Saturday, January 26, 2013



Everybody’s nerves were on edge as the Coyote gave final instructions in the afternoon. The Coyote wanted them to be alert and awake as they crossed the border into California from Mexico. He split the group into smaller teams in order to balance the men and the women, the weak and the strong, the younger and the elders. He gave bursts of direction throughout the day, as he thought of what to say. Do not fall behind, I will have to leave you, we MUST leave you, there are going to be dangers from all direction, on this side and on the other side. No one is going to give you a break if you get caught.
Nowadays it is reported that most women get raped along the way, that most people are held up by thieves and removed of whatever possessions they have… but for this crew, their concern was that they would be killed if caught for they already had no more material possessions.They were told they would cross the border at night, and to be ready at any moment for the signal. The group gathered across the border, like an eerily quiet picnic. Apparently, there were more groups in the same area, which you could only hear. It was not a full moon, visibility was not great, which Alicia thought was not good. Yet it was probably best, for they could not be seen either, and they could hear others talking at a distance. 
On cue, they ran across the valley, across a creek, and then into bushes. Quietly they ran and ran staying close, without looking back. They ran like they never ran before or since. They would have run over anything or anyone. As they went further in the bushes, it got darker and darker. Together they moved as one, for they could not see ahead. The stars provided some light when they were in the open, but most of the time in the bushes it was pitch dark.Finally they stopped on cue and laid down on the desert ground to rest. As they caught their breath, they could hear their own breathing, and some distant chatter. It got colder than Alicia expected. She thought she heard a baby cry somewhat close. In the dark, on the ground, they could see each other’s eyeballs, if only for a second. They kept quiet as instructed. Next they ran toward a hill that they could  faintly distinguish. As they approached, the group slowed down, and then stopped altogether. As they got on the ground, they understood something was happening around them, something not good. They stayed on the ground for a long time, their only movements were to hush away the large insects. Other voices seemed to be fairly close, and someone seemed to cry. Coyote said a single word; Thieves.
 It was so dark it was not possible to tell if Coyote was standing or not. Alicia could not even see eyeballs anymore, but could hear the breathing and feel the warmth. After a long time they got up and continued walking towards the hill, slowly and quietly, in a single line formation. It got darker around them as they climbed, but from this new vantage point they could see at the distance behind them. It was not a tall hill. As they reached the peak and started the descent, it was really, really dark… They were under trees and bushes as they climbed down, and somehow developed the ability to see in the dark, at least  to see where to step on.On the bottom of the hill, a wagon awaited. Alicia is surprised, she did not hear it nor see it until she was right next to it. Coyote directs them to enter quickly and lay flat on top of each other, he directs each one in line so there in no time to accommodate. No one complains. The wagon starts once everyone is in, apparently reaching good terrain soon, but the half-hour ride is still absolutely nerve-wracking. However, they sense things are going well so far. After the half –hour ride, they feel the wagon slowing down, and it sounds like it enters a garage. Once inside, with the garage lights on, they exit the car and confirm everybody made it to safety. Everybody smiles, but there cannot be any loud celebration. Besides, the guys on charge of them are not smiling at all. The group spends the night at this farm.
Next morning, Coyote divides the group once more in order to go to the airport. It appears they are in San Diego, and they are to fly to Los Angeles immediately. Alicia is assigned to fly with Coyote, and to sit with him. They carry no luggage, and are to act as locals. Everything runs as smooth as can be,  although Alicia has no propensity to enjoy this trip. Her nerves are shot, her stomach is upside down. But all goes well indeed, and soon enough she arrives in L.A.
On the airport’s terminal, she exits the plane like everybody else, avoiding any eye contact or conversation. She follows a part of her group, which go directly outside to board a cab together with yet another Coyote assistant. Only outside she acknowledges knowing this people. This ride lasts about 30 minutes, and take them to the nicest neighborhood she had seen to date. Nice big modern houses with manicured front yards, backyards that seem to have no end! Well-kept landscaped boulevards! New cars all over!
It must be the best safe-house you could hope for. 

