The names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.
This is Margarita’s story. She chose this name because she liked how pretty the name is. Her story mirrors countless other immigrants that come to the US seeking a better life for themselves and their children. In many ways, Margarita was in search of the American Dream she had heard so much about.
I asked Margarita to describe the reasoning as to why she and her husband wanted to immigrate to the US in the first place.
“It makes me want to cry,” Margarita replied.
“Hasta quero llorar.”
“How small our previous suffering seems to us,” she started.
“Como se hace poquito lo que uno ha sufrido.”
She took a few seconds of silence.
“It was in 1994 when we started thinking that we couldn’t move forward in Mexico. If my children grew up there, they would become the same as us. Very poor,” Margarita said.
“Fue en el ano 1994 cuando comenzamos a pensar que en México ya no podíamos saliradelante. Si crecían allí, iban a estar igual como nosotros. Muy pobres.”
Margarita and her husband Rey could not bear the thought of raising their two little girls in poverty. The older daughter is named Lupe and the youngest is named Ana. At the time, the two were 11 and 6 respectively.
Fortunately, Rey found legal avenues of migrating and was granted a US worker’s permit. Margarita and her two children stayed in their adobe house in Mexico as Rey would leave to the US for six months at a time for work. Rey would send money transfers to Margarita for food, clothes, and other necessities.
“We weren’t lacking anything material but there wasn’t a father figure. We lacked a father,” she said.
“No los faltaban nada pero no estaba el papa. Nos faltaba él.”
Although not optimal, Margarita and her family had their heads above water. For the first time in a long time, it seemed like the family had a future.
US immigration became stricter as time passed which prevented Rey from renewing his worker’s permit. Rey was faced with a difficult decision. Either he was going back to Mexico and placing his family back into extreme poverty or he was going to stay illegally in the US and provide for those that depended on him. Rey and Margarita talked it over. He offered to return home to his family and be together at the very least. The toll of being away from his wife and children had become a source of grief for him. Margarita refused. She knew that if Rey were to return, the family would not be able to survive.
“One doesn’t make enough money even to eat. We didn’t pay rent [in Mexico] but we didn’t have anything to eat. We had a piece of meat per week. One per week. I told him not to leave the US and I don’t know how I did it but eight days later, I was on my way to him,” Margarita said.
“No gana uno hasta para comer. Ni pagamos renta pero no había para comer. Nomas unpedacito de carne por semana. Uno por semana. Le dije que no se fuera y no sé cómo lo hice pero en ocho días yo ya estaba en camino.”
The first time Margarita crossed she was met with little pushback. In fact, she had no trouble getting to Rey. The only thing that weighed on her mind was that she had to leave her oldest daughter in Mexico. She had to leave her at her in-law’s house because she was already heavily involved in the public-school system in Mexico.
Margarita took her youngest and traveled to Arizona through a system of underground tunnels. She was picked up by a family friend and taken to Rey who was living in an apartment complex. It was far easier to cross in 1994 than it is today, to say the least.
Although she had made it to the US, the grief of leaving her oldest daughter kept her up at night.
“A child is a child. I thought a lot about her. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. Nothing made me happy. If I was struggling here in the US, how was I going to leave my daughter back in Mexico?” she said.
“Un hijo es un hijo. Pensaba mucho en ella. No podía ni dormir. No podía comer. Nada me hacía feliz. Si estaba luchando acá, como iba dejar a mija.”
Margarita left at six in the morning a few days later and arrived back in her home in Mexico by two. She had recovered her oldest daughter and her next objective was to raise money to buy a coyote and get back to Arizona.
Rey’s father paid a coyote to escort Margarita to Arizona again. The coyote agreed to take Margarita and her children across the border, but he needed at least one more person to join the expedition if it was going to be profitable for him. He mentioned there was another woman looking to cross. He asked if Margarita could go and speak to her and convince the woman to join the group. The woman had mentioned she was too scared to cross, but the coyote hoped that Margarita could convince her otherwise.
The other woman’s name was Elizabeth. She had two daughters. One was only an infant. Margarita met with Elizabeth and the two talked. Elizabeth spoke about how she was afraid of crossing. She had heard terrible things about the journey. Margarita looked to comfort her.
“I told her to not be afraid. We gave each other bravery. Her with her two daughters and me with my own two,” she said.
“Le dije que no tenía miedo. Nos dimos valor. Ella dos niñas y traía otra dos.”
Eventually, Elizabeth agreed to come with Margarita just so long as they stuck together. Upon returning, Margarita and Elizabeth were informed that they had been sold.
“He sold us to another man. They sell us like cows. Just like you’d sell livestock,” Margarita said.
“Los vendio con otro senior. Nos venden como vacas. Hasi como vender animales.”
