A guest post from Shandel, an Oakland community organizer and dreamer telling her story
El Principio – “The beginning” To my family, that’s what our journey to this country was. The start of a new life. To the woman I am today, it was more like “the end of a life I had once known.”
I was 8 years old when my mother made the decision to leave Mexico. My father had come to California before us. He wanted a better life and better opportunities, and that’s what he found. A year later, he paid El Coyote to bring my mother, my three sisters and myself to this country.
I know it wasn’t easy for my father to make the decision to leave his familia, just as it wasn’t easy for my mother to make the decision to leave everything and bring her girls along on this journey.
Our journey began in the year 1990. I remember saying goodbye to our family. We packed everything in our tiny home, taking with us only a few items. We had to understand that this was for the better and that material things were not that important. Our sadness was not about those things that occupied our home. It was about the memories. It was about the life we knew. All things that were the center of our identity were left behind.
We took a bus to Nuevo Leon, Mexico, making that the first stop of many that were still to come. We stayed there for a few months with an old couple and their two daughters. I have memories of their love and the delicious home cooked meals that were always ready at the same time everyday. I remember going every single day to pick up fresh handmade tortillas from the Tortilleria. It felt safe and it felt like home. The time came and we had to leave. I remember the old man buying us beautiful white dresses and giving us huaraches he made to wear on the day we would reunite with our dad.
It was hard to say goodbye. For my mother this was a step closer to my father.
We met El Coyote before our next stop. We stayed in a hotel that was miles away from the border. I remember looking outside the window and seeing people walking by. I wondered if they, too, were going to California.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were given certain rules to follow: don’t talk to anyone, don’t make noise, don’t answer the door and don’t use the phone. The fear and difficult moments of the journey sank in. We felt more and more unsafe. My mother and older sister took turns sleeping. One night someone knocked at our door, it was a man’s voice: “We know you guys are in there, alone.” My mother called El Coyote, who came the next day. He took us to a hostel.
There, he told my mother we couldn’t take any luggage and were ONLY to take a small bag with us. He told us we could leave our belongings in a close by house and they would get them to us. My mother cried because everything we had was important. She had a feeling that we were not going to see those things again. She put everything that she could in her backpack. Our dresses and huaraches didn’t fit. We walked away and looked back, hoping that maybe there was another way.
We went back to the Hostel and El Coyote told my mother: “You have to leave your two youngest daughters. The journey on foot is hard and your girls might get us caught.” “Absolutely not!” My mother said. She made it very clear that she was not leaving us behind.
Minutes later we stood beside a tall fence that separate two worlds, and our journey on foot began. I remember being surrounded by mountains. It felt like we were hiking, except we hid to not get caught. Coyotes know the path like the palm of their hand so we moved fast.
I remember being scared, hungry and tired. It got dark. We kept walking. As we moved forward, the sound of a helicopter got closer and louder. We hid, ran and cried. I remember being so scared, watching the helicopter above us as we ran. Everything was happening so fast. I remember getting stuck in a wired fence. While everyone kept running, my mother quickly went back to help me.
Finally, we arrived at someone’s house. There was a woman living there. We ate, took a bath and rested. I remember telling my mother to never to leave us. She looked at me and said, “I will never leave you.” After that, we fell asleep.
The next day my two sisters and I woke up to realize that my mother and oldest sister were not there. My mother lied to us. My heart started beating so fast, I felt like it was going to come out, out of my chest. The woman then explained that my mother had to leave and that we were going to see her soon. I thought I would never see her or my sister again. Finally, when it was dark, the lady told us to listen carefully. She said: “We are going to cross a checkpoint, and you need to pretend to be asleep.” We obeyed.
As we arrived at the checkpoint, I heard a voice say, “Can I see identification please?” I opened my eyes a little and saw the Border Patrol officer. “Who are they?” I closed my eyes tight.I felt the light of his flashlight hitting my face.
I was so scared and tired that I fell asleep. When I woke up we had arrived at another house. My mother was there. We ran to her. She hugged us so hard and said sorry to us. I forgave my mother. Later on I learned that both of them had crossed the border in the back of the car’s trunk.
The next day a truck picked us up. We were finally in California and we were headed to San Jose.
We arrived to another house, but this house was special. It was the place where we were going to reunite with my father. I wish our reunion was with our beautiful white dresses and huaraches but that didn’t happen and I didn’t care.
I will never forget the day I saw my dad walking toward us, and how safe I felt to finally be with both my parents. Our journey was long, scary and uncertain, but we made it. Now it was time to start a new life in the U.S.
Part 1 of 2
My name is Shandel, I have three beautiful children. I am married to a wonderful man. I live in Oakland. I am a Community Organizer and I am a proud Mexican Immigrant Woman. This is my story and my identity.