 (to be continued)

Monday, January 21, 2013



The group of fourteen entered Mexico from Guatemala. They rode on a bus, and none of them would have noticed they had crossed the border if the Coyote did not announce it. He prepared the group earlier and asked them to remain indifferent at the border crossing, as if they all made this trip all this time. Looking directly into their eyes, he did warn the entry to US would not be so smooth. Now in Mexico, they would switch from buses to trains, back and forth, for the next month.
During this period, they would stay in hotels every night, mostly in a single room with the Coyote. They would shower and sleep, and some were able to wash their alternate change of clothes. Those who could afford it would buy whatever they could find to eat. Next morning, they would wake up whenever Coyote instructed, at a moment’s notice. Occasionally he surprised them with a light breakfast – tortillas and cheese or beans or whatever – but it was never expected. On occasion, they were split into two groups to board buses separately, at different times. But at the end of the day, they were always reunited. Faith in their leader continued to grow, nobody voiced any mistrust. The Coyote’s word was never questioned, and this guy seemed to genuinely care for his pollos. It was good that they bonded with their protector, for the journey grew more dangerous as they ventured north.
Before making it to the federal district, DF, the first signs of danger became evident. During a train ride, Alicia noticed as Federales walked directly towards the Coyote. They moved away together, without any commotion, you would not have noticed it if you did not know him. It was a shakedown, and it must have been a pretty big one too. That night, the group learned the Coyote had lost all his funds. He would have to leave them to get more cash, and they were to wait at this stop for however long it took him to return, maybe a couple of days.  They were to remain in the Hermosillo town without attracting attention, and do whatever it took to support themselves. But they were not to engage in any activity that could attract attention, for they could doom the whole group. Failure to keep a low profile could result in aborting the journey right there. Coyote would pay the hotel upon return, but that was all they could count on. Those who had a little something hidden, could eat regularly. Alicia and most of the rest were to be hungry until his return.

It took the Coyote seven days to return. Alicia survived due to the generosity of  fellow travelers, always mindful of not abusing, but cunningly looking at the right person at the right moment. Everyone remained in the room. To sneak out seemed as to question the certainty that the benefactor would provide for all; for someone to sneak out seemed to ruin the fabric of the moment for everyone. It would have been almost immoral, plain wrong. Their faith in the Coyote may have been starting to crack deep inside, but it was still holding outside.
Upon return the Coyote surprised the group walking right into the room, where dreams of America had been put on hold collectively for a week. His arrival brought an enormous sense of relief to the group, many big smiles and a few tears. He asked them to get dressed, they were going out for dinner tonight!

-Eat well, sleep well, because tomorrow we are on our way to Distrito Federal!

(to be continued)

Thursday, January 17, 2013



    The group of 14 traveled by train or by bus, without any luggage, aiming to look and act like locals. They are split into small groups by the coyote, who would also give advise and pep talks to the group before each stop. The 14 trusted their well being to Coyote without question, even if they only met him the day they departed their country. If an unknown person approached any of them and quietly mentioned Coyote’s name, they instantly followed his instructions blindly and trusted their life to the coyote representative. For no one had any idea of who the coyote knew in this journey, but it was evident that the coyote had knowledge, contacts and means way beyond any of them.
Therefore, when Alicia received word to get off the train in the next stop at the Distrito Federal, she did not hesitate. Her instructions were to say if asked, she was a local from Tierra Blanca. So she exited the train, and tried to follow the rest of the pack. She soon realized she had nervously rushed ahead of  the slower moving part of the group, and was behind the faster moving group ahead. She thought, I’m between both groups, better speed up and catch up with the lead group.
She heard someone say, Usted detengase, ordering her to stop. She ignored him twice, but he caught up and tapped her shoulder.
-Oiga, le estoy hablando! Sus documentos. De donde viene? He said as he stopped her cold. It was a Federal, she guessed because of his shiny shield.
-De Tierra Blaancaaaa, she replied trying to mimic the local accent as best she could. It was not good enough.
-Usted no viene de Tierra Blanca nada, usted viene de Honduras. Documentos ahora. 
Just like that, Alicia was hopelessly trapped. Her accent had not been successful at all, she was not making it to second base with this Federal. Quietly but forcefully, he demanded her documents now.
-Es que yo no tengo papeles… she mumbled, as the rest of the group ahead continued their exit and avoided looking back at her. I have no papers.
-Como? Viaja sola ? Con quien anda?  What?, alone? who is travelling with you?
Alicia thought, I’m going to left here, what am I going to do, no one is going to help me…Her ears were ringing, she was freezing and burning at the same time. Time stopped. At the same time, she became completely aware of the surroundings. 
She did not replied in words, her eyes and lips pointed the Federal towards the second group as they continued on their way out of the station. She rolled her eyeballs once, twice, to make it clear without a word. The Federal caught on and quickly stopped three more of her group, those who had the misfortune of walking the slowest. It was her friend Alita, and a husband and wife couple that always walked together.
-Detenganse. Sus documentos ahora.
Alita found courage from who knows where, and instantly became the leader.
-No tenemos documentos, cuanto quiere?, How much? she said, instantly taking charge and becoming the lead negotiator. The Federal may have liked this, for he was alone and they were all in the center of a train station in the Distrito Federal no less, and surrounded by travelers oblivious to this incident. He looked at Alicia, who murmured –no tengo plata- as if hinting not to ask for too much. He looked at each, assessing the possibilities, looking for clues, and finally said,
-300 for todos. They looked at each other. Alita winked at Alicia.
-Y mas nadie nos va a detener? No tenemos plata para seguir pagando todo el camino! Alita said, in a no nonsense manner.
-300 y se me desaparecen antes de que cuente a tres, the federal said convincingly. After all, no one else had come to join the Federal. Without attracting attention, women quietly put their hands into their brassieres, and came up with the 300 in a second. Alita handed him a crumpled handful of bills, looking at his eyes.
-Se me pierden, ya. Get lost, now.
As the federal quietly instructed them to get lost, he also turned around as to lose sight of them faster. On cue, they turned and rushed towards the exit. Together they walked out without any idea which way to go, but in perfect coordination. Alicia just followed them instantly at each and every turn; they moved as if they were one.
Outside they slowed down a little as they distanced the station, in relief, then in disbelief. No one was more shocked than Alicia, who had seemingly just survived a Federal encounter, without any money or ransom. She had given away three of her friends, did they realize this as they negotiated payment of the bribe? To this day, Alicia feels she had no choice, she did what she had to do, she is without remorse.
Down the block, a guy runs to join them. Once he says the magic phrase –Coyote sent me, he watched the whole thing-, together they grab a taxi to the bus station. They catch a bus to the designated hotel, where the group of 14 meets again.
The mood is cautiously celebratory, everyone is too nervous to lay back, there is a long way in front of them all. In the large hotel room they eat together, shower and prepare to leave next day. The next stop, Guadalajara would be fortunately uneventful, just an overnight stop on the way to the important destination, Tijuana.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013



