In La Huerta, Jalisco, a baby girl was born to a mother. Her name was Lily (name changed), after her mother’s favorite flower. That girl is me. I lived on a beautiful ranch, Plazola. I am the oldest of my family so it had only been me and my 2 sisters Maria and Alejandra. Our ranch was small but it was beautiful. I loved living there. I had my best friends, Marieta and her brother Antonio, that lived close by. We would play around all day, climbing trees or just playing something as simple as tag. I lived with my mom and my grandparents.
My biological father was not around. He did not want to have a baby so he left my mother during her pregnancy. My mother then met another man, Jesus, who became a true father figure to me. He gave me his last name and he took care of me and protected me. Both of my grandparents were still around too, and they helped me during the first few years of my life. They were always around to pick me up when I fell or cheer me up when I was upset.
The first six years of my life were on that ranch. Then one day my dad had us all gather around the table. He said he had a very important announcement for all of us. “Sientense”, Sit down, he said. We all followed. I was sitting next to Maria with Alejandra sitting on my mother’s lap. “Tengo una noticia muy importante. Un amigo me ha conseguido un trabajo, pero es lejos de aquí. Vamos a tener que ir nos del rancho”. I have an important announcement. A friend has gotten a job for me, but it is far away. We will have to leave the ranch.
I felt my heart sink. I was going to leave the home I have ever known. I will leave my friends, my grandparents and all the memories I had made on that ranch. My sisters and my mother looked down at the ground thinking of what he said. I felt the urge to ask, “¿Vamos a poder visitar o sera muy lejos?” Will we be able to visit, or is it very far? He looked at my mother and then turned to me after my mother did not look up. He said,“No sé todavia, Rosita. No es muy lejos, pero yo necesito este trabajo y no se si vamos a tener tiempo para poder visitar.” I still don’t know, Lily. I need this job and I don’t if we will have the time to come visit. I decided I would not say anything else. I did not want my father to get angry at me and I didn’t want to be a bad example for my sisters. Instead, I went to my room and I started to pack my clothes. I still wasn’t sure when we would be leaving, but I didn’t want to wait until the last minute and then forget something valuable to me.
About a week later, we were all in a truck ready to leave. I had tried to look strong for my sisters, but I couldn’t do it. I jumped out of the car and ran to hug my grandparents one last time. I burst out sobbing. I didn’t want to leave Plazola, all I had known my entire life there. Sure I was only six years old, but it felt like a lifetime. I loved it there and I didn’t want to go. I had to though. My dad honked the horn on the trunk and I let go of my grandmother’s arm and I slowly walked to the car, taking in my surroundings. I heard the horses, the dogs, and the birds that were all around me. I reached for the car door but before I left, I turned around and said one final goodbye. “Adios Plazola. Siempre te amare.”Goodbye Plazola. I will always love you.
After 2 hours, we reached our new home in Cihuatlan, Jalisco. My dad had rented a room in a vecindad. It was just the 5 of us so the room wasn’t very big, but after a while, we all felt squished. It was just one room with a small kitchen and the rest was just living space. The entire vecindad shared two bathrooms, one for the women and one for the men. There was a pila, a type of sink made of cement, for everyone living there to wash their dishes and to wash their clothes. I couldn’t believe that we had gone from our beautiful Plazola to this small little room.
Living there was hard enough with 5 of us there, but it got harder after my mom had more children. First, there was Arturo, then Rafael, and finally, the youngest of us all, Baby Teresa.
As the oldest, it was my responsibility to take care of all of them. Of course Maria would help me as the second oldest, but Alejandra couldn’t. Alejandra had the flu for almost a week now. It was getting harder and harder for her to get out of bed every morning.
One day, she woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air. I slept right next to her but I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. I didn’t want to lose my sister. I headed to the small bed where my mother slept. I shook her until she woke up. “Que paso Lily?”, What’s going on, Lily?, she asked me half asleep. I could hardly speak. My words were muffled from my tears and my shaky voice but somehow my mom understood when I said, “Algo está pasando con Alejandra”. Something is happening with Alejandra. She sat up quicker than an animal pouncing for food. I led her back to Alejandra who was still awake, gasping.
