I was born on June 21, 1967 into a family of 13 who all crammed into a two bedroom house in San Joaquín, Municipio de Atotonilco el Alto, Jalisco. I was given the name Juan Luis (name changed).
I lived in un rancho[a ranch] called La Colonia where four other tiny houses resided on a large desert plane. Our house was made of 4 thick mud walls and a shanky tin roof that sat atop the building that allowed lizards to fall from at night. We had a small rusty stove top in one corner, a pit outside that we used as a bathroom, and our many cows resting in the backyard along side with some horses. My father would often have my brothers and I walk about a mile inland in the Mexican heat to fetch food for the animals. I would also help out the old man who lived the next shack down to take care of his animals. To repay me for my services, he gave me a donkey que salio cocinero [who turned out to be a cook] because he would eat all the tortillas in the kitchen. He soon became house trained and, as much as my mother wanted wanted too, he did not leave our side until I sold him back to the old man. I was also given a goat that we forgot to neuter, so when his horns were strong and mighty, the once amusing event of running away from the goat now became a constant worry for us children. One day, he headbutted my dad in his rear end – he was eaten the next day.
Before I started school, my only friends were my neighbors named Jesus and Jose whose parents had been to El Norte [US], and had brought back numerous toys, bicycles, rollerblades, and other fun items. They were the richest people in town, they even ate french fries with catsup [ketchup]. Being that my parents could barely make enough money to feed me and my siblings, I did not have any toys, so I did everything Jesus and Jose ordered me to do just so that I could play with their toys. I kept going everyday to their house even after their older sisters would yell curses at me, warning me to leave their or else I could get it.
From my encounters with my neighbors in La Colonia and constantly hearing stories from people whose relatives had been to El Norte, the idea of moving to the US excited me. They told me that there lots of money to send back home and that there would be women that would make great wives; these ideas convinced my 16-year-old self that the US was the place for me. My older brother, Mauricio (name changed), had already moved to California when I was 11, so when he came back to visit us five years later, I decided to travel with him back to California and start a new life.
Afraid of getting turned down, I asked my mother to tell Mauricio that I wanted to go to California with him. Mauricio immediately opposed saying that I was too young and that it was too risky, my mother agreed, but I didn’t care. I persuaded my brother to take me by telling him how much I truly wanted to go, adding that if he didn’t take me I’d just go with someone else. With no other option, my brother agreed to take me but only after they attended las fiestas de Navidad y Año Nuevo [the Christmas and New Year parties]. These annual vively parties and ceremonies filled with tamales ranging from a variety of flavors, colorful tissue paper cut outs and flowers, and banda [traditional Mexican music] were celebrated in towns across all of Jalisco, so we absolutely had to stay. After las fiestas had occurred, Mauricio and I traveled to the capitol, Guadalajara, to buy our train tickets in the comfortable camarotes [cabins] that would take us to Benjamin Hill, Sonora, Mexico. My brother payed for both tickets in the clean smelling camarotes as I did not have any money. Once we had arrived at our destination, we took a 15 hour bus ride that was packed with numerous people and their maletas [suitcases] that reeked of B.O. to Mexicali, Baja California, then to Tijuana, Baja California. Without any air conditioning, seats, or a hearty meal, we easily became exhausted.
Once we reached Tijuana, my padrino [godfather] Diego (name changed) arranged for us to stay in the Santa Rita Hotel and told us to look for El Cholo, a local coyote that would smuggle us through the border to California. After 36 hours of non-stop traveling, I was relieved to arrive at the hotel so I could finally give my aching feet a break. When night came around, I could see the hotel was infested with people who had attempted to cross but failed from a lack of money and pandilleros [gangsters] who could strip you down of all of your money and valuables. We didn’t want to stay long, so after we checked into our room, we went to the center of the city in search of El Cholo, but instead encountered another coyote who impersonated him. We made agreed upon a deal with the imposter to take us across the border the very next day in the morning; he could charge us $400 each.
When I woke up, I told myself that when night time fell, I would be in California. Andres and I and other people journeyed with the coyote to a area of la linea [the border] that was covered in glass, a few trees in the distance, and lacked the proper fencing to keep hopefuls like me out. The first time we attempted to cross, the coyote told us to run about 20 minutes to a safe house where we were to await a car to pick us up to take us to San Ysidro, California. As I ran, I made sure to keep Andres in my sight and hold my meager belongings tightly because it would be horrid to lose either one. I never looked back. Rushing, we arrived at the safe house and were shoved into a shabby car a few minutes later.
We drove to a Check In in San Ysidro were la migra [border patrol] stopped our car and sent us back to the border to spend a night in jail. Since I was only a penniless 16 year-old, they placed me in a juvenile hall and Mauricio in a cell or adults. That night, I was too scared and hungry to fall asleep. Lucky we had a plan to meet back at the hotel if we ever got split up, so when they released me the next morning, I walked two hours back to the Santa Rita Hotel in my worn out sneakers. At arriving at the hotel, I asked for my brother and was informed that he had already returned long before me and was waiting for my in my room. I so was relieved to hear the great news. I ran towards the door, knocked on it, and when my brother opened the door, I gave a huge hug. Mauricio gave me enough money to go back to Guadalajara if I wanted to and told me that we should continue attempting to cross. That night I slept like a baby.
The next morning, we repeat the same route again – run for 20 minutes, reach the safe house, get in the car, drive to Los Angeles- but this time, we were caught by la migra in San Clemente and sent back to the border. Still full of hope and determination, we decided to cross one more time.
Los coyotes se cuidan [the coyotes watch over each other], so on this third attempt on the same route, we successfully made it to California. They threw us in the trunk of car for two frightening hours, but seemed like forever, and drove us to the Los Angeles Airport where Andres bought us tickets to San Francisco. I had not understood a single word he said for he was speaking in a gibberish language, English. When we boarded off my first plane ride, Mauricio’s wife was waiting for us to take us home.
I soon learned that his wife had enrolled me in High School. I was placed in the 11th grade not knowing a lick of English. When Mauricio and his wife got into a fight a few days after our arrival, she kicked us out. We ended up splitting rent with four other guys to a one bedroom apartment in Mountain View. I saw my education was an obstacle that got in the way of holding job thus restricting me of sending money back home. I deeply disliked going to school because of that. On top of that, I didn’t understand anything taught in class which only frustrated me more. A while later, I became friends with people who spoke spanish whom later introduced me to soccer, then cross country, then track. As I worked hard to improve my English, I become more confident in myself, viewed school more positively and I became more enthusiastic about classes. During this time, I received my first job working at a Mexican restaurant; promptly after, I continuously held two or three jobs at a time. My ecstatic attitude toward my first paycheck quickly drifted way when I was told that I had to pitch in to pay rent. Juggling paying rent and school seemed too much for me and I wanted to go move back to Jalisco, but I did not have enough money.
Surprisingly, I graduated from high school and enrolled in Community College. I did not have a vision for my future, I only wanted to work. After working at the Public Library shelving books for a few years, they offered me a full time job working in customer service. I took it because it was good pay and I would not have to break my back everyday. I have been at the library ever since.
Although dealing with cranky, sometimes angry, confusing people is difficult, it is all worth it when I can home to my beautiful wife, Flor (name changed) and two children. I have learned what truly matters in life and I deeply appreciate and am grateful everything and everyone I have with me. I will be satisfied with myself when my children finish their education, mature, and begin their own life.
This story was written by a student in the Bay Area.