Photo by Lisa HartAs part of this issue devoted to Mexican-bashing, we asked students from Santa Ana's Century High School to interview their parents about crossing over. More than 60 students participated, all members of the Puente Program, a university prep program in danger of losing its funding, thanks in part to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed $180 million cuts for college-outreach programs. The Weekly staff chose the following five entries for their expert mimicry of Studs Terkel-esque journalism. Each student's prize: $50, a byline, and the opportunity to have their parents step out of the shadows.
I didn't want much. All I wanted was to come to the United States and have a better life. I wanted my children to have opportunities that I never had, wanted my family to live in a better place. I began my journey at six in the morning by waiting for the coyote by an empty road in the Centinela Desert outside Mexicali along with 14 other men and one woman. We only had one gallon of water between all of us, which seemed like enough at the time. The coyote didn't get there until 8:20, though. That one gallon I had brought to last throughout our journey only lasted a night. The next day, we did nothing, were short on water, delirious with heat, and waiting for night to fall. Throughout the day, we hid just about anywhere so that immigration wouldn't be able to see us. The third day had to be the most tiresome—no more water—but also the most relieving, since we crossed without being caught. By then, we were very dehydrated and tired: we weren't sure how much longer we could last. We were taken to Indio and later dropped off by bus in Los Angeles. There, we got water and rested. The United States was something more than what I expected. I did get a better job and found a better life for me and my family. It was all worth it. I never have and never will regret coming here—it was the best thing I've ever done. We do face difficulties here, yes, but I can't imagine it being better [in Mexico]. Desperate for a better life, I came searching and found it. (Mayra Davalos)
I crossed over when I was 22. I wanted to come to the United States to see how it was and, like most of us Mexicans, to better my life. I paid a coyote near the border to pass me over. There were five of us in total: four men and one woman. We crossed through Baja California. The experience was really bad because we had to cross through tunnels that led to San Ysidro. The tunnels were dark and humid; there were hungry rats that would bite us for bothering them. I felt frightened that the immigration officers might catch us there. I was frightened and at the same time anxious to get out of the tunnel. At the end of the tunnel, the coyote picked us up and took us to a hotel. The next day, we reached Tustin. When they told me that I was finally in the United States, I was so happy that my dream and desire of bettering myself in this country had come true. Most of my dreams have come true so far—I'm now a citizen. I don't regret coming to this country at all. (Mayra Lpez)
My two boys—one 11, the other three—and I crossed the border separately. I was very worried, wondering if we would all make it. I stayed in a house full of strangers far away from home, waiting for the trip. By that time, I had run out of money, but that was one of the things that helped me quit smoking—I couldn't afford cigarettes any longer. We had agreed previously that I would be riding in the seat of a car, but I then found out before leaving that I had no transportation option other than to ride in the trunk of the car. It made me mad that my family was ripped off since they had paid extra money for me to ride comfortably seated in a car. I nearly suffocated to death inside. The trip from Tijuana to Santa Ana seemed endless, and I was beginning to think the driver had forgotten I was still in the trunk. It was almost one in the morning when they let me out in Santa Ana. My entire body was so sore I could hardly move and felt like I was going to faint. The driver told me not to tell my family I was in the trunk. I felt threatened by the man, so I agreed to lie. I arrived at my sister's house; my kids were already there, waiting for their mom. (Mayra Arroyo)
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You know, I was not planning to stay. I was only planning to visit for three months—I just came to make my brother happy. My brother already lived here, and he would visit me in Mexico and insist that I come to the United States because it was better than life in Mexico. It was very hard because I had to leave my parents, and I was the youngest. I was afraid to leave family and friends. It was very depressing coming to the United States—I felt that I did not belong here. After two months, I realized that anyone could succeed if they had the courage to do so, so I started looking for a job. I looked for two months, but no luck. Finally, I found a job working the graveyard shift in a factory. I would work from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I was paid, like, $3.80 an hour. I realized that I had to go to school to learn the language if I wanted to stay in the United States and succeed. I'm still doing that and working. Now I have my family here—I feel safe. I believe this country will help me and my family to be successful. (Julissa Florido)
On Sept. 17, 1986, I crossed the border to make my life in the United States. At 4 a.m. that day, we exited the hotel and started walking toward the tall, rounded mountains outside Tijuana. There were 14 of us, including a pregnant woman and a little boy. We walked all day through the desert. I was very thirsty and constantly stuck my tongue out, wishing for a drop of water. We would rest for five minutes at a time, sitting on the hot earth or the rusty rocks—I could've baked an egg on those rocks. We finally reached Santa Ana 15 days later around five in the afternoon. We hadn't eaten in days. We had thorns—I had thorns all over my body. A friend of mine helped me take out all the thorns in my body. If I wanted to, I could've pulled out the nails from my toes because my feet were so humid from sweat. But I reached Santa Ana—finally Santa Ana! The place where I would start my new life. The first thing I saw when I got to Santa Ana was buildings and homes. I was tired but happy. I quickly started working in the fields, picking tomatoes and planting strawberries. I sent the first check to my family in Mexico. I missed my family, but I did it to improve my life. Now we're all here. (Vanessa Partida)