My mother started to cry. That was the first time I had ever seen her cry. She turned to me and told me to wake my father. As the obedient girl I am, I rushed over to the bed and woke my father. I told him the same thing I told my mother and he rushed outside to get our truck. My mother took Alejandra in her arms and ran outside to leave with my father. I tried to follow behind her, but she stopped me. “Quedate aqui Rosa. Todo va estar bien. Cuida a tus hermanos mientras vamos al hospital.” Stay here Lily. Everything will be okay. Take care of your brothers and sisters while we go to the hospital.
I couldn’t argue with my mother. I was too weak and heartbroken. I heard the door shut and the truck sped off soon after. I walked slowly back to my bed and sat down, weeping. I couldn’t sleep. I could still hear Alejandra gasping in my head. For the rest of the night, I laid on the bed, crying. I couldn’t lose my best friend.
My siblings started to wake at 9am. My parents were still not back yet. Maria woke up first. She saw me on the bed and headed over to me. “Que paso mana? No te ves bien.” What’s wrong sis? You don’t look too good. I didn’t want to tell her the truth. I didn’t want her to hurt like I had. I replied, “Nada. Estoy bien Mari.” Nothing. I’m okay Mari. She looked at me suspiciously, then she looked around the room. “Dónde está Mami y Papi? Y Alejandra?” Where’s Mom and Dad? And Alejandra? I had to protect my sister. Without thinking I said, “Se fueron a comprar fruta del mercado. Ahora regresan.” They went to buy fruit at the market. They will be back soon. I knew that wasn’t true, but I couldn’t stand to see my sister upset.
I spent the day taking care of my siblings. I made them all breakfast and then I watched them all go play outside while I waited for my parents to get home.
It was almost 2pm when I heard a truck stop outside. I rushed out the door and I speed walked outside. I didn’t want to frighten my siblings by running outside. My mom had just gotten out of the truck. She was crying again. My father came out from the other side of the truck. He had his head down and I could hear shaky breath. I ran up to my mom. “Que paso? Dónde está Alejandra?” What happened? Where’s Alejandra? She mom grabbed me and gave me such a tight hug that I felt like I couldn’t breathe. She didn’t let go. I started crying too. I understood what had just happened and why everyone was upset. Alejandra had passed away.
Later, when we were back inside the house, my mother pulled me aside and told me what had happened. “Cuando llegamos al hospital, nos dijeron que Ale se había enfermado. Ella tenia neumonia y por eso tenia calentura.” When we got to the hospital, they told us that Ale was sick. She had pneumonia and that is why she had a fever. She said it so softly I was surprised I heard every word she said. I was wondering about how she would tell my siblings, but I didn’t feel like it was the right time to ask. Instead, I went into her arms and hugged her. We both started to cry for the loss of my sister. We must have been there for hours and hours, hugging and crying.
For months after Alejandra’s death, nothing felt right. My siblings found out the day after what had happened after my father told them. Everyone in the house was quiet. We missed all the energy that Alejandra always had. She had died at only 10 years old. After those months, my parents decided that we couldn’t stay in that house anymore. It brought back too many painful memories. My father had been saving up some money and with that we moved into a small house that was a block away from La Plaza de Toros. It was hard to say goodbye to la vecindad but I knew I would feel better if I wasn’t there because I wouldn’t have to sleep in the same bed that Alejandra had slept in.
We moved in and to distract myself from her death, I would go to the church placed in the center of the town. I would pray and pray that her soul was okay and that she was not suffering. I kept going to the church for most of the years after her death. Time flew and all of a sudden, I was 17.
I was on my way to church one day when I decided I would stop by at my uncle’s house. He didn’t live too far away from the church. On the right side of the church, there was a hill that led up to El Cerrito de la Cruz, and my uncle lived at a high point on that hill. I started my way up that hill when I ran into someone. A boy who was around my age. He was around other boys who kind of looked like him. Sus hermanos, his brothers, I guessed.
I saw him often. He would come down everyday after church to pick up his mother. He always caught my eye and I think I caught his. After about two weeks of seeing each other, he came up to me. “Hola. Te he visto caminando por aqui mucho. Me llamo Ramon (name changed).” Hi. I have seen you walking around here often. My name’s Ramon. I told him my name and then he walked me all the way to my uncle’s house. He did this every time I went to my uncles home, which was about 3 times a week. It was what I would look forward to after church. After about a month of walking me there, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Of course, I said yes. He smiled and his eyes lit up. We kept walking up the hill and he would take me to the Plaza in front of the church. He worked at La Paleteria so he would always get me ice cream from there. Two years later, when we were both 19, we got married.