The original coyote informed the two women that if they were to get caught by immigration on the way to Arizona, that they should try their hardest to find him again. He stayed with the women for three days after selling them. He would provide food and tend to their needs. Maybe it was guilt or maybe it was good business, but the original coyote made sure nothing was to happen to Margarita and Elizabeth. On the fourth day, the new coyote informed the women that they were beginning their journey in the evening once the temperature cooled off. In the meanwhile, they were escorted to a safe house where they waited alongside many other hopeful immigrants.
“We were in a house without a roof with like 100 people. There were people from Guatemala, Mexico, China, and from so many other places. The conditions were terrible. One goes into their mind and makes space in there where they don’t think, or they don’t have fear. It’s like you leave reality a little. I made a group with the lady and all our children,” she said.
“Estábamos en una casa sin techo donde habían como cien personas. Habían de Guatemala, de México, de China y de mucho más. Feo estaba. Feo. Uno en su mente se hace un solo lugar para no pensar más y pa que no te dé miedo. Es como te sales de la realidad un poco. Hacia un grupo con la señora y nos hijos. No vez lo de más. Nomas estás viendo donde estas tú.”
That evening, Margarita and Elizabeth met their new coyote. He introduced himself and the rest of the group joining them on the expedition. The coyote instructed the men that they were responsible for helping Margarita and Elizabeth with their and their children’s needs.
Before officially leaving, the group of men snorted several lines of cocaine. There were four 17-year-old boys among them.
“The adrenaline kicked in and I thought it was either now or never,” Margarita said.
“Se me subió la adrenalina y pensé que era ahora o nunca. Tenía que tener valor. No era opción tener miedo.”
“Are you going to go?” asked Margarita to Elizabeth.
¿“Te vas a ir?”
“No,” Elizabeth replied.
“I am,” Margarita said.
“You are?” asked Elizabeth.
“Yes. Yes, I am,” Margarita replied.
“Si, yo si.”
Margarita took her daughters by their hands and followed the men who were already beginning to walk. Elizabeth followed with her infant in her arms. A man in the group took Elizabeth’s other daughter to ease the burden. Another grabbed Margarita’s youngest daughter and put her on his shoulders. The women would struggle with keeping up with the group. They would trip and fall occasionally. It was almost impossible to keep up with the drugged-up men.
“It was really difficult for us. I fell at times. The only thing that made me run was that a man had my daughter on his back. If immigration arrived, I would lose them and I’d never find my daughter,” she said.
“Era muy difícil para nosotros. Yo en ratos me caía. Lo único lo que me hacía correr era que un hombre tenía mi hija en la espalda. Si llega inmigración, los voy a perder y ya no voy a encontrar a mija.”
The group eventually came across a freeway. They hid in the bushes only a few yards away from the pavement as to hide from immigration. One man among the group was particularly drunk. He stood up and screamed, “Me? I’m really hungry.” The rest of the group threw rocks at him to make him sit back down before immigration spotted them. They waited until there were no headlights in sight and the group safely cross.
The group walked through the night and into the first few hours of the morning until they stopped at a small ranch. There, a van was waiting for the group. The men went into the farmhouse to rest. Margarita, Elizabeth, and their children climbed into the van and decided to sleep there in fear of the men and their intentions. The need for sleep helped with the sheer morning desert cold. When they awoke, the men were getting ready to leave once more. Everyone crammed into the back yet again. One of the younger men was holding Elizabeth’s younger child in his arms. He noticed the baby wasn’t breathing. He told Elizabeth. She would move the baby’s head and try to nudge her awake.
“I felt something come over me from my head to my feet. The child on the way to the ranch never cried. She never once asked for food. In all the running and passing of time, the mother must have forgotten to check up on the child. She was carried by several sets of arms. One man would carry her only to pass her to another man after a while, but she never cried once. When we uncovered the child, she wouldn’t move. We’d press her chest and nudge her. Finally, she threw a smile. I personally think that the men gave her cocaine. I think this is why she never cried. When the drug passed, she opened her eyes, but she still didn’t cry. It was like she couldn’t,” Margarita said.
“Se me empezaba bajar algo desde me cabeza hasta mis pies. La niña en el trascurso de llegar al rancho, nunca lloro. Jamás pedio comida. En él corriendo y la pasada de tiempo, yo creo que la señora se le olvidó a checarla. La niña estaba en brazo en brazo. Un hombre la cargaba y en otro ratito la traía otro pero la niña jamás lloro. Cuando la destapamos, no se movía. Al fin, nos aventó una sonrisa. Yo creo que los señores le echaron cocaína. Por eso la niña nunca lloro. Cuando le paso las droga, abrió los ojos pero no lloraba. Como no podía llorar.”
