I couldn’t even sleep. I kept on taking it out of my pocket and looking at it. I couldn’t believe it, I kept on thinking about how much money it is in Mexico. The first thing I did the next morning was send the money to my daughters, I was so excited that they would have money to buy food.
I didn’t spend money on anything, I wouldn’t buy anything nice for myself, not even a soda, or a hamburger from Mcdonalds. For me, the more I had saved up, the faster I could have my daughters with me. I didn’t have a car so I would get to places by bus, or by asking friends and relatives for a ride
Fulfilling the Dream
When my daughters arrived in the US I immediately enrolled them in school, however, they suffered a lot. They didn’t know the English language, the only thing they knew was “hello and thank you”. They were constantly bullied at school, they were made fun of for not being American and not knowing the English language. They would come to me and cry, I would tell them “todo esto va a mejorar. All of this is going to get better”. I worked as hard as I could, I didn’t want them to not have food or clothes. We rented a little grey studio in the city of East Palo Alto, all of us lived in one little room that included the kitchen, the bathroom, and a living room. We were cramped but happy.
My life today is calmer, I have my wife and my 6 children, 5 girls, and a boy. The majority of my daughters have finished their studies. My first daughter graduated as a dental hygienist, my second daughter graduated as a nutritionist but is currently studying to become a dentist. My third daughter is also a dental hygienist, and that little 1-year old I brought with me is graduating from Williams College with a degree in Political Science and Spanish. My other two children are currently in High School.
I am proud of my effort and everything I have done for my daughters. I am proud of being able to give them an education and a better life, the life I couldn’t have, everything I have done is for them.
If I would have stayed in Mexico my life would have been completely different than what it is right now. My daughters would have been married off at a young age, usually in their mid-teens, they would have had lots of children, and no money. This is a cycle that repeats over and over, this is a reason why people can’t escape poverty. They don’t have opportunities people have here, only the rich can have an education, the poor have to work and can’t escape. But thankfully I stopped that cycle from happening again in my family.
A major milestone in my life was when all my daughters and I received our green cards. I was very happy and grateful to have the opportunity that many people in this country don’t have. I was so excited to return to my homeland after not being able to go there for some time. I know that I had escaped it, but it’s nice to go back and visit the place where I was born and raised, remembering how far I have come to be where I am today.
The interview and writing were done by Miguel’s daughter Betsabeth, a high school student in East Palo Alto, CA.