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Our Long Walk of Hope MAG
This is the true story of members of my family who came to the United States from Mexico.
We were packed and ready to go on the most talked-about journey in Mexico. My mother wore three layers of clothes, and on her back she carried my younger sister Marcella. Marcella was so small and delicate, I wondered if she would survive the weather we would encounter. She was wrapped in cotton blankets and tied onto my mother’s back, her tiny head sticking out from the blankets.
The Coyote, as we called him, arrived a few minutes after we had finished praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe, asking for her protection during our long walk. He looked to be in his late 30s, wore camouflage pants, and carried gallons of water inside a plastic bag. He scared me until, as he grabbed my hand and shook it, a smile brightened his face. We hurried into a truck while my father handed him the money we had promised him for his help.
After a while we stopped by a road where the desert stretched out like an ocean and a young man was waiting, ready to take our truck. We climbed off quickly to avoid passing cars. The young man must have been the Coyote’s son; they had the same stern face and gestures. He waved good-bye as he turned and left. As rocks and dirt pressed against my face, I tried to avoid getting slashed by the barbed wire fence. As soon as I was on the other side I was told to run as fast as I could toward the distant mountains. I obeyed until my legs gave out, then I hid behind a mesquite bush.
A few minutes later everyone else showed up, all out of breath. We had to conserve our water, but the more we thought about our thirst, the harder it was to keep the jugs closed. We walked for five hours until the sun started creeping up in the sky, announcing that it was time to hide and sleep. We had to wait for the moon to reappear to continue our journey. My father hated to do this because he thought it was a waste of time, but we all understood it would be harder for la migra to catch us if we only traveled at night. We slept behind mesquite bushes and kept very still in case any animals were near. The heat of the sun kept me awake. I could feel sweat dripping from my forehead and my sticky body. I could only wish for the sun to hide behind the clouds.
During our next night’s walk we grew more aware of our surroundings, and our eyes adjusted better to the dark. As we were walking up a mountain, we saw the immigration trucks a few miles ahead. Our first reaction was to run up the mountain and make it over before they saw us. I took my baby sister from my mother’s back and tied her behind me. I thought since I could run faster I could get us away and my mother wouldn’t be as tired. As we ran, El Coyote insisted that we crawl down the mountain when we got there and never, ever look back.
I was about halfway down the mountain when I heard a sound I had dreaded. Sirens and alarms went off as helicopters and immigration trucks approached. They had found us. I rushed down the mountain, thinking that no matter what, I would get my sister and parents away from la migra.
When I reached the bottom I was worried that something was wrong. I untied my sister from my back and unwrapped her from the blankets. She wasn’t moving. I rested my head on her chest; her heartbeat was slowing. Her skin was burning hot and sweat dripped from her face. I still had a half-full water bottle and poured a few drops into her mouth. Nothing happened. I laid her on the ground and undressed her, then once again poured water into her mouth as I massaged her belly and legs. Finally she kicked her legs and started to cry. I hugged her tight to my chest, then prayed to God to protect her from harm as I hid her behind a tree. I had no choice but to leave her in God’s hands while I ran back up the mountain to help my parents.
I found a stray shoe on the ground and hung it on the tree above my sister so I would be able to spot her. I also drew crosses in the dirt with a twig all the way up the mountain to remember the way back to her. As I ran up the mountain I tried hard not to cry, and held back my screams of worry as I saw immigration men running toward my parents. I couldn’t let them take my life away. They were so close to my family and I so far. I rushed to the top of the mountain and urged my parents to follow me quickly. The Coyote had been caught and was being pushed inside one of the trucks. I grabbed my mother’s hand and pulled as I ran. I prayed that we would soon finish this terrible journey. When we finally reached my sister I told Mama to hide inside one of the mountain caves. My dad and I followed close behind. Hours passed inside that dark, cold cave and still we could hear people searching for us. Our only plan was to wait until night and keep walking until we found the Rio Grande.
Night finally arrived and walking became exhausting since we had not eaten all day. We walked past human remains and I prayed we wouldn’t end up like that. My nose picked up the scent of water just as my ears heard the crashing of water against rocks. I rushed toward the noise and there in front of us was the Rio Grande. Tears of joy dropped to the desert as I stared across the river. All we had to do was cross it and our journey would be over.
As the waters swept past us, we realized it would be difficult to cross, but we had no choice. My dad took a rope and tied us together so that we wouldn’t be washed away by the rapids, then he walked in to see how deep the water was. To our surprise it only came to his waist, but the bottom was like quicksand; if you stood in one place too long, you would sink in. The branches and twigs at the bottom made it even more difficult.
The three of us held hands to keep our balance and moved into the water. It didn’t scare me, but I knew my mother was terrified since she had my sister and if she slipped, she could drown the baby. As we moved toward the other side, the mud grew thicker and it got harder to walk. At times I would slip and try to grasp my mother’s shirt or the rope as water swept inside my mouth. Finally, my dad pulled himself out and helped my mother. As they untied themselves I felt as if the ground shook a bit and then the current was pulling me away. I tried swimming, but the current was too strong. The water filled my lungs and I had no control. I could see my dad running along the edge swinging a rope toward me. Every time I grabbed for it, my fingers would slip past it. As I prayed for help, the current started to slow. I kept trying to grab the rope as I heard my dad telling me not to give up. When I felt the rope slide across my hands I gripped it, and my dad pulled me out.
I was badly injured from all the rocks and branches hitting my body. Blood ran across my forehead and legs as my mother tried to dry me. She wrapped me in my sister’s blankets and my father carried me since I had broken my leg. When we arrived in El Paso they took me to a hospital.
Now we have been living here for years and have made a lot of progress. My mother cleans houses and my father is a construction worker. We have been able to buy our own house and my sister is attending school. Our English has improved and we have opened a small program to help newcomers when they arrive with nothing. Every now and then I remember how hard it was to get here, and I thank God for helping us through the struggle.