The van’s tire popped that same day. The group hid in the bushes while the driver found a way to change the tire. It was incredibly hot. Everyone was dehydrated. They passed around the baby’s bottle and squeezed out a few drops before passing it to the next person. One of the men built up the courage to visit a nearby house and ask for water. The woman in the house gave them two gallons of water.
When he returned to the group, he mentioned that he saw the woman put something in the gallons before handing them over. Another man inspected the water. He looked at it closely, smelled it, and even tasted it before revealing there was insecticide poured in. They had to pour out the tainted water.
The driver finally returned to the van. The group of men had left in fear of immigration coming around. Only Margarita, Elizabeth and their daughters remained. The driver fixed the flat tire and loaded the women and children in the back once more. He asked for the addresses where they were to be dropped off. Elizabeth was first. She was met by her husband and extended family. They hugged, cried, and cherished the moment. Margarita said farewell to Elizabeth and wished her luck.
Many years later, Margarita moved to another city and discovered Elizabeth lived in the same neighborhood. She was completely different. Almost unrecognizable. Many years after this encounter, Elizabeth’s husband was sentenced to court for a DUI hearing. In fear of detainment and deportation, the family fled back to Mexico. Her husband later completed suicide.
The driver asked for Margarita’s address. Only the street name existed. The house number did not. Margarita pleaded to the driver to take her to the street and see if she recognized anyone walking down the street. Maybe she’d recognize the description of the house from her many calls with Rey.
Margarita mentioned she is a very spiritual woman. She thanks God for all the blessings she had received in her life. How she found Rey in the barrios of Phoenix, Arizona is nothing short of a blessing.
As the van slowly patrolled the street, Margarita was on high alert for anything that might give her a clue as to where her husband was living. Knocking on every door was an option, but the reputation of that part of town was concerning, to say the least. One house had its door three quarters open. Through the door, Margarita saw the back of a blue shirt with white pinstripes.
“I saw a door halfway open. You could see a little bit inside of the living room. There, I saw [Rey’s] shirt. It was a shirt I knew from up to five years earlier. I told the man driving to stop. I ran out with my children and the driver followed behind us because he thought I was going to run away without paying him. When I entered the house, I didn’t even knock, I just entered. I was sure that it was the shirt I knew. I entered the house and there was [Rey],” she said.
“Mire una puerta medio abierta. Se miraba un poco adentro de la sala. Allí vi la camisa de [Rey]. Una camisa que yo conocía desde cinco anos atrás. Le dije al señor que se pare. Salí corriendo y el drive correo detrás de nosotros porque pensó que me iba a ir. Cuando entre, ni toque, me metí. Yo estaba segura de que era la camisa que yo conocía. Entre y allí estaba [Rey].”
Rey had not heard from Margarita in eight days. He was worried something happened along the way. When his wife entered the house... he was overjoyed beyond expression.
The family was whole again. They didn’t live lavishly. In fact, the family was still poor. Yet, they were in better shape than they were in Mexico. At least in Arizona, in the US, the had a chance.
“It was a bad neighborhood. But the bad didn’t bother me. To me, what was important was having food on the table and that my daughters had clothes to wear,” Margarita said.
“El un barrio tan feo. Pero a mí no me importaba lo feo. A mí me importaba que había comida en la mesa, que mis hijas tenían de vestir.”
Margarita’s cousins would plead for her family to move from their barrio. They would say all the neighborhood was filled with bad people. Her family didn’t have any connections anywhere else, so they stayed in the barrio. Rey and Margarita searched for jobs. They’d eventually find employment and make ends meet. Her daughters were placed in public school and were trying to adjust to a new language.
“That neighborhood was perfect for us despite its condition,” she said.
“Ese barrio estaba perfecto aunque estaba muy feo.”
Margarita’s family learned to live in the neighborhood. Drug deals, violence, and burglaries were a threat, but Margarita never blamed the people living around her. She knew it was all a product of circumstance and a lack of resources.
“I think that any person has something good inside them. If they’re a certain way, it’s for a reason. That being said, we respected people if they were involved with drugs or not. While they didn’t mess with us, we had no reason to call attention to them,” she said.
“Pienso que calquen persona tiene algo bueno adentro. Si son de una manera, es por algo. Entonces, nosotros respectábamos si estaban drogados o no. Mientras que no los hacían nada, nosotros no teníamos razón para señalar a nadie.”
Two years later, Margarita was pregnant. The family was still struggling to adjust to the language and customs of the US. Margarita and Rey worried that they weren’t going to be able to advance in life due to the language barrier.
