I am from Jalisco, Mexico. I lived in a very small town with not a lot of people, but with a lot of space. It was free and unnoticed, this little town where I had my friends and my house. I went to a small school, but it’s considered big over there. It was flat, with a really big courtyard and soccer field. The classrooms were around the courtyard, and I’m pretty sure there were no more than 50 of them, which is extremely small compared to the schools I’ve gone to here. They labeled the grades with As and Bs. For example, my third grade classroom was 3A. We had a plaza in the center of town right by a really big church, and the people who live there are very religious.

On Sundays, my mom would take me to church. If I didn’t run away during the mass, she would buy me an ice cream. The people from the store would see me and say, “Una nieve especial de Saray,” a special Saray ice cream. We would later go home, chilled. It was really fun growing up in Mexico. I would go with my friend Edith to rescue pets or work on our car that we were building. I was always out and about and it was good. It was true freedom — at the time, of course.

I always think about how things would have turned out if I had stayed there…

The Horror

I remember it was a nice day outside, in my home country of Mexico. Not too hot, not too cold. I was nine at the time, and I always thought about America and how I wanted to live the American Dream and all, but I never imagined it would happen. That day, my mom said we were going to visit her mom in San Miguel like we always used to. I thought it was strange that my sisters and mom were all together, then I saw all the luggage. I started to back up and I told them to tell me what was going on. They ignored me and put me inside my brother’s car. I felt claustrophobic and paranoid. I wanted to know what was going to happen, that’s all.

We went past San Miguel and I kept asking questions. My mom finally told me that we were going to the United States and that’s when I lost it, silently. I really couldn’t come up with another way to deal with everything that was happening in that moment. After we got to the capital of Jalisco, we got on this bus. It was really ugly and looked like it was gonna fall apart when it came across a pothole. The ride was really long, but I didn’t sleep. I was just looking out the window at all the wilderness and the other cars passing by.

One of the scariest things was when we had to get off at every stop and cops with really big guns would come onto the bus and kick us out to check our information and luggage. During those “breaks” we all went to the bathroom and ate or bought food. My mom told me to stay lowkey and not do anything that’d bring attention towards us. “We have to be invisible from now on,” she said. But the problem is I’m really bad at being invisible. No matter what, I always get myself into something, even if I don’t try to. It’s in my nature. We went through those stops often, and having a gun pointed at me wasn’t really peaceful.

Even though we should have bought food during our stops, we didn’t. My mom had packed a lot of bread and strawberry jam, which to this day I hate with a passion. I remember seeing everybody else buying yummy food like tacos, tortas, and flavored waters, but I was stuck there with a soggy jelly sandwich. I understood that we didn’t have money, so I never said anything.

When we finally crossed the border, the border patrol gave us a really dirty look. I was angry because I didn’t understand why they looked at us like they hated us or had something against me and my family. I cried and I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to lose it all: my few friends, my house, my people, mi patria. I didn’t know how to start again. I didn’t want to.

We got to California and my uncle picked us up. It was really hot and suffocating, unlike Mexico where the air was nice and free. I wasn’t crying anymore. I think I ran out of emotions. I had been in California before but it was only for vacations. This was different. We headed to my aunt’s house in Costa Mesa and saw the city of Los Angeles, since they decided to drive around. It was huge and there were so many people in not a lot of space. I was sweating because it was so hot and just looking at everything, absorbing the scene.

It made me feel like my life was going to be in fast-forward from now on. When mom’s family greeted us, I grabbed my aunt’s big sunglasses. Nobody would know I was crying, since I was still laughing things off as usual.

Realizing I’m Screwed

That is what it’s like dealing with being an “illegal alien,” as some would say. The thing here is, I never really realized I was illegal. I thought I was here to become someone and to study. I never thought that you needed certain things to be someone. I thought that if you worked extremely hard and never gave in, you’d make it extremely far.

I didn’t find out about my exact situation until sophomore year, and junior year, that’s when everything fell apart. How was I supposed to be someone now? Why did people hate me just because I was born a couple of miles south? I came here to live the American Dream — Mom sacrificed her whole life and possible future just so I could become someone. Even if the chances were slim to begin with, she still took those chances for the sake of our family. It really messes with my mind to realize that everything I have could be taken away in just a couple of minutes by someone who has no idea who I am, but is just doing their job.

It’s like a boat that I’m standing over, and beneath me is a deep, dark ocean. I’m not sure what awaits me if I fall, but even from here I can see the monsters that live in the dark waters below. I don’t want anyone to tip the boat because I’ll fall. I don’t want to fall. I have a lot of luggage in this boat — luggage that I’ve worked extremely hard for. If I fall, I’ll lose it all.

I’m fighting though. I’m fighting and patching the holes in the boat and I’ll keep rowing, no matter what.

From the 826CHI Student Publication: Keep Rowing

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