by Alondra Pegueros*My mother gave me a piece of advice that stuck with me. “Don’t forget where you come from.” I come from Mexico and I was raised in the United States. My whole life I have come across people who have more opportunities than I do. As an undocumented teenager, I feel tied down. I feel a sense of indignity. I never like to speak of it with anyone besides my family. I do not want to be viewed differently. It scares me to think that because of my status I will not be able to receive a high quality education at a university of my choice. I have come across so many people who have the ability to do whatever they want. Some of them seem not to see the value in the opportunities they have as much as the undocumented families do. They have the ability to work, go to college, travel all around the world, and have rights that many immigrant families do not.*
My story begins with my mother, Adelina Mendez and father, Alvaro Pegueros. My mother fell in love with a man who disguised the person he really was. My grandpa warned her, but she disagreed with him. My mother ran away from home to live with my father. That is when she really got to know the person he was. Regardless of how abusive he was, my mother could not leave him. She was expecting a baby. Her first-born child was named after my father, Alvaro.
My brother had to drop out of high school to start working. He was the man of the house because my father was never there to support my mother. He had to look after my mom because my dad was scarcely home. 16 years later, I was born and my brother witnessed the fights between my mother and father grow more violent each day. My brother and mother remember all the things my father had done to hurt her. My brother can still remember the time when my dad hit my mother while I was in her womb. My father was an alcoholic and one day my brother could no longer take it. He made a stressful and complicated decision: he decided to go to the United States with my aunt Arendy Mendez. He wanted to find a job, save money, and send it to my mother and me. He promised my mother he would help build a house for us, a place where my father would not be allowed to come close to us. This was his “American Dream.”
I was 4 years old when my 17-year-old brother left the house. He was just a kid when he left. Although my mother was devastated she knew he was going to be in good hands. I knew things were going to get harder. My mother and I felt safe around my brother and now that he was gone, it was like there was a hole in my heart. I felt even more scared. I was always frightened that my father would return to our house and hit my mother or throw a beer bottle at our window and try to break in. I would cry every night hoping my brother was safe and my father would never try to hurt us.
When my brother left I wanted to grow up fast and be able to make my mother feel safe just like my brother made her feel. I knew it was impossible, but at the age of 4 that was all I could think of. I was desperate to find a solution to help my mother out.
After two long, miserable years, my mother’s worry over my brother became unbearable. He stopped sending money and calling home. My mother and I were alone. I knew deep inside my mother needed him. Although she tried to hide her stress, I knew something was wrong because I could see through her sorrow. Four months passed by, but still no sign of my brother. My mother began work in La Finca (the farm) and had to take me with her to the fields. After all the struggle we were going through, my mother couldn’t take it anymore. She decided to take the journey to the United States to find my brother. She knew it was not going to be an easy journey, but my mother needed to find her son.
We planned a dangerous ride and it was worse than I could imagine. I was only 6 when we left our home. I can still feel my grandma’s tight hug. I can feel her shaking because of how panicked I was. I did not want to leave. It felt like every bond I shared with each and every one of my family members was being ripped apart.
Our first stop was at the border. My mother used up all the money she saved up buying food for us. She was concerned and desperate. Having no idea how to get money, she began to work with a man that gave us a small room to live in. A month passed by and my mom was working 7 days a week in order to keep food on our table and a roof over our heads. Finally, the day came to embark on our dangerous odyssey. The man that was helping us migrate to the United States was called a “coyote.” My mother and I met many in search of stability and security for our families and for a better life for us children: The American Dream.I was still 6 years old when my mother and I first attempted to cross the border. We were so close, but the Border Patrol found us. I spent a week with my mother suffering of starvation and dehydration. Our gallons of water ran out after the fourth day. I remember a man watching my mother and telling me it was going to be all right. He saw how desperate we were for water. Our only choice was to drink polluted pond water, but the man stopped us and shared his last drops of water with us.
There was no breeze, or shadow we could lay under, but my mother always found a way to survive. She laid one of her shirts on top of a tree’s branches and hoped it would be enough shadow to cover me. She was more concerned about my health and life than her own.
I can still remember one night, when we had to sleep on top of a mountain. It was the sixth night, I remember looking up at the sky and praying to God that we would find out way back home or find our way to my brother soon. I hoped that as soon as I would get down from the mountain, my brother was going to come find us. As I laid down after all the miles we walked, the pain from the blisters on my feet got worse. I could feel the scratches burning from the thorn bush I fell into earlier that day. We were trying to hide from the helicopter that was flying around with its lights flickering down at the ground.