   Upon landing in California, Alicia silently followed the departing airplane passengers while avoiding direct eye contact with the Coyote, who had separated the group in separate couples. Her stomach was upset with intense butterflies, her head was about to explode, she was sweating gallons, but she tried to act natural… she had gone thru so much in the last month and was not about to blow it now. She joined her group picking up the luggage, and could not believe it as she exited the airport into an awaiting car. As instructed, she got into her assigned car with her assigned partner. Next stop was a Coyote safe house.
I can only imagine everyone’s relief at having reached this safe house, but the journey was not over and the joy was short-lived. This stop was meant to be the final smuggling stop, where the arrivals arranged for payment of their balance through money orders or express mail. Once received and you were clear to go, the coyote gang would deliver you wherever you arranged to be picked up. This gang did not intend for you to stay too long for sure, and it was clear you better hurry and leave.  The large house was split into small rooms for the smuggled group and other rooms that were apparently rented to locals, who seemed to conduct a normal life working in hotels, in restaurants, cleaning houses, in landscaping, whatever. This other crowd was integrated into US, and ate fast food, they followed  local TV, they watched rented movies.  They generally did not mingle much with the guests in transit.
Alicia telephoned and reached Tati, her old friend from back home, who promised to raise the monies. Secretly, Alicia was in doubt whether the friend could deliver. Why would her old friend do so, it was a fairly large amount after all! Tati had no obligation to deliver; she was only an old friend! As the days and weeks passed and the arrivals thinned out, Alicia felt the pressure increase. Her friend left one by one, there was no one to look out for her anymore. She did not want to leave her room anymore, and could hardly eat.   
The local gang leader’s wife would bring small meals and talk to Alicia, advising her not to get close to any of the guys in her gang. She warned, guys want to seduce the women in transit - scared, vulnerable, bored - but these guys were gang members, not nice at all. These guys would befriend you to rape you, she heard repeatedly. One morning, she told her Alicia that her time was running out, but she had convinced her husband, Mr. Local Gang Head, to allow Alicia to work for the couple babysitting their kids in exchange for room and board. This would buy her some extra time, and hopefully the balance owed the gang would arrive. Alicia was allowed to continue making calls to raise the money, with plenty of promises and little hope.
With her change in status, Alicia was now under the protection and good will of Ms Gang Head. That meant she could walk the large house, play with the children in the patio, and even exit the house and walk around down the street. One day, walking the baby in a stroller, she continued going and going, not aware of how she was challenging the invisible boundaries that circled the house. Suddenly, a large car with tinted windows intercepted her and some armed guys aggressively shoved her and the stroller into the car, quietly and quickly. There was no explanation, just instructions to remain quiet. It turned out that these were local gang: Alicia had gone too far away from the house, and for a few minutes Ms Gang Head feared the worst. The unsmiling armed guys backed down under orders of Ms Gang Head, they would have just as easily finished Alicia if ordered. Seems like while Alicia walked the baby she had received the long-awaited call from her benefactor Tati, to advise she had the balance owed. When the guys brought her back, Ms Gang Head explained what happened, adding in a matter of fact tone, that if her husband had been home, Alicia would have paid for this little mistake with her life. After a big scare, the big relief.

