""If you lose your sense of direction when you are crossing the desert that lines the southern border, you risk dehydration. Of course, as a woman alone, you take a much bigger risk."

essays

Karla Lopez

kayThe child of Guatemalan immigrants, Karla Lopez is a passionate advocate for social justice, and she views a college education as a way for her to better not only herself, but also her children. However, she knows that the good example she sets for her children will also benefit others, particularly college students who are mothers and immigrants. In this essay, she hopes to mend fences: explain to people born in the United States that they need not fear immigrants, particularly Spanish-speaking immigrants, who wish to share the American Dream with them, not usurp it only for themselves.


My Mother's Story

     The story I am going to tell you is not the kind of story many illegal immigrants in the United States speak about, but this kind of story needs to be told in order for others to have a better understanding of the pain and sorrow an illegal immigrant family can go through to have a better life. As illegal immigrants we don’t come here to take over anything or be better than the people born here. We come for better opportunities for our future generations and ourselves. And now, let me begin my story: what it was like to be the child of illegal immigrants in the United States.

     My first sad memory as a child was seeing my mother drive off on a bus. She was leaving my four siblings and me to come to the United States to make a better life for her and us. This journey was a difficult but necessary one for her to make.

     In our home country of Guatemala, my siblings tell me that we lived in what can be considered as poverty. Our home did not have any floors, it was all dirt, and my father was the only breadwinner, so at times it became a little difficult for my parents to have food for their five children. My parents, though, always managed to feed us all, even if we had to eat only beans every day. I remember my mother telling a story about how she had to place a piece of cardboard inside my brother’s shoe when the soles were gone; the money was so tight that they could not afford new shoes for my brother. By putting a piece of cardboard inside the shoe, the shoe lasts a little longer.

     These experiences of poverty made my mother leave all five of her children behind in order to make a better life for her family. They are also the kinds of experiences that many people do not think of or hear about when they talk about illegal immigrant families: “illegal aliens.” Most of the time there is bad feedback given about immigrant people and workers. It is actually really sad to know that we are considered a bad thing or bad news to some people in society. I know for a fact that if my parents had money and there were many more opportunities in Guatemala, we would probably still be living there. Most people who emigrate from any country to the United States are people who cannot get better opportunities or make a better life for themselves and their families in their country of origin.

     I am the child of parents who made many sacrifices to come to this country. I also know firsthand how hard it is to be the child of immigrant parents. I cannot fathom not being able to give my children the opportunities that can be provided to them by living in the United States, and that is why I can see the reason for my mother not only risking her life, but also breaking her heart when she had to leave her five children to come to the United States alone, leaving us in the care of our father.

     Coming to the United States, my mother had no family or friends that would be able to help her in any way. Most of the time, when women come to the United States from another country by themselves, they risk being raped and sometimes killed by the same men that bring them over to the United States My mom was lucky because she made it to the United States alive and well. Living and working in the United States had been her dream for many years because she wanted to be much more for herself and her children. However, it was hard for her to make the journey to the United States, to cross its southern border from Mexico. As she sometimes told us, there are nights you don’t even sleep because you are so afraid to get caught by the immigration authorities. Sometimes you can be falling asleep and you hear a helicopter above your head looking for people crossing the border. You can also walk for many days, and feel there is no end to your journey, and there are many days without even a shower after having crossed a big lake or body of water. When it comes to crossing any body of water, you also need to be very quick because the current could take you, and you can die if you are not strong and fast enough. There is also, of course, the risk of becoming lost. If you lose your sense of direction when you are crossing the desert that lines the southern border, you risk dehydration in the sweltering heat. Of course, as a woman alone, like my mother, you take a much bigger risk: You are not as strong as a man, and can be taken advantage of.   In the years since my mother’s journey, women are even more at risk when attempting to cross the southern border to the United States, and many women are raped and murdered. Still, like these women who illegally cross the southern border of the United States today, my mother was willing to take those risks.