When we got married, we eventually bought our first house. It was close to la presa, the river, so we would go often with our families to have fun. It was a very small house, but to me it was perfect. It had a living room, kitchen, and dining all in the same space, and it had two bedrooms.
We spent 4 years of our lives there until there was an earthquake that made our lives crumble away. On October 9, 1995, I woke up to our house shaking. I was so scared. Ramon woke up only a few seconds after me and rushed me out of the house. We rushed through the front door. As we turned around, we saw our house crumble away. All of our hard work for raising enough money to buy a home and all of our dreams of having a family there were crushed. Our house was completely demolished and we had lost everything we had. We had hardly any money to find a new place to live so soon.
The Colima-Jalisco earthquake of 1995 had a magnitude of 8.0, which is why it ruined our home as fast as it did. We had no time to save any of the things that we had inside. We were truly left with nothing.
We had heard about all the job opportunities in the United States and that was our decision. We would both go to the US and get jobs to raise enough money to rebuild the home that we lost because of the earthquake. We were still very young, only 23 years old. I was terrified. I was going to leave the only place I had ever truly known and go to a brand new place where didn’t know the language or the culture. I would be leaving all of my family in México and I would have to start over in a completely different country. I don’t know if I’m ready to leave.
We left, just the two of us, because it was the easiest way. We knew it was the only way to get back what we had lost. It was a hard decision, but I knew what I needed to do.
A few days later, we were on a bus to Mexicali. I remember that trip vividly. 3 days of such an ugly road with nothing to do. I had only taken 2 changes of clothes and a water bottle in my small bag. I knew I couldn’t take too many things to cross over. I was so skinny at the time that I couldn’t take many things even if I wanted to. I would be too weak to carry everything and it would cause unnecessary attention to me and Ramon.
We arrived at the bus station where Ramon’s aunt picked us up. She took us back to her home until the coyote came. We stayed there for three days living in her home. It was big and cold in there and we would sleep on the ground because she only had one bed. When the coyote came, we drove off to where there were hardly any immigration officer to start the journey.
We were going to be walking and running through the desert until we were able to cross. It would take a long time and the heat that would hit you seemed as though it could cause you third degree burns. But he knew more about crossing than we did, so we did as we were told. We started walking and once we had to start running, my ankle twisted. I couldn’t go any farther. I dropped.
Ramon stayed back with me and the coyote saw us. He got angry. Extremely angry. He took us back to his car and my heart was beating out of my chest. I knew he had to take us back with Ramon’s uncle, but anger was powerful and could blind people from doing the right thing. I didn’t know what he would do. He had brought us all the way over here and we didn’t pay him. He opened the car door for himself and told us to go in through the back doors. We got in slowly and we looked at each other in disappointment at the failed trip. I thought we would never make it again. Our dreams of making it to America had crumbled just like our home had. I got scared that we would never leave the car. I had a feeling something bad was was coming.
He took something out of the cabinet and he put it in his lap. He yelled things at us. Things I can’t repeat. I saw his hand move in slow motion. He still had the object in his hand. I didn’t know what it was but I was horrified. His hand moved up and that’s when I saw what it was. It was a gun. He kept yelling at us and I froze. I didn’t know what to do. Ramon was beside me. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want him to die. It felt like hours that we were on the edge of death. Days even. That was the hardest part. The idea of dying before having a chance to start a new life. a new family. a new home.
He calmed down. He put the gun down. He turned back around and he stayed silent. Ramon turned to me. “Espera.” Wait, he said. The man put the gun back in the cabinet and locked it. We could finally breathe again. The car started. The engine covered the sound of my tears.
After what felt like months of driving, we ended up at Ramon’s uncle’s’ home. He was the one who was going to pay that coyote for crossing us over. The coyote did not say a word when he left us. He just stopped and waited. He didn’t turn around or even look at Ramon’s uncle. We got out of the car silently and I limped to the door. We stayed at that home traumatized after what had happened. I did not want to leave but I knew that I had to. This could be our only chance to restart. Our lives could have ended in the blink of an eye. Nobody would have known what happened to us in that car. But we got a second chance. We were still alive and we could still make a difference in our lives. We would find another way to cross and we would rebuild our lives, together.
