I have no problem sharing my own stories. However I like to surround myself with interesting people that have great stories of their own. Stories of near misses, hope, and a dash of drama.
This is the tale as it was once told to me. I changed the person’s name to Ricardo. Ricardo has since married and become a legal citizen. He is quite the delightful fellow. But once upon a time, Ricardo ventured from Mexico to America. Repeatedly. Any statute of limitations in the area has long passed. So with his permission, I get to tell you how it all could have gone horribly awry.
“Move to America, or you probably will not see us again. If you do not come now, we will not help you.”
That is what Ricardo’s family told him. His parents, his siblings; all of his family already lived in the United States. Mexico had always felt like home to Ricardo. He had no strong desire to cross the border. Yet, as often happens, family wins out.
Arrangements were made. Ricardo flew from his home to Tijuana. There he met up with a coyote. The coyote, or a person who specializes in getting people across the border, had been paid two thousand dollars by Ricardo’s family. He gave Ricardo instructions.
“You are going to run up to the wall. When I tell you, climb the wall and you will be in the parking lot of that store. As soon as you land, run across the lot and hide under the parked cars. Wait under those until you do not see anybody. No matter what, do not talk to anyone. No one. If they call after you, keep walking. You are going to head for the street. Follow that road to…”
Ricardo had plenty to think about. He was not just leaving a country behind, he was leaving a sweater.
“You can’t take that with you. Nobody’s going to be wearing a sweater!”
The sweater had been a gift from his sister. He liked that sweater. However it became one more thing he had to leave behind. Ricardo still thinks of that sweater to this day.
Ricardo was not an experienced adventurer. He was a teenager. As a student, he had taken two years of English. His retention of the language was lacking. Under pressure, how many people can ask, “Excuse me, where might I go to update my passport information to ensure that I am not promptly arrested by your burly border patrol agents?” in a different language?
Unsure of the plan, Ricardo did what he was told. Mostly.
He scaled the wall. He landed on the ground. He ran under a car. Everything was going according to plan. That is, until he got out from under the vehicle.
Walking away, Ricardo heard two men call after him. He stopped and turned. They asked him questions in English. He did not understand. Soon he was asked what he was doing. Ricardo claimed that he lived there. The two men asked for papers; identification. Ricardo stated that he had forgotten them. Ricardo was soon taken into custody.
The two men led Ricardo to a van. They told him to wait. He was joined by others. One was a pregnant woman that Ricardo had seen on the other side of the wall. They were transported back to Mexico.
Ricardo returned to the coyote and tried to figure out the next steps. The coyote was displeased.
“I told you! I told you not to talk to anyone! What were you doing?”
In Mexicali, Ricardo was deciding out how to proceed. He still was not completely sold on the idea of uprooting his life. He wanted to get to his family. But would it not be easier to simply give up and stay in Mexico?
Searching for options, Ricardo went to the building on the border and asked what sort of documentation it would take to cross the border. He was given a booklet. Ricardo recalls dozens of proofs being required. College transcripts, bills, certificates; the list went on and on. Ricardo threw the booklet in the garbage and looked around.
There were three security guards watching over the crowd. One or two men checked IDs while another patrolled farther away. A woman in front of Ricardo was getting her documents inspected when all of a sudden an alarm in the luggage area went off.
Two of the security staff rushed over to the source of the alarm. That left only the person in front of Ricardo. The agent who was busy helping the woman. Following that age old phrase, Ricardo walked like he knew where he was going. He walked past the woman and the guard. He walked down the hallway. And he walked out the doors.
Panicking, Ricardo went to a nearby hotel. He asked the staff if there was a phone he could use. With calling card in hand, he entered the phone booth and called his mother.
“I crossed”, he told her.
“I’m here. I’m on the other side.”
Arrangements were quickly made. A family member contacted the hotel and acquired a room for Ricardo. The woman who had pointed him towards the phone checked him in.
“Your room is all set and ready for you”, she offered. “Is there anything else I can get you? Are you hungry?”
Ricardo was. He listened in awe as the woman described the list of choices. Italian, a sandwich, pizza… Ricardo talks now about how overwhelmed he had been. He had not been used to anything like it. Growing up, there had only been poor people’s food and rich people’s food. Cuisine from another country had not been an option before.
“Okay, what would you like on your pizza?”
“Bacon and pineapples.”
“Okay, so a Hawaiian pizza. We’ll have it sent to your room.”
Perhaps it was the doughy crust. Maybe the hot cheese won him over. It dripped and dangled gooey strands. That was paired with juice gushing from the pineapples. Twenty minutes after Ricardo got to his room, he had a meal from Pizza Hut that resulted in a loyalty that continues to this day. He inhaled the pizza, scarfing down two or three pieces in a matter of minutes.
A loud knocking interrupted him. Ricardo nervously opened the door as a forbidding stranger asked, “Are you Ricardo?”
Ricardo assumed the man had caught him. Ricardo had given a false name when captured, though clearly they had found him. The man came into the room, mentioned Ricardo’s family, and detailed the plan. With all the manners of a coyote, he helped himself to last of Ricardo’s dinner.
Ricardo was ready to go back. He was done with the whole ordeal. Ricardo was put onto a bus and his anxiety was rising to the surface.
“Do not let him off”, the coyote told the driver.
Off they went to Arizona. From there, Ricardo was put on a plane and flown back to California. It was there, days later, that he was reunited with his family.
Ricardo watched as his family paid the coyote seven hundred dollars for the feat.
“Don’t pay him!” Ricardo protested the coyote’s role. “He didn’t do anything! I got over here! All he did was get me on a bus? I could have done that!” Ricardo’s family hushed him, handed over the money, and took him home.
Ricardo did not love the U.S. as much as his family did. Ricardo considered himself Mexican. Whatever the reason, some years later, Ricardo went back.
In Mexico, he soon learned the truth that many discover. Home is not what we remember it to be. Mexico had changed. Ricardo’s perception of his country no longer matched his plans.
Two years after embracing Mexico, Ricardo wanted to return to his family.
He called up a friend. They met in Tijuana. Ricardo was given new apparel. What sort of shirt and shoes say, “I belong in the U.S. of A.?” Would officials accept the image created by beige overalls?
Ricardo and his friend got into the car. The friend started to drive. As they approached the inspection point, the guard waved them through.
“That’s it? We don’t have to stop? That’s all it takes to get into this country?”
Ricardo’s friend angrily and hurriedly shushed him. After they had traveled down the road, it was explained that there were microphones all the along that stretch. Officials would listen to conversations and go after those that were suspected of violating citizenship laws.
It worked. Ricardo was back in the U.S.
He took on jobs as he needed. Eventually he made his way to a state where it was easier to get a license. He paid two thousand dollars for a new apartment. The rental agreement and water bill were enough to obtain his ID. He used those to get other jobs.
Ricardo did what most of us do. He worked many jobs to afford the American Lifestyle. He fell in love. He embraced downtown life and learned the joy of a roommate’s pets. He fell out of love. He drank, laughed, cried, and visited his family.
At some point, Ricardo found himself at home.