Several months into her pregnancy, a couple moved next door to Margarita. The woman next door would watch Margarita closely. She recalls many times where she was walking from her car and seeing the woman watch her from her window. Margarita didn’t want to get involved in any trouble, so she kept silent.
Margarita delivered her baby boy. The doctors had informed her late in the pregnancy that the child would be born with a severe birth defect. Margarita delivered the baby without complications. Her baby boy was healthy, in stable condition, and without the defect.
Margarita took her baby boy home only a couple of days later. When the neighbor caught wind of this, she brought her husband with her and knocked on the window. The man tried to open the door, but it was locked. Margarita said that the door only required a strong kick to open it but only the family knew this fact. Rey was away at work and the kids were at school. She opened the blinds and the couple next door was waiting by the window. She believed they were there to steal the newborn child. The couple would urge Margarita to go check on the child. She knew better than to leave the window. The only reason the couple didn’t break through the window was that
Margarita was on the other side. She was protecting her children. The couple would scream through the window. Margarita’s life was threatened but most importantly so were her children.
Another woman in the neighborhood heard the commotion. Upon realizing what was happening, she ran from her home and tried to get someone to help. She got a man’s attention who then called all the “thugs” and “bad people” that Margarita’s cousins had rejected.
The people of the neighborhood gathered on Margarita’s lawn. The people everyone warned Margarita about had come to her lawn to protect her and her children. There were no drug addicts there nor their dealers. There were no petty thieves nor gang members. The labels were not there at that moment. Instead, a community of people that were forced to play by different rules than the rest of America and then shamed and negatively branded for it was banded together for an act of justice.
“It’s funny how life gives you what you give it. The yard was full of those neighbors that other people feared. When I turned to see what was going on, my face lit up. The couple looked back, saw what I saw, and left running. We never got into trouble with or judged any of the people in the neighborhood. To us they were people. That’s how we treated them. They returned the favor. If it wasn’t for them, they would have stolen my baby,” Margarita said.
“Como en la vida te das lo que tú le das. La yarda, estaba lleno de los vecinos que le da miedo a otras personas. Cuando yo mire y vi mi yarda, se me iluminó la cara y la vecina vieron lo que yo vi, salieron corriendo. Nosotros nunca no metemos con ellos y nada. Para nosotros, ellos eran personas. Así los tratamos. Como ellos nos devolvieron eso. Si no habido por esa gente, me eran robado a mi bebe.”
This incident prompted the family to move to another city to raise their kids in a safer environment. They settled down in this new city. Margarita and Rey took English classes. Their baby boy grew up and graduated from college. Her oldest has her own two kids. Her middle daughter is engaged.
“We raised our kids. We gave the United States a professional. We’re still here and we’re very grateful that we were able to grow our family here. There were a lot of difficulties because we had to erase the language barrier. We went to school to learn English. But throughout all the difficulties, we had a lot of angels looking over us. There has been a lot of good people we’ve met along the way. I have a lot of people to be grateful for. The story continues. Who knows until when, but I think the hardest part has passed. We succeeded as parents. Now we’re here when the kids need our help and we’ll push them forward from wherever they’re stuck. We’re still going. Thank God that we were able to get this far and got in to push our kids forward. This was our initial goal after all,” she said.
“Crecimos los hijos. Le dimos a los Estados Unidos un professional. Aquí andamos todavía. Muy agradecidos que nos dejaron crecer la familia. Con muchas dificultades porque teníamos que borrar la barrera del idioma. Fuimos a la escuela a aprender. Pero entre todo ese camino ha habido muchos ángeles. Habidos mucha gente muy buena. Tengo mucho que agradecerle a mucha gente. La historia sigue no sé hasta cuando pero creo que lo más duro ya salio. Ya cumplimos como padres. Ya nomas estamos allí cuando los hijos necesitan ayuda y pusharlos. Aquí vamos todavía. Gracias a Dios que podíamos llegar hasta acá y hasta una vida y sacar a los hijos adelante. Eso era nuestro propósito principal.”
Margarita and Rey have been in the United States for over 25 years. They are homeowners. Rey has been given a worker’s permit thus allowing him to stay in the United States. Their two daughters are DACA recipients. Margarita hopes to be granted her citizenship once her son and husband petition for it.
“If I were to be deported, I’d return illegally again. My life is here in the US. I love living here. I live here with a lot of effort, a lot of joy, and a lot of pleasure,” Margarita said.
“Si me volvieran a echar a México, yo regresaba de ilegal. Mi vida ya está hecha aquí. A mí me encanta vivir aquí. Con muchas ganas, con mucho orgullo y con mucho gusto.”
For now, she waits for the country she loves to love her back.
Colorado Voices contributor Hector Salas is a freelance writer in Grand Junction, Colorado.
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