“It’s time for me to leave, ” I told my mom with a broken heart.
She replied, “Is there anyway to get you to stay?”
“I must do this for my daughter and you, in the long run it will benefit everyone”
“Mija yo te puedo ayudar con la niña, y no te preocupes por mi. I can help you with your daughter and don’t worry about me.”
“She deserves to have the best, education and future that I can give her,” I said with a sigh.
“I love you so much and never forget that I am only a phone call away. Que la virgencita de Guadalupe te acompañe siempre. Let the Virgin of Guadalupe take care of you always. Never regret your decision to leave and I will always be waiting for you,” she said with a tear dropping down her cheek.
I, Gricelda Garcia, was born August 04, 1970 in Apatzingán, Michoacán, México. A hot and humid place where my curly hair was very difficult to control, the sensation of the sun hitting my skin was always refreshing. The sound of the cathedral bells rang in my ears and when I didn’t hear them, there was live bands playing. I would dance around without even meaning to. My friends would say que siga la banda. Let the banda keep playing.
Le gritaba a toda la vecindad que viniera para afuera, I would yell at the whole neighborhood to come outside. I was a simple girl, I enjoyed playing hide and seek. Sometimes we would just run around because it was fun. And everyone would play along. I was poor, so my family didn’t have a TV, but I didn’t know it existed so I didn’t need it.
I remember the radio stations would podcast different speeches that our government was saying but I honestly wasn’t interested. Politics were not on my priority list, I just knew that I was fine and my family was fine. I knew the basics that every kid knew. That El Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Institutional Revolutionary Party held power in México. The president was Lazaro Cardenas del Rio. He was an okay president, he just liked the power. I didn’t feel like I was directly affected by it so I just kept living life without giving the government importance.
Since the government had no direct affect on my life, it didn’t care if I went to school or not. I was born in a country where the only way to be rich was to study which was really expensive, or you had to be part of the mafia.
I always loved school and I knew that was my way to reach success, but I was one of 8 kids with a single mom so it was more important to get food on the table than for me to get an education. My mom was my hero. Even when we had almost nothing to eat, she would create something for us to eat. Even if it was just one tortilla with cheese. I still remember when my mom would add water to the coke to make sure that every single one of her kids got at least a sip. It was probably more water then it was soda. But to me it tasted like the best coke ever. The gassiness of the soda going down my throat was very little, but she did the best she could.
I was devastated when I had to quit going to school. Como quisiera ir a la escuela, how I wished I could go to school. I had always been told these great stories of how many opportunities were available in the U.S.
I was about 24 years old in 1994 when I found out I was pregnant with my first little girl. I knew I wanted the best life for her, I was willing to do anything to make sure she got the life and success she deserved. When I made the decision to leave, I began to save money. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but anything difficult is alway worth it. My older brother had gone to live over there a few months ago. He made the life he was living sound pretty good, but I think he was just saying that to make me feel confident in my decision.
The plan was to fly from Michoacán to Tijuana. There, I would go find my coyote, pay him, and he would give me fake documents to cross over. The day finally came, I felt like the world was going to end. Leaving my family was the worst pain I had ever felt in my life, made worse the moment that my mom began to cry. Cuidate mucho mija, yo te estaré esperando para cuando regreses, take care my daughter I will be waiting until you get back. I felt like my heart was getting tighter, all I could taste was the salt of my own tears. Por favor diosito santo cuida a mi madrecita chula. Please god all I ask is take care of my mom.
It was May in 1994, I got up in the morning to meet up with the coyote to pay him and he would give me some fake papers. I remember smelling the cologne of the coyote, and feeling the papers in my hand. I had never touched real papers before so I had no way of knowing what they were suppose to feel like. I was 5 months pregnant when I was finally able to cross the border at around 12 in the afternoon, I was terrified as I walked through the border with falsified papers. All I could think about was that I could be shot, killed, or worse, what would happen to my baby if we were caught with false documents. As afraid as I was, I wanted my baby to have the best life she could, and help my family back home. I walked all the way until my brother came to pick me up. It had been the longest hour of my life.