A few days after staying in that house, we ended up going back the Ramon’s aunt’s house. She told us that she knew someone who could cross us over. He would take us somewhere and then we could cross through the sewers. We were still hurt emotionally and mentally from the other coyote and we still needed time to recover. We stayed there for a few more days until we could finally process what had happened.
She called the coyote. I didn’t know what to expect. I still stayed up at night, not being able to sleep because of the first coyote. I was too scared to react when the next coyote arrived at her doorstep. I got my small backpack with the 2 changes of clothes and headed out the door to see how it would go this time.
We got on a van with a few other people. One of them was a woman named Cristina. I remember her because she had to cross over with her daughter of only 10 years old. I don’t know how she did it. Anyway, we took the van, once again, to place that had few immigration officers. We all got off and we had stopped a sewage system.
This was it.
We went in one by one and we covered our heads with leaves that we had found. We spent half an hour walking through the disgusting waters. The smell of the waste was putrid but I could hardly pay any attention to it because I was too busy thinking about finally getting to America. Half an hour of walking, of being silent, each minute closer and closer to getting to the United States.
I thought about my family. About how they worried about me back in Cihuatlan. My friends who I had left behind. What would they think if they knew how I got in? Why would she do that? Why wouldn’t she just come back after the first coyote? Why risk her life again? I know because these are all questions I asked myself before getting in the van. I thought about how living in the US would be unlike anything I’ve ever known. I would be lost, stranded. But it would all be worth it eventually because I would get the money for our new house in México. We would go back how life was before.
We stopped. The silence grew. We all looked around at each other. We had just crossed into America. We were not completely sure exactly we had arrived but we knew that we made it. I believed that we were at the very edge, San Diego. We just had to climb back up and there would be another coyote waiting for us up there. We would be in the US. I climbed the ladder, leaving México behind. Ramon had gone before me. He put his hand out and I took it, making my way up to the United States of America.
We were greeted by the next coyote. He had his own van parked near the sewage system where we had entered the country. We had been in the parking lot of a store called, Vons. He opened up a nearby hose and we all had our chance to use it to wash off all the dirty water from the sewers. Once we had all washed off the dirty water, he went to his van and got us towels and a fresh pair of clothes to change into. Everyone had changed and they would look up often, taking in their new surroundings. This place was nothing like México, but I was ready for the challenges ahead.
We then went into the van and we went to a house with a woman that no one knew. She told us that she took in people who had crossed and housed them in her home until someone was there to pay for their trip. She was kind enough to give us all warm blankets and she let us use her shower to wash off whatever was left of the dirty sewer water.
We put on our now washed clothes and we stayed there until Ramon’s sister, Flor (name changed), was informed that we had arrived. She came down from Los Angeles to pick us up and take us back to her home near Anaheim, California. The woman we were staying with had taken us to a gas station with a coyote. They left us in the car until Flor arrived. She got out of the car slowly with a bag in her hand. The coyote got out of the car and turned to say, “Ahi quedanse.” Stay there. He left the car and they met in between both cars.
Flor gave him the bag, which had been the money used to pay for the trip, and the coyote opened it to make sure it was all there. The whole 3,000 dollars. He turned to the car where we had been and nodded. We got out of the car and walked towards him. “Ya se pueden ir.” You guys can go now, he told us. Flor hugged both of us and led us to her car. We got in and she said, “Gracias a Dios que llegaron bien”, Thank God you guys got here okay.
We spent the whole way to Anaheim sleeping. We had still been so tired from the trip. Flor tried to have a conversation with us. She would say, “Como les fue en el camino?” , How was the trip?, but she wouldn’t get any response. We needed to sleep for a long time to recover.
We arrived at her house. Huge. She had a pool and too many rooms to know what to do with. She gave us our own room with our own bed. Oh how I missed sleeping on a bed! We arrived there on Thursday and we stayed there until Saturday, when Ramon’s brother, Orlando (name changed), could pick us up.
We slept the whole way to the Bay Area too. Orlando lived there already with his wife and his young daughter, Juana. He allowed us to live in his home until we could afford our own place. Thanks to him being the janitorial supervisor at a big company, I got a job the day after we arrived. Ramon got his job 2 weeks after me. I remember thinking, “Que buena suerte tenemos”, such good luck we have.
