Monday, April 7, 2008

Border Crossing

"Amá, why are we running? Why do we have to hide?”

"We have to run, so they don't catch us."

"But who's trying to catch us, Mami?"

"The people that don't want us to come."

"Come where? Where are we going Mami?"

"We're going to go see your Papi."

"But why do we have to run so much? Mami, why are you scared?"

"Mi’jita, right now I can't explain it all. We have to keep running. When we get there I'll tell you everything. Now your brother is gonna carry you on his shoulders, okay? You're too little to keep up with our running."

"Okay, Mami."

* * *

My father left us when I was three years old. He left my mom, brother, and sister behind. He left on his own. I don't know why, but he left. He came to America to work for a year, along with my uncles and aunts on my mom's side of the family.

There was such fear in my mother's face. It was more of a combination of fear and worry that I have never seen in my mother except for that day; the day we came to America.

"We're going to go visit your dad," my mom said one day, “We will leave to go see him in a few days.” This was the best news I had ever heard. I missed my dad so much. Every day I would stare out the window when the clock struck five o'clock waiting to see him come home. He never came, though.

During the next few days I repeatedly told my cousins, "We're going to go see my dad. We're going to go on an airplane to see him, and we'll all be together again, and then we're going to come back, and my daddy will be with us again." My cousins simply smiled at me.

A few days later we all said goodbye to each other. It was a Sunday in September, eighteen years ago. The smell of burning cooking oil and the sound of soccer games on TV always remind me of that day. Every Sunday, my family visited my grandmother and she cooked the best food. There was nothing like her food. That day I kissed my grandmother and grandfather and hugged all my uncles and aunts.

"Don't cry grandma, we're just going to go get my dad and then we're going to be back," I exclaimed. That was the last time I ever saw my grandmother and I will never see her again.

The entire trip took three days. It began with an airplane ride from Mexico City to Tijuana. In Tijuana, we spent a day in a hotel waiting for the long journey. Even as a small child I knew there was something approaching, but I didn't know what. My mom kept dropping things and zoning off when I asked her questions. We woke up early the next morning and met up with our coyotes. I couldn't help but stare at one of the coyote's massive mustache. It took over his entire face. I could hardly see him or his tiny eyes. He was a tall, lanky man with a blue cap and khaki-colored pants. The other coyote was wearing a brown cap and blue jeans. These two coyotes would help us cross the desert; while a third one waited for us in San Diego.

Early in the morning we drove to the U.S.-Mexico border. Back then, there was no eight-foot fence stretching over the entire border. We drove down a long isolated road, like those roads on your way to Las Vegas. This road ran parallel to the massive green fence. We got out of the car and one coyote wandered along the fence, while another coyote stood close to us. Everyone stood with one foot behind the other, how Olympic runners prepare for the run of their careers. Well, this was the run of our entire lives. The coyote waited for a signal from the other coyote. My brother tied his shoes in a tight knot and then placed me on his shoulders. We waited in silence a few minutes. The coyote waved his hand in the air in an abrupt motion from the left to right side. We finally got our signal and off we were. We entered into the U.S. territory in a matter of seconds, but it took us two hours of continuous, non-stop running to get close to San Diego and close to the nearest road.

Running for two hours through an isolated, barren, dry desert was not easy. At first there was hardly anything in our path. The heat from the sun baked everything around us to the point that we could see several mirages in the distance. Everything was dirt and then some more dirt. A series of bushes began to occasionally appear. We expected to see some sign, or remnants of forgotten shoes or sweaters; we were waiting for a sign that other people had passed through the same place. The sign of other people's belongings would give us some hope. We needed to know that other people had successfully passed through the same path as us. We saw nothing.

* * *

"'¿Amá, que tiene Doña Mari? ¿Porque esta tirada en el piso llorando?" I asked as I stared at our neighbor. Her face was shiny from her own sweat and tears. She had black streaks across her face from the dirt on her hands. She had been sitting on the floor for some time now and her hands, along with the rest of her body, were completely collapsed on the dirt. Every time she tried to wipe her tears and sweat, more and more black streaks appeared on her face.

"Her body just can't keep going; she just can't run anymore."

"Why are they saying that we're gonna leave her? Mom, are we really leaving her
here all alone?"

"Yes, we do have to leave her here, but that nice man is gonna stay with her until she feels better."

My mother pointed to one of the two men guiding us through the desolate desert we were crossing. The man simply looked at me and said, "Si mi’jita, Doña Mari nadamas necesita descansar un poquito."

The only time we stopped was right before leaving Doña Mari. It was a quick ten-minute break near the most shrub-rich place we could find.

We left Doña Mari. The coyotes told us to keep running. They were going to wait for her. When the coyote saw that were losing energy he would say, "We're almost there. Falta poco."
We ran for a long time, as quickly and quietly as we could. The two men kept telling us, "¡Ahí vienen! ¡Corran mas rapido!"

Every time we heard the coyotes shout at each other we knew that there might be someone behind us. The fear of getting caught was the boost of energy we needed to keep going. I sat on my sixteen-year-old brother's shoulders through the entire chase. I could feel his temples pulsating quickly, along with his warm forehead. I leaned my stomach on the back of his head and wrapped my hands around the circumference of his head, just above his forehead. I was careful to make sure I didn't cover his eyes. Up to this day I still don't know how he did it. How could he have carried a small three-year-old child while running through a desert full of hazardous obstacles?

We felt relieved when we started to see a road in the distance. A gray Oldsmobile came driving down the road and the coyotes quickly said, "¡Metanse, rapido!" That was our third coyote. The coyote never looked back or even greeted us. We could just see his eyes reflected from the mirror. We noticed that he kept scanning the road behind us, though.

* * *

Burritos and Sunny Delight were our first meals in Los Estados Unidos, in San Diego. The coyotes were kind enough to offer us their homes. It was a quick visit before we had to get on our last and final plane ride to LAX. The food they brought us was new to us. It had an awkward taste to all of us too. My mom hated the sweetness of Sunny Delight; I just frowned when my burrito became unwrapped and I couldn't wrap it again.
"¿Que es esto?" I asked my sister.
"No se, pero parece un taco con una tortilla gigante," responded my brother.

* * *

The light from the city lamps kept shining over my heavy, closed eyes and I kept squeezing them tightly as the car kept moving. I couldn't open my eyes even though I was curious to look at everything outside the window. I kept dozing in and out of sleep. I was tired, but I still could not completely fall asleep. I finally felt the car stop and the car door open. Rough, callous hands lifted me from my mom's lap. I managed to slowly open my eyes, first the left, then the right.

"Hola, mi chiquita."

With my vision still a bit blurry, I smiled and squinted to open my eyes,

"Hola, Papi."

I held on tightly to my daddy's neck and felt him carry me up a flight of stairs. I looked over my dad's shoulders to make sure that I could see my mom, sister, and brother who were close behind. I held on to my dad even tighter and rested my head on him and I finally fell asleep.

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