I first arrived to Oceanside, California in 1994. When I first arrived my older brother had just arrived a little before me and was kind of settled down. He was the one that practically taught me everything he knew which was not a lot. Imagine not knowing the language, having no idea what all the signs say everywhere or the culture.
The first thing I ate when I got here was a burger and I hated all the food. I wasn’t use to these terrible packaged tortillas, I wanted the ones my mom would make. The only thing I enjoyed was a El Woper, a Whopper from Burger King since that’s the only thing I was able to order without my brother helping me. I can still place myself in the only Burger King in the small city of Oceanside. The smell of the good burger will never leave my mind. I hear the sound of the person in front of me ordering. When it was my turn, I ordered the only thing I knew from the menu.
I was not use to feeling as alone as I did, it was not as easy as people made it appear to be. The only thing to keep me comfortable an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I brought with me. De favor te pido que me ayudes a poder seguir adelante. All I ask is that you help me keep going on this difficult journey. And to continue to power through this loneliness.
I was at a local grocery story and the sales clerk that was helping me with the groceries told me the price. I saw the numbers on the screen so I understood a little. The dollar currency was still new to me and I didn’t understand why the price was so high. I tried to make my English blurt out but I guess that it just sounded like gibberish to the clerk. She replied, “Excuse me, can you repeat that? I don’t speak Spanish.” I was so embarrassed so I just answered with a simple, “thank you”. As I was leaving the store, the women who was assisting me was speaking in Spanish with her colleague. I was humiliated and she understood what I was trying to saying, but I didn’t want to become one of those people who goes all crazy and ends up on TV. In México I had never experienced this and it was a strange feeling of not belonging, but I knew that like in every other place there was good people who would be more than willing to help me.
I realized quickly that the living here was not easy as people made it appear. There was no McDonalds or fast food in my little town. So when I started working there, all I smelt was the burnt oil of the fries and it was so strange to me how people would spend money on this. Even though I loved Burger King, which is a completely different thing. The worst part was strange looking hats they made us wear. They were an ugly washed out black and they ruined my favorite color yellow, when I saw the dumb M. Hay que echarle ganas, pare pagar los billes. You have to do whatever to pay the bills. There was times when I had to work the deep frier so much that I came to hate it a lot. All I felt was the burning sensation of the oil on my skin, the sad part is that after awhile I didn’t feel the burns.
The U.S. is strange because you have all these bills to pay, like rent, insurance and small things that add up. In México none of that was needed except for paying one bill or two, the only thing you had to worry about was having food on the table, which was a weird tradeoff if you ask me.
When my oldest daughter Cassandra turned ten, I had my second girl. I named her Guadalupe after the Virgin of Guadalupe, that my mother always said would take care of me. That type of belief and faith always got me through such tough time. That name made me feel safe and comfortable. Then three years later I had my first boy, who I named Jose Adrian. It was after my father and my then husbands’ name. I always thought of it as the two most important men of my sons life. He would be the embodiment of those two wonderful men. My children are the most essential part of my life. I work hard to give them everything that they need.
My oldest daughter that was my inspiration to come over here, is now an alumni of Cal Poly Pomona class of 2016. She has a bachelor’s degree in hospitality, and I couldn’t be prouder of everything that she has accomplished. In that aspect I am so glad that she was able to reach and accomplish everything I knew she would. I know that she will achieve even greater things in life.
When I was able to return back to México, all I saw was my empty house because I no longer had anyone waiting for me. It still smelled like my mom’s perfume in the room next door. By the time I was legally able to return home, my mother had already passed. The last memory I have of her alive, is her crying and telling me not to leave her side. I know that she would be so proud of her grandkids and me.
The only aspiration I have for all my kids is that they always try to achieve great things even if they seem impossible. I want them to not only to have great careers but be even better people, so that they are able to help everyone to the best of their abilities always. Quiero que siempre traten de ser mejores personas, I always want you to always try to be better people.
This story is based on an interview by Lupita Diaz-Garcia, a student at Eastside College Prep.