by Jennalyn B, Princess I., Galilea S., & Mi N.
Whoosh whoosh, the early morning breeze ruffled through my hair. From the tree, I could see my neighborhood stretch before me as far as the eye could see. The sun was just rising, casting a golden glow across Mexico’s streets. My two older brothers and sisters came pouring out of the house. “Come on, Marisela! Time for school,” they called up to me.
I was born in Zitacuaro, Mexico. My mother passed away when I was five. I barely have any memory of her, only traces of her kind voice. Although this left a hole in my heart, my father, siblings, and I led a fairly ordinary life. At the age of eight, I quit school to help my father work. Everyday I would go to the market, selling avocados from morning to noon. Although I loved Zitacuaro, it was not a safe place. Gangs of thieves lurked in all corners, waiting to single someone out to rob and then kill. There was a particular gang, known especially for making sure that their victims’ bodies were never found again. The leader was a drug dealer who made it his custom to rape a young virgin whenever it was his birthday. Chaos ran rampant all around Zitacuaro.
My family and I had managed to avoid this criminal…until my ninth birthday.
I was walking past a dark alley when, from the shadows, the drug dealer appeared. He walked up to me, a menacing smile on his face, his breath reeking of drugs. “Come here child,” he rasped. He tried to wrap his arm around me, but I already understood what was happening. I quickly darted away from him and yelled from the top of my lungs, “HELP! HELP! HE’S TRYING TO RAPE ME!” Fortunately, some policemen were walking by when they heard my cry for help and quickly arrested the drug dealer. But, my problems were far from over.
Weeks later, a gang of people dressed in black arrived at my house. They pulled out a gun and threatened to kill my family if we didn’t release the charges against the drug dealer. My parents did the only reasonable thing they could do, they released the charges against the drug dealer.
Weeks later, the drug dealer came up to my family and threatened to kill them if I didn’t leave Michoacan. Fear and confusion shot through my body, What is going to happen to me?, I thought to myself. My dad tried to keep me with him, but three years later I had to leave. Pain and sadness shattered my heart at the thought of leaving my family. Leaving everything I knew behind was frightening. I cried a river, “No Papa, don’t leave me,” I said. Deep down I knew that I had to leave, for the better of my family and my future. All I could do was hope against hope that someday I would see them again.
It was 1988. I was 12 years old. I boarded multiple planes to get to Tijuana, Mexico. At first, I was excited; it was my first time on a plane. But reality began to sink in, and it felt like a punch in the stomach. During the flights, I became terrified about leaving home. How in the world is a 12-year old supposed to cross the border alone? I wondered.
When I landed in Tijuana, there was a woman eyeing me. The woman said that she was going to help me cross the border to America. Her name was Erene. “So, where are we going to exactly?” I asked, happily walking along with her. She didn’t reply. Why isn’t she talking? I thought. She took me to a house near the freeway and tossed me inside like an old rag. I looked around the mysterious room. I was surrounded by other girls near my age or older. There were no windows and one exit. Who are these people? Why am I here? WAIT…No…No. Trusting that woman was a big mistake! I felt betrayed. Being so gullible wasn’t going to fly in a world like this. I had to get out of here. I tried to talk to the other girls. “What are you all doing here? What happened?” No response. I knew what was happening, there was no point in asking.
We survived solely on tortillas and were drugged to fall asleep. The silence was ominous and eerie. There was no chance of escaping this place. My picture was taken, and I was on a list to be sold. After fifteen days, while Erene was out, we all heard a loud BOOM! and CRASH! Suddenly, the one exit out of the house opened! I saw the gleaming light of the sun.
A man stood in the doorway motioning everyone to go outside and get away from there. Stepping outside, I saw that the loud noises were from a car crash on the freeway. Okay, now where do I go from here?… Aha! There’s a bus right there! I thought to myself as I formed a plan to escape. I ran back inside to get change and a blanket for the bus ride and ran out the door. I sprinted up a hill at top speed to the bus stop. I boarded the bus and was off to a hotel close to the border. Later that day, I met an older lady named Lorena. We talked, and she convinced me to stay in Mexico with her. We lived together happily for six years.
Then, Lorena finally decided that it was time to move to America. She rented a hotel room in a town close to Los Angeles. Never had I ever laid my eyes on such a beautiful building. It was nothing like the buildings in Michoacan, everything here was so much cleaner. A couple of days later, we took a plane to San Jose. There, we lived in an apartment. It was during this time that I met my first husband and we decided to have a kid. I was in America and in love. I thought my life was finally better, I thought my life was finally perfect…Until something bad happened.
Lorena was forced to leave San Jose in order to take care of her sick husband in Mexico, and my husband was in jail for reasons I prefer not to mention. This left me pregnant and living on the streets. All I could think about were the dangers of living on the streets. My future looked bleak and grim, nothing like I expected. My head constantly hurt from dehydration, my stomach rumbled from being underfed. All I had to survive on were scraps from trash bins and the kindness of others. Under the pressure, I cried out, “God, what have I done to deserve this!”
I was beginning to have suicidal thoughts. What is there to live for anymore? was all I thought about. I tried to cut myself, hoping to lose blood and die. I drank overdoses of medicine, hoping to kill myself. But it didn’t work. Weeks in, I finally gave birth to my first son, Aulian, on the streets. Hearing him cry for milk that I couldn’t provide broke my heart. With renewed energy, I knew I had to survive for my son. I began asking around for more food and water, I tried to look for a job, I prayed to God and the Blessed Mother. I knew I had to do everything to let my son live. Despite the difficulties, I believed that one day it would be alright, I believed that God was going to help me.
Two months later, my prayers were answered. At the park where I slept, I met Josephine Rodriguez. One day, she asked me, “Hola, como es tu dia (Hello, how was your day)?” I broke down and cried, pouring out my entire story to her. She listened and said that I could temporarily live in her house. I was overjoyed! “Gracias (thank you), Josephina,” I cried. And I truly meant it from the bottom of my heart.
For the next couple of months, while I looked for a job, Josephina took care of Aulian. “It feels good to know that my son is in safe hands,” I told her. One day, I met Rosa at a bus stop. She offered me a job. Soon, I was cleaning and singing at a Mexican restaurant. Over time, Josephina grew attached to me and my son, she treated us as if we were her own family. But, I wanted to find my own place in America, so with great difficulty I parted from Josephina. “I need to be independent, Josephina. I’m sorry, I need to leave,” I told her through tears.
I had to find a new home and job. I soon found a job cleaning at Lucky’s and also people’s houses. I met my second husband when I was hired to clean his house. The more we talked, the more we connected, and our relationship grew. Now, I’m the proud mother of three children. I work as a house cleaner and my husband works in construction.
It is a miracle how my life has turned out. During the darkest times, I never thought that I would survive, yet with hope and determination, and against all odds, I have given my children a brighter future.