 Now it was a matter of waiting for the monies via express mail, and a plane ticket, to arrive.

( to be continued )

Sunday, January 13, 2013



You would have thought that after risking his life to get to the US, now that everything was starting to look good, Al would not have seriously considered returning back home. I figured I would not, but what do I know? 

Al had finally made it to Miami, where he a had a few relatives. He now could spend holidays with family, and they certainly were eager to invite him at any and all family events. For charming Al was the life of the party. He was liked by adults and children, he was liked by co-workers… everyone loved the guy! He helped people on the bus, in the neighborhood, at work. He would come from work, and go help someone paint their home, or help them move, whatever.
Al was chased off the train La Bestia by Federales (he guesses); he and some buddies had to jump off the train into bushes of spines, thorns and prickles, where horse-riding Federales would not follow them. About riding the train,"la bestia", you don’t wish that kind of hell on anyone. To start with, you have to run to catch the train, grab a handle and jump up into a wagon. Of course, you only get one chance of doing this right, and no training. Then, you get to ride on top of the wagons, and sleep there too. You tie yourself to the roof, because some fall asleep and fall off. Some guys take turns sleeping, to protect the rest of the group. Someone has to watch obstacles and Federales. You could lose everything you have by falling asleep in front of the wrong crowd, even if you don't fall off.
Having jumped into prickles bushes to escape federales, hardly able to walk, having lost all possessions, Al was fortunately not left behind by his buddies. He would have to remain in hiding in the general vicinity, until able to chase the train again, in order to continue his trip. Turns out, all of them having dispersed at the escape, cautiously started returning to the area. Those without any money had to beg for food, steal clothes from clothesline, shower in rivers, move and hide until who knows when.
Al befriended a woman selling fast food in the street, for days frequenting her taco stand, until having charmed her and won her trust, she took the whole gang into her home. He appears to have won her trust, soon right into her bedroom, right into her bed. The widow  even gave him the clothes of deceased Mr. Fastfood; he was the right size in many ways, apparently. Anyway, you know where this episode is leading to, and it does go there.
In Miami, after a string of temporary jobs, he found a pretty steady stream of jobs doing construction work. So he learned – on the job – a little carpentry, a little masonry. He did what he was told to do, arrived on time, brought his own tools, worked hard, stayed out of trouble. Got in great shape, thanks to his line of work. He even picked up some English skills, and often would speak realistic English-sounding gibberish with a straight face, to everyone’s amusement.
Back home, all were appreciative of the money he sent generously and pretty consistently. I wondered, isn’t that what he hoped to accomplish in the US? Everyone agreed that he could not provide for his loved ones working back home, not like the money he made over here… and the thing is, Al already made it over here! No more risks involved ( well, ok, no more life-threatening risks ).
We all miss Al. Buddy, I raise my Corona to you, cheers!    

He had previously spent some time in Texas, where he never felt comfortable walking the streets. But he did find work and appreciation at his new job. Mind you, that's without speaking English! Afterwards, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he also found work, but he did not like the town. Throughout these periods, he sent most of his money to his ex-wife to support their two kids, and to his mother.
Once I asked him how did he decide to come to the US, and he explained that after a night of binge drinking with his buddies, someone dared him. The next morning a few of them were still talking about doing it, and he decided to go too. He left his wife some of his money, so he says, packed a bag, met his friends and off they went. About a year later, he made it to Miami.
As you would expect, for these migrants a lot of horror stories take place while crossing Mexico. That’s what you heard, right? But some of the most generous, charitable acts happen in Mexico too, and we hardly hear about those. 
One day, Al and the backhome gang (now joined by a local) sneak out in the middle of the night, hop onto la Bestia once more... putting an end to the honeymoon of Mr. Charming Passerby and the generous widow Ms. FastFood.
Fast forward to months later, skip Texas, skip NYC, and skip DC… 
Occasionally he would get drunk, and I mean DRUNK, this guy could drink. Problem is, he mixed any liquor and beer freely, to predictable results. It was at those moments where he would break down, and cry at his fortune, of missing everything he left behind…  His ex-wife was still in communication with him, and waited for his return, and he missed their children.
One day, around Christmas time, he announced he was returning home, that he would walk right into the immigration office and turn himself in. He gave away his tools and possesions, sent some money home, said goodbye to everybody, and just like that, he left