At five years old, I learned what fear was, at the border between Mexico and the United States. A memory that comes to greet me when I least expect it.
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I forgot how it felt to run for my life. To run until you got to safety. The last time I felt that ice cold fear, I was five years old and crossing the border between Mexico and the United States.
Recently, I felt that fear again. The fear of being hurt. After a long day at work, I had arrived home by train. The only street to get to the parking lot where I left my car that morning was flooded. My only option was to cross the train tracks and risk that the train might come at any moment and I would be caught in the headlights.
And that is when it happened. The flashbacks.
Flashes of my mother, my siblings and myself crossing the border in 1999, because my father wanted us close - a timing that he still regrets to this day. He had applied for our residency a few years back and during that process, he had to remain in the US. He feared missing out on important milestones in our childhood, like seeing my younger sister as she took her first steps, or my older siblings running home celebrating being named Student of the Month. It was difficult for him to travel back every six months to only spend a month with us. He did not have the patience. So he had us come to him.
It was the last week of December 1998. We packed as light as possible – leaving everything behind in our home in Toluca, Mexico. The next thing I remember, I was in a very small house in the state of Sonora, a border town with Arizona. Some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins joined us, as well as other families, all wanting to come to the United States.
We celebrated New Years trying to chase a dream.
Innocently, I thought of this as a little excursion that would end with a happy reunion with my father. I did not understand the consequences of the trip until we faced three days of failed attempts to cross.
I remember walking during the day time, through what looked like a desert combined with a forest. Maybe I just imagined the trees. My aunts had to watch me since my mother carried my one-year-old sister the whole time. I remember being exhausted and wanting to just get “home.” Next thing I recall was that we got caught as we were close to the other side. We were taken by the border patrol. I was crying for my mother because she was put in a different car. I kept on saying that I did not want to go to jail.
In that instant, a trip full of joy became a nightmare.
Back then, women and men were separated at the detention centers until they were taken back to Mexican territory. Children were not separated from their mother. I was reunited with my mother and my siblings soon after we were caught. It saddens me to think that children now do not get the chance to be with their parents and are separated and afraid.
It now seems like a privilege to me that we were released so quickly. This happened the next day as well. On day two, we had tried to cross during the night time, but those leading us were unsuccessful in finding a safer path.
The last day, which seemed like the longest of my life, knowing that we might fail again, we left late at night. We walked a different path, which might have been through some sewers, if my memory does not fail me.
I struggled to keep up with the adults; I was scared I would be left behind. Then, just like that, we reached a highway. All I remember hearing was ------- “RUN!”
We ran as fast as we could across the busy road. My aunt grabbed me by my arm; I did my best not to cry out for my mother. I was blinded by bright headlights. All of a sudden, I found myself face down on the pavement, as I tripped and fell on my stomach. Gasping for air, I got up and forgot the pain, just so I could keep on running.
Before I knew it, we were walking on United States soil.
From there we were taken into another house. It was dark. All I wanted was to sleep. I woke up and my mother was next to me. I made sure my siblings were there as well. We still had a shorter trip to make but, fortunately, this one would finally take us to my father. Later that day, we took a flight to Pennsylvania, to the town of Kennett Square to be exact, where we lived for almost two years, until returning to Mexico to wait for our legal documents.
I was lucky to live to tell my story. Many children like me are experiencing this same exact fear and it breaks my heart to think how lonely they must feel. I believe this experience has made me appreciate being able to see my family at the end of each day. It helped me not be afraid of taking risks and to be able to put myself in uncomfortable situations.
In the summer of 2005, we crossed the border once again, but this time with a passport stamp and suitcases full of hopes and the same dreams of a better future.