The Great Wall of America (El Salvador)

“Mijo, it’s time to go.”

My papa wakes me from a deep dream of beautiful cities, promise, fortune, and most of all the food awaiting us in America. It was about  3:30 and we had been very tired due to the long trek we’ve already made into Mexico since we had no money to buy transport nor owned any vehicles. We had traveled with a eight families from the village but now there were only three at the final stretch. Many died due to the harsh conditions but were also killed by gangs on our way and some were left behind. We all all knew if something went wrong, it would be all families for their own. Our family was the smallest: my papa, mama, older brother Carlos, my younger twin siblings Miguel and Mariana and last but not least Nick – thats me.

I’ve always hated the name because it reminded me of me trying to be something I’m not: American. My parents always believed that “Americanizing yourself makes you one of them”. Yet it made me feel like an outcast on both sides whether it be an American believing I had changed my name from “Jose” or “Fernando” or a classmate in El Salvador teasing me calling me “wannabe gringo” or “white lover”. Neither was my intention. All I wanted was to stop hearing and seeing people getting gunned down in the streets everyday.

“Leave everything we don’t need, grab la comida y agua Carlos. They leave en diez minutos with or without us.”. My father was like a locomotive at full speed and if we didn’t board the train we were going to be left, so I made sure my mother doesn’t need to do anymore.

“Mama vamos en siete minutos”. My English was only at about a kindergarten level so I mainly spoke Spanish until I got to the U.S. However, it was the language that dominated my home since my parents were both taught and studied English for many years. So the months leading up to the journey was absolute hell learning a brand new language while trying to focus on my work at school.

“I need you to look after Miguel while we cross, I’d have your brother do it and I know you don’t want to pero he needs to help your father with ways to ensure we cross.” My mother spoke to me frantically as she finished dressing my siblings.

She then handed me little Miguel who looked at me with his big brown eyes and asked me “Are we gonna go to America?” His excited yet nervous look meant that I had lied to make sure he wouldn’t be scared.

“Si baby brother, you just hold on to me and we will be there tomorrow.” His joy could barely be contained as he jumped on the bed.

“Mijos vamanos now!” My father said angrily.

As we rushed out to meet the others and spent our last peso for the room we headed off on the final march for the border. We arrived near the fence line at about 4:00 just as we started to see the sun’s rays peeking above. Not long after starting to find a way out, the youngest of the Lopez family noticed the broken fence others had made so more may pass through. Unfortunately my best friend Pedro’s family started to fall behind having to gag and quiet a crying child.

“Wait!” Pedro’s father cries in a whispering yell.

Yet we all keep moving, the rules were established at the beginning in order to ensure the safety of the rest of the group, they knew that if anything happened where it endangered the survival or chances of crossing then they would be left behind. No one wanted to leave people they had spent their whole life knowing but there was no other option. I looked back at my friend Pedro one last time and waved to him goodbye, nothing but remorse and agony flowing through me for the ones we had to abandon just meters away from the destination.

As we kept making our way towards the fence, Miguel and I holding each other’s hand tight in fear, I thought of all the things that would be different and how outcasted I would feel once we get through. The names I would be called, the hate and discrimination. I then looked at my papa and he stopped for a moment and smiled,

“It’s all going to be alright Nick, you are so strong and intelligent, two things that normally don’t meet together and we will all be together away from fear of losing one another everyday. We will have a hard time but we will make it. Just trust me and don’t lose tu hermano or your mother will have all of us on plates.”

I felt like the thousand pounds was released from my chest right then and there. I nodded and continued to move with him. As we saw the fence we know this was the moment that would change our lives forever for better or worse. The open fence was right in front fifteen feet away and the only thing stopping us was border patrol, the sentinels of Americas edges, they hated us and used force to keep us away from a new opportunity.

I looked over to the other family and the father was saying something to the mother and I couldn’t tell but he had hugged all his children, kissed his wife, then stood with a pistol in hand. He told us all to go and said,

“Buena suerte.”

I finally understood as he unloaded the magazine straight into the air drawing the attention of all border security who were ready to capture us. Pedro and his family were somehow able to catch up and now a sense of relief came over me knowing they would be ok. The same couldn’t be said for Mr. Lopez. We heard the thunder of a thousand rounds fired right at him and with that, he was gone and there was a strange unnerving silence.

What was left of the three families that made it through only heard the guards shout “Stop!”

We all made like cheetahs, sprinted like never before and everyone became separated. I took Miguel and we hid under a bush nearby, his body trembling and breathing heavy.

“Yo quiero Mama,” he told me frightened, seeing the lights move closer to us.

I calmed him down by holding onto him for dear life and sang softly in his ear the song our Mother sang as a lullaby, Duermete Nino. We saw the light right on us and our hearts stopped only to see Carlos as he smiled and sighed with relief.

“You always were good at hide and seek Nick. I’m glad you y Miguel are ok, I would have blamed myself for whatever happened to you two.”

“Carlos it is you that teaches us what we know nothing will happen to us because we have your guidance. Where is Papa y Mama y Marisol are they ok?” I asked starting to get nervous.

“They’re ok little brother, they had me come and find you while they gathered things and looked for others.”

“Did they find Pedro?” I asked excitedly.

Carlos sighs with sadness “Everyone was caught, we’re all that’s left..” he says in a mumbling voice.

I could only think of how Mr. Lopez sacrificed himself for us all and in the end his own family never made it. I think about how Pedro and his family knew that they had to be left behind. We had started with eight families full of children and all were good people trying to make something for themselves and only we were the lucky ones. I thought about why God had chosen us to be the family to make it. Were we more worthy and free of sin? I still can’t say.

As we met our parents and Mariana we embraced as if it was the first time in years but it was quickly interrupted by my father who said,

“We have to go and find a place to stay before they send dogs after us.”

We moved through the night and never stopped until we found other people from our village that had crossed before. They gave us food, water, and a place to rest for the night. As we woke the next day, my father was able to find transportation to California where we would start anew as Americans.

This story is based on an interview by a student at Palo Alto High School.

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