It was very hot in there and we had to wait for 3 days inside this tank, not knowing when I would get to see the world.
I was born in Guatemala, a little town called Chimaltenango, where farming is still the way to go. The only way of living is crops, with only my mother and my grandfather. I was one of the unfortunates. My father was shot by a soldier of war and it killed him. I don’t miss him, since I never really got to meet him. I was only 8 months old. Yet what really hurt was seeing my mother fight for me day and night. My mother would always smile and say, “Si no te esfuerzas no es vida.” I never understood it until I started to apply it in my life.
Growing up was not easy. It had some advantages and some disadvantages. I always had my mom’s attention and, since I was the only one in the house, followed by my grandfather. We were lucky enough to get served meals every single day and get doubles, even though we lived in a house made of wood and hay. Some days it would get rainy, and this might sound weird, but we had to put bags on top of the house just to stop the rain from coming in.
At least every night, when I would go off to bed, I would hear the rain on the hay and bag roof. Those sounds would help me sleep better and make me feel warmer when I only had one blanket. When you would wake up, you could smell the freshly-made atole (beverage) that my mother made in the morning, as well as freshly-collected wood and coffee from the fields we took care of. Here and there, I would have a rooster wake me up due to its clucking.
I’m not going to lie, some meals weren’t big enough to support a teenage boy going through puberty. I started to worry for my own well-being, but that is irrelevant. I didn’t really go to school after the age of 12. I stopped in the seventh grade due to the little money we had. I started to work, and every day I would have to wake up at 5 in the morning and go to work. Under the hot sun in the field, it was not easy. When you’re 13, they think you’re a full adult, since you’re going through puberty. My childhood was beautiful. I also met my future wife in my own neighborhood, although we didn’t really talk much yet. As we got older, we started to develop emotions for each other.
I, as an individual that left the country, saw that the struggles had finally reached up to us. My mother, being a missionary of God, went out of state pretty often, which meant she had to save a lot of money for tickets. She would leave bean dip, and she would try to make it so it would last me for at least a week. I would think, Cuando vienes mama te extrano (when are you coming mother I miss you).
My grandfather and I had met my mother’s brother/my uncle; he would talk to us once in awhile. Once, I explained my situation. When I told him my mother was out again, he told me, “Te quieres venir para los estados unidos.” I felt my heart skip a beat. So we discussed why he decided to do this and he simply told me my mother was coming to be a senior; she no longer would live out of the money I got from the crops I took care of.
My grandfather told me not to hesitate, and in one month flat, I received the money at the closest police station, which was 50 miles away from where I lived. My mother didn’t say much the week she came back; all she was thinking about was my well-being during this trip. She really wanted to see me pass the border and start a new life.
The first thing my uncle told me to do is get on a bus that would get me close enough to the Mexican border; then, he told me, he would call the Coyote to come get me and help me cross the rest of journey. Somewhere two hours into the trip, I saw many things out of the ordinary: first of all, the Coyotes took huge amounts of weed and crack to keep them awake, and they also had lots of money to go on off.
My backpack and I were the only things that came from Guatemala, as well 20 other people from my country. We were all squished in a minivan, all stacked on top of each other; we were pretty much the clowns in the small car trick, because when we would get out of the car, it would make a creaking sound that sounded like it would break. This was how we spent 3 days, just to reach the next bus stop and actually begin the journey.
I had a week since I had left my house. I had a little money that my uncle had sent me, but it wouldn’t last long because the drivers were constantly asking for their pay, even though they were paid. I didn’t have much in my bag; it was only a jug of water and a toothbrush, as well as a change of clothes, because I knew this would be a rigorous journey; but I had never imagined to cross the border so easily.
Since I was the youngest, I had to hold the food sandwiches, made out of frijol (beans) and queso (cheese). Most of the people only had one sandwich a day, but I was able to get two, since I was carrying the food. I had to walk for 4 days in a hot desert with wolves, snakes and anacondas and the migra (ice). I believe someone did get eaten by a wolf because we were missing one the last day.
As I entered, I had to pass in a gasoline truck where there were two compartments, one made for gasoline and the other for travelers. It was very hot in there and we had to wait for 3 days inside this tank, not knowing when I would get to see the world. All I know is that we had arrived to a storage, I was asked to give the last of my money. Luckily I think God had finally listened to my prayers; just two minutes earlier I asked to go to the restroom, and during this period I was washing my face and my hands, and the coyote was going around asking for money. It turns out I didn’t have to pay, and others were getting blamed that they didn’t pay their rations. No one ever found out it was me who never paid.
I managed to enter the US with about $417 in my pocket since I didn’t pay. I was close to the town where my uncle lived. In this new country, I didn’t know much; I only saw signs and fast food restaurants with a mixture of letters that were very hard to read. I asked the Coyote where we were. He told me, “Son, you’re in San Francisco”… I could not believe that after a month, I was here where I would construct my family.
All I knew was that my uncle was waiting on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge. All he would see would be a young 18-year-old kid with ragged clothes from his journey, with a very skinny frame. The first thing we did was go to the closest McDonald’s. I was very excited; I had never eaten that. The first meal I ever had was a McChicken. It was the best, not knowing I would get sick since I wasn’t used to the food they served here. I got very sick the first week in America.
I was starting to settle in; I had my first job, which was being a floor cleaner. I had to work lots of hours to pay the debt I owed my uncle for bringing me here. Sometimes it was 36 hours of pure work, no stop, no sleep; I was like a machine. I still didn’t get the hang of this English thing everyone was talking about. I didn’t really find it necessary, but it all changed when I finally moved into the job I was going to do for a lot of my life.
I started working at a place called RIGEL Inc, and it was a place where scientists studied minor diseases and would try to make cures for it. Everyone there spoke English. Not knowing what they said, I finally understood why it was important for me to learn English. It only took me a year, and it was a year, and I had finally gotten the hang of it. I couldn’t speak fluently, but I was able to defend myself.
One day, I was asked to make coffee for my friend. Accidentally, I made a whole jug and I mixed 3 mixtures of coffees, not knowing it would become the famous coffee inside the facility I worked in. Every day, when I come to work, I always make coffee for the employees that work here. They greet me with such good care and they always tell me thank you. I now have three children and my wife. The oldest one goes to a good school and hopefully my younger daughter and son try to follow in his footsteps. My family has grown into a good place and hopefully they will make me proud.
This story was written by the immigrant’s son, a student in the Bay Area.