The night before we were found, I was laying on top of the mountain praying to God that we would soon find our way home. God heard me.
On the seventh day, I woke up crying because I didn’t want to walk anymore. I was tired, my legs were numb, and I had lost track of the time and what day it was. All I knew was that I had to keep walking and keep hoping. The “coyote” was kind enough to help my mom, and they took turns carrying me when I was tired. He would put me on top of his shoulders. It was early that morning when we were all quietly walking through the desert and suddenly we heard, “Border Patrol, DO NOT MOVE!”
Everyone began to run, but the agent said, “STOP OR I’LL SHOOT!” We did not get to save ourselves and those who were hiding, surrendered. I cried and looked over at my mom, I remember seeing how scared and nervous she was too. She tried to calm me down by telling me that it would all be okay and to stop crying, because tears only brought bad luck. I knew I had to be strong and show my mother and the rest of the group that were with us that I was going to be as brave as them. The Border Patrol pushed us into the back of their vehicle. It was dark and cold in the van, there was complete silence the whole ride back to the immigration detention center.
After we arrived at the detention center they separated all of us. The worst part of all was when the guards ripped my mom and I apart from each other’s arms. She was going in a different jail cell than I was! I cried all day long because I was with people from the group that I never talked to. I continuously repeated El Padre Nuestro (The Lord’s Prayer) in my head and hoped that the guards would feel empathy and bring me to my mother again. I just wanted to hear her voice, wrap my arms around her and ask her if we could go back home.
We were only locked up for one day. One day, but it felt everlasting to me. I felt like my soul was ripped out of my body when they took me away from my mother.
I felt clueless and abandoned. No one in the jail cell with me bothered to talk to one another. We just wanted the day to be over so that we could be released.
The next morning, the guards came and woke us. We were finally being released. The feeling of being reunited with my mother was like Christmas morning when everyone is unwrapping their presents. It was only one day, but the feeling of not having my mother by my side was the worst feeling I’ve ever had. We were sent all the way back to where my mother and I began our journey. The border, where she had worked for a whole month as a maid to serve for a man and his family. My mother was fatigued, disappointed, and ready to give up. It felt like we were stuck in a video game — we had to find our way through the desert to get to our destination, but it was game over after we were found. We had to start all over!
The only thing stopping my mother from going back home was the thought of my brother. She wanted to find him. We knew we had to find a way to get to him.
We were very fortunate. The man who was helping us get to the United States decided to make a second attempt. He explained that we were going to be riding in a car, not walking anymore, but he warned us that it wasn’t going to be a comfortable ride. Two days passed by and we were getting ready to give it a second shot. The coyote picked us up and we all tried to fit ourselves into the truck. Five men were put in the trunk and had to hide between the bags of straw that were lying in the back of the truck.
The ride was excruciating, restless, and bumpy. My mom had me crouch behind the driver seat and between her legs. She ran her fingers through my hair and tried to help me sleep every night for three days. One of the nights, we had to stop for almost five hours and stay quiet in pitch black darkness. There were helicopters flying around flashing their lights at the ground again. I remembered my mother told me tears only brought bad luck. I tried to hold in my tears every time I felt scared or like giving up. I knew I had to be brave for the both of us.
Finally, we made it! It was late July of 2004 when we stepped out of the car and arrived at my brother’s front door steps. I was wearing a yellow tank top with a pink cardigan that had holes in the sleeves from the thorn bush I fell into. My shoes were worn out and my jeans had blood stains from the cuts on my legs.
I remember my brother laughing when I hugged him. He was coming up the hill and I ran to him while my mother got our bag of clothes out of the truck. At first he looked clueless because he didn’t recognize me, but then I said to him, “Hermanito, soy yo Alo,” (“Brother, it’s me Alo).
His facial expressions changed — he was mind-blown, doubtful, confused. My brother invited everyone in, even the people who brought us to his house. He was more than just thankful, he felt blessed, content, and thrilled to have us by his side once again after two years. We spent 12 days trying to get across the border, and on our twelfth day we succeeded. We were reunited again. I finally felt a sensation of pure bliss again. I will never forget that night when I saw my brother for the first time after our separation. I could tell my mother was finally at rest and free from worries. She felt shielded by my brother’s side and I did too.
We had found our safe haven. My father could no longer hit my mother, and I knew I would no longer hear them yelling anymore. Eleven years have passed, and I still remember everything that happened over those 12 days.