     In addition to not having any family or anyone to welcome her here, my mother came to the United States with only the clothes on her back and whatever little money she had left in her pocket. She slept on floors for many days, not knowing what she was going to do. However, sleeping on the floor, my mother was very sad and ecstatic at the same time, because she was finally here in the place with many opportunities: the United States! It was a hard and painful journey but well worth the sacrifices made.

     Of course, it was difficult for us, her children, back in Guatemala, because we had no idea where my mother was or if she had even made it safe and alive to the United States. For as long as my mother was traveling in foot to come to the United States, which was many days, we did not hear from her, until one day my father finally told us she has made it, safe and sound. Waiting to hear this news was almost like holding your breath for so long and finally being able to breathe without having to gasp for air. My father was in awe that my mother made it, and was very anxious to try to make the journey himself. For a couple of months my mother struggled because she could not let the “coyote”—the name for the person who brought her here—know that she did not have anyone here for her. But she finally did let him know, and the man and his family were very generous by helping my mother look for a job. When she did find a job, they made sure it was a trustworthy family who allowed my mother to work as a live-in housekeeper/nanny. She worked and stayed in this place five days a week. She spoke to us on the phone whenever possible, and tried to make as much money as she could to bring the rest of the family to the United States. My mom would send money to us and letters, letting us know how much she missed us. A couple of months after my mother came to the United States, my father, sister, brother and I were on our way to the United States. I was four, so I only have a vague memory of how I arrived in the United States. I know there was a point when I became separated from my other siblings because the coyote did not want me to travel the way the adults traveled because it would be too difficult for me, and I would slow them down. I remember my brother, father, and sister being stuffed into the trunk of a car, and I was told that I needed to be quiet and sit in the back of their car. I sat in the back of the car crying because I wanted to be with the rest in the back. I don’t how I was allowed to cross the border, but I did. I was also horrified because I was told that my family was going to go one way, and I was going to stay with these people. I did end up staying in a house with another little girl while the rest of my family crossed the border. I was not able to see my family for a long time. The wait almost seemed endless. I was told that I became mischievous because I wanted to be reunited with my family. I can’t remember because I was so young. I can, however, remember the heartache I felt, because it was the same feeling I had when my mother left to come to the United States. After staying with these people for a month or so, I was finally reunited with my family. I remember the first phone call my mother made to speak to me. I cried and cried because I wanted to go though the phone and have my mother’s warm arms hold me. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for my mother to know that her baby was left with some people whom no one in family knew. In later years my mother told me that I was somehow lost for a couple of weeks; no one, not even the coyote, knew where I was. My mother thought she would never see me again.

     After my father, my siblings and I crossed into the United States, there were only two more people left in Guatemala who needed to come to the United States; these were my two other sisters. They were left alone in the care of a neighbor for about six months. However, once the whole family was in the United States, there were sacrifices that still needed to be made in order to prosper and make a living. My mother continued to work as a housekeeper, which didn’t really give her enough time to spend with the family. It was especially hard for me because I never really got to see her. My only time with her was a day and a half on weekends. She would come home on Friday evening, but had to leave again to go back to work Sunday evening. This short time together didn’t really give us much time to bond as mother and daughter, and my father was too busy trying to find a job for himself to bond with me, and once he found a job, he was too busy working, so I did not have much of a relationship with him either.   However, on weekends my mother made it a habit of going to a pizza parlor we me, and we would talk about what our week had been like. As much as I enjoyed and savored every moment we had of bonding, I also dreaded the fact that Sunday would soon be here and she would again have to go. It hurt me a lot because I needed my mother to be there for me. However, I now understand that if she did not sacrifice time with her children I would not have the opportunities I now have.

     It’s hard when you are the child of immigrants, because they sacrifice many precious moments with their family to be able to secure a place here in the United States. Children go day after day without their parents’ presence. As hard and heartbreaking as this experience was for me, I am now grateful to my mother because if it were not for her coming to the United States, I would not be writing this essay, and I would not be attending college to become successful so that I can be there for my own children.


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