After about a year of living with him, we finally found our own small apartment with a rent that we could afford. We moved in, and we’ve lived there ever since.
After 17 years of living here, I have gone through lots of ups and downs. Ever since leaving my home, I have never gone back to México. I miss my family. My mother most of all. I have not seen my mother in person ever since I left.
Also, when I left, I had been told by so many doctors that I would never be able to have a baby. It was the most disappointing thing I had heard during my life over there. Those doctors ran lots of tests on me and all of them came back with the same result: I couldn’t have children.
I started to feel hopeless, so I started going to church a lot more often. The church made me feel safer. I would pray and pray so I would be able to have children. I wanted to have children ever since I was 19, I was now 32.
I prayed for all of those 13 years, and one day, my prayers were heard.
I had felt so sick for a few days so I decided I would go to the clinic, which was not too far away from my home. I waited for Miguel to get home from work. He now worked in construction since we left the janitorial job for the little payment that we had been receiving. He worked from 7-4 so at 4:30, I went outside and waited for him. He passed by and saw me running up to the car. He stopped and unlocked the door for me. “Que paso?”. What happened?, he asked. I told him to take me to the clinic because I did not feel good.
We rushed over and met with Ramon’s sister-in-law, Valeria (name changed), who worked at the clinic. I told her what I was feeling and she went in to check me in. She came back towards us right after. She said, “Lily, te apunte para un examen de embarazo. Yo sentí lo mismo que lo que tu estabas sintiendo cuando estaba embarazada con mi niña.” Rosa, I signed you up to take a pregnancy test. I felt the same things that you are feeling right now when I was pregnant with my daughter.
I stared at her. No. That couldn’t be true. I was shocked. The doctors had told me it was impossible. I tried to tell her that but the next thing I knew I heard my name from the front desk calling me in to take the test.
I walked in anxious. What if I was pregnant? Did my prayers work? I held the test in my hand, too scared to flip it around. Vanessa came in with me and she held my hand as I flipped it around.
I felt a rush of happiness. My heart sped up and I started to jump up and down! A smile too over my face and I couldn’t stop it. I was pregnant! I took the test to Miguel and reached my hand out to give it to him. He didn’t need to flip it around, he knew by my smile. He picked me up and hugged me ever so tightly. I have never felt so happy.
9 months later, on July 19, 2004, my baby girl came into the world. I promised to take care of her and I would do anything to keep her safe.
What I didn’t know was that back in México, my father had just passed away. He lost his battle with leukemia on July 20, 2004. But no one would tell me until a month after.
After my daughter was born, I called my family back in México to let them know. My mother answered and she started to cry when I told her that my daughter had come into the world. Tears of joy. I asked her if she could pass the phone to my dad so I could tell him that good news but she told me that he was sleeping and she did not want to wake him. That was fine by me. I would just called him tomorrow to tell him myself. But every time I called, he was asleep. I got suspicious after about 5 calls and I finally confronted my mother about it. “Tu padre se murió desde hace un mes. No te queriamos decir porque acaba de nacer tu bebecita.” Your father passed away a month ago. We didn’t want to tell you because your baby had just been born the day before.
The phone dropped. I fell to my knees yelling and sobbing. I couldn’t breathe. It couldn’t be true. Miguel ran over to me and grabbed me. I placed myself in his arms and let myself cry. I couldn’t believe I didn’t even get the chance to say goodbye. That month was the hardest month to get through. I didn’t want to leave the house anymore. I should have been with my father.
But I had to keep my promise to my baby girl. I would not be like my biological father and leave before my baby truly gets the chance to know me. I had to stay with her. Miguel didn’t go to work for a while, helping me out around the house with the baby. I had to pull myself together, for her.
I like to think that was my biggest milestone here in America, keeping my baby girl safe and loved, even after losing one of the most important people in my life.
Today, I work as a janitor so by baby girl, now 14, can study and get an education so she can be smart and strong. I want the best life for her. I don’t want her to be cleaning bathrooms like me.
And the truth is, I never could have given her this life if I hadn’t closed one door and opened a new one. A door in the United States of America.
This story is based on an interview by a student at Eastside College Prep.