Singing to the American Dream
It was the love for music that made Hugo Cesar cross the border at age 14. This is his story.
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My name is Hugo Cesar Lopez Cortez. I was born and raised in Luvianos, State of Mexico.
I remember that from a very young age I helped my father, who was a cattleman, sell milk, cheese and everything that would help me get money. The second time I entered kindergarten - and I say second because I was expelled - my mother took me. But I left to go work, because I didn’t like school. My calling was as a salesman.
I always helped my parents with everything. In addition to doing things around the house, I was also making extra money on the side because my parents weren’t paying me. They fed me and backed my schooling as payment. But I liked having money, I liked being an independent kid.
I remember buying used clothes and re-selling them. My dad used to buy cars, and I would take out the stereos and speakers to sell them.
I learned to drive at 10 years old to help my dad with the cattle. For two years, I helped him in the town, and when I turned 12, he finally let me leave the city with the truck. One time a police officer stopped us. I was driving and I had three pillows - I always brought 3 pillows -and my dad was asleep. He ended up bribing the cop so he wouldn’t get in trouble.
And that's how my life was. My childhood. I grew up in Luvianos. I really liked soccer and girls and always had girlfriends.
I also discovered that I really liked music. My parents, uncles and grandfather always sang when they held family reunions. I preferred sitting down to listen to them rather than playing with my cousins. That's when I told my father I wanted to sing. He replied, "No, how are you going to sing? 'You crazy, you."
But I made him play the song “La de la mochila azul”. When I sang, my father cried. Before me, none of his children had shown any interest in music.
Since then he’s taken me everywhere I could sing, even though I didn’t want to anymore. There was a contest on the day of the musician. I got to sing there and was accompanied by a band that my neighbors had. I sang, and when I saw the reaction of the people when I finished singing, I realized that I was made for this. Never in my life will I look for something else. I want to be an artist. I will sing, and I want to make a living out of it.
I was very excited and started looking for opportunities got into singing as a vocalist for a group called Los Chicos Necios. I was determined to be able to achieve something in music. It was then I realized I didn’t have much of a future in my hometown because there was nothing to do.
At age 14, having already sold several of my dad's speakers, you can say I had a "little money" saved. It was easy for me to say that I would go to the United States. I told my parents I would leave, and my mother just said she wasn’t going to give me money. I told her that I didn’t need money, and I was going alone. She told me to leave, although she did not believe me.
The day arrived. I looked for my friend Fredy and he told me we should leave together. My father took me where we would take the car to leave. When I got in the car and saw that I was really going, he followed me to the outskirts of town. Suddenly, he stopped and I saw that he was crying as we drove away.
When I came to the United States, I never imagined the drastic change - leaving the town to such a big city.
I was excited for the American dream; I thought, "I'm going to make money, and everything is fine." We arrived at the border, and the coyote was very drugged. We started walking through the border and I went in front of him without saying anything. They say that the river is very dangerous. And it is true. It had holes, but we got to the other side. Once there, we had to run for 10 minutes to a house that was up on a hill. We made it, exasperated.
The car came flying. My friend and his wife got in, but there was no space and they put me in the trunk. It was very hot and there was only a small hole to breathe. I felt like fainting because I couldn’t breathe and started kicking the back seat. I felt useless as I kicked and kicked until the cup compartment opened. I started to breathe and calmed down a bit. It was complicated and I was very afraid.
The next day, we went with a friend who was a mechanic and wanted me to stay to work with him. We were already on this side in Laredo, Texas. I said, "No, I might give it a shot, [but] I have family in Austin". They took us to a Home Depot and from there in a trailer, brought us to San Antonio, and then to Austin.
I arrived with a lot of hope, but it started to wear off because I began to see what life really is like here. I saw that the rent had to be paid. I saw that you don’t work, you don’t eat. As a 14-year-old boy, it suddenly hit me, the adventure is difficult. There encountered many issues. I started looking for a job in music and couldn’t find an opportunity. I was looking for jobs in restaurants, and they said "no, you're very young, you're a child. How can I give you a job? Go to school instead."
I owed $ 3500 to the coyote. All I had was a car to go to work, move around, but I didn’t even have money for gas.
I remember one day, a friend of mine who worked with granite invited me to work with him. That's when I started to settle down. I lived with my aunt, but there were some people who went there that treated me badly. It feels horrible when you are that age and you’re not with your family. You are not with your parents.
A year later, I paid my debt and left my aunt's house. I put my clothes in the car and left even though I didn’t have money to get anywhere. I only made $250 a week and it wasn’t enough.
I slept in the Walmart parking lot and lived like that for 20 to 25 days. Nobody knew anything as I cried and cried. I think I ran out of tears.
It's not easy, and from there I started to lose myself to alcohol. I drank, and had girlfriends. I always had girlfriends. I think its part of a trauma; I wanted to imagine. I didn’t want to feel alone. I have always tried to be with someone because sometimes I feel lonely and made bad decisions.
From then on I started working in restaurants and singing again. I wanted to continue in music– I wanted to continue singing. When I arrived in the States, I was out of focus because I had a lot of debt and needed to work. I forgot about the music but felt the need to continue. I started singing in restaurants. I bought an iPod and a little speaker because I did not know how to play the guitar.
And I did well and people liked it.
Then I found some friends and I joined a group as the lead singer. It was then that I entered a contest in Austin called el Ídolo del Pueblo. I do not know if it's a coincidence, but I have been in 4 contests and won first place every time. I do not consider myself a good singer, but I really like doing it.
After 10 years, I returned to my town. It was a great to see my family and all my neighbors again. I returned to my town and performed a concert for the annual fair. I think returning to my town was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. I now feel blessed and very grateful.