Divided Family*

This is Leticia’s migratory experience. Leticia was a history student at the University of Guadalajara. Her story intermixes with her mother’s, who was from a middle class family, divorced, and with children whom she had to support with her effort and the possibility to emigrate.

After divorce, family instability was quite constant. In four years, Leticia lived in twenty different homes. Finally, she decided to emigrate; together with her mother, she moved to Laredo. Even though they wanted to live together, migration made that difficult. The immediate solution was for her mother to live and work in Laredo, while all of her children studied in Nuevo Laredo.

Leticia’s life as a student happened at the border: in two border cities. In order to survive, anything was good: from gathering trash and looking for plants at the mountain. Then, she worked in several jobs: selling books, fresh water, tamales, and as a cleaning lady.

At the point when need was greater, they forgot about their middle class ideas, and Leticia’s mother worked cleaning houses in Laredo. This improved their economic situation. Also, there was the time to cross the border illegally, and the American dream ended when she worked as a janitor, housekeeper, and nanny.

Finally, Leticia returned to Guadalajara, where she has been able to work and study her college at the same time.

* Interview done by Hector Hernandez Z. in Guadalajara, in 1992. ___________________________________________________________________________

My father was born in Zaruma, Michoacan. When he was 12, he moved to the seminary. Just before becoming a priest, at age 28, he married my mom. They met here when she was studying Design. She’s from Mexico City. She had never worked, since she came from a wealthy family. She was not used to work. She didn’t know how to deal with people. Thus, when she got divorced, she started giving Design and Sculpting classes at the university. Before getting divorced, she started selling paintings and started working as a seller at a carpet store. However, since she was not used to do so, she trusted everyone. She thought that all people were trustworthy, and many people stole her designs. She got sad and decided to move to Laredo.

She left when I was 8 years old. She got divorced and left us with my father. However, our nanny took care of us. My father was a professor at the ITESO, and never really saw him. I was in charge of my siblings: two younger brothers. Upon my mom’s return, the house was a mess. We were not taken care of. She was very surprised and went to buy food, clothing, and shoes. That day she had arrived around 2 in the afternoon, and after she bought everything we needed, we left to Laredo by bus.

She had saved money by selling her paintings, and she had come back to take us. No one knew about us for many years.

I never knew who told her about going to Laredo or the reason why. I once asked her what she had done those two months, and she answered by telling me that she was researching how to get visas and stuff. She had been gone for two months when she came back for us. She had never gone back to Mexico City. Her family was there, and didn’t accept her divorced. Her family is very traditional and aristocrat. Currently, I don’t know how they are, since my mom broke all her relation with them upon her divorce.

While in Laredo, my mom didn’t have anybody. Our nanny told her about the border; our nanny’s family used to go for second-hand stuff to the other side. It may have been her who told her about the house where everyone gathered to cross.

We arrived to that house. I was 8 years old, and we lived one block away from the river. Since there were about 10 families waiting to cross. My mom was very strict and didn’t allow us to share with the other families. From there, we moved to a very bad hotel for a week. Then, we moved to a cheap house right in front of the river. From there, we used to watch the border patrol. We saw how people jumped the fence and run towards the river, which seemed very quiet, but was not.

My mother didn’t allow us to go out into the street or talk with neighbors. She was waiting to go to a better place, and six months later, we moved to a better residential place.

Upon our arrival in Nuevo Laredo, we started elementary school. I learned everything that occurred at the border through my friends. I never went out on a weekend. I remember seeing a lot of things; for example, at the railroad station, there is a park. All the people there were from Central America. One knows because of their clothing, their accent, their lack of economic means, and backpack. They arrive in train and since they have no place to arrive, they stay there.

I also saw dead cadavers at the river. They were people who tried to cross and were killed or drowned; I saw many cases of people drowning and drowning. Sometimes, people were killed by the smugglers. Whenever there was a group of people with more women than men, or if someone had money, they were robbed, killed, or raped when trying to cross. The smugglers pushed everyone into the river; families were killed; one could read those kinds of news daily at the newspaper.

My mother’s first work was selling paintings. However, that needs a lot of time and at the border there was not enough interest for them. The main activity at the border is commerce. Nobody wanted to buy paintings; plus, the materials’ costs made my mother think that she would not make it. She started as a cook, then as a waitress, where she collected more money with tips. She became part of the waitress union to get proof of residency and work.

We started living in a small room. Our first furniture were wooden boxes; we used some for the kitchen. We all slept on the same bed. Then, we moved to a place with two rooms; then we moved to a home. I remember in the four years we were there, we moved to 20 different places.

M mother got her border ID, but didn’t get ours because she needed some paperwork. She started working on the other side as well as on this side as dishwasher. During those years, the border patrol used to get to the restaurants and kitchens; they requested proof of work, and whoever didn’t have them, got fined and closed. A lot of people got deported, but she was lucky. I believe it was because of her personality and education; she was never treated like everybody else. Her bosses never denounced her with the border patrol. She didn’t cross for about three years, and finally she got her passport.

She never crossed illegally; she started doing so while her paperwork was getting approved for citizenship. By then, she didn’t have any Mexican nor American papers. She crossed everyday; and officers at the border knew her and let her pass.

She worked at the restaurants, and got paid well through tips. Finally, she got her residency, and started working in Laredo. For eight months, she worked as dishwasher – washing big pots of food, and then she became waitress.

Four years later, we returned to Mexico City. By then, she had talked to her family and everything became a lot better. She started studying at the San Carlos Academy, and worked at the same time at a chemical laboratory, in the kitchen for a year. Then, my grandparents didn’t want to help anymore. Times were difficult then, she got out of school, and started selling tuna quesadillas and fresh water at the central plaza in Mexico City; we also sold second-hand clothing and cakes. We didn’t do well. My mom and my grandfather got sick and we moved to his ranch in Azuay.

At the farm, I learned all sorts of jobs related to farming and agriculture. While living with my grandparents, I had a very traditional education – very European. My grandmother taught me all about herbs, and I learned to cook and met a lot of people from the farm.

In order to survive, we cooked a lot of apple pies. We used to go to the market, got the apples that nobody wanted – those that were on the floor or beaten; we picked them up and cleaned them up. We also went up to the mountain to collect cactus and other vegetables. At the ranch, we lived in a room, where workers used to live, while my mom’s family lived at the main house.

On the third year, after being six months sick, my mom got better. We didn’t have any money to start a business. We sold cakes, and did better. Thus, my mom decided to go to Laredo, since they all liked this type of food.

Since she needed money to return to Laredo, my mom sold food to teachers of Azuay. She went during July and August, and worked as a waitress and cook at a seafood restaurant. She saved money and returned for us. The same day she returned, we packed and left.

Upon our arrival in Laredo, we lived in a room that belonged to my mom’s friend. We arrived in August, when temperatures were about 40 degrees Celsius. We stayed home watching TV and playing. Those days we only eat beans and rice with carrots. My mom only gave us that to eat so we could save money.

That fall, I started high school and my brothers went to elementary school. My mom worked in Laredo and, one year later, she was the waitress captain. I started working at a “paleteria”. Some of my customers were Americans, and I remember they didn’t trust our fresh water. They thought it was not cleaned enough. They used to ask: “what is that?”

I explained and showed them the tamarind on a napkin, in a very clean form. I told them that that was the tamarind. In Laredo, they didn’t know a lot of Mexican fruits. I learned English, and my mom knew that. Besides, all the announcements in Laredo are in English and Spanish, and all people speak “Spanglish”, so one learns both languages.

The need for money made my mom change her “middle-class” ideas, and started working cleaning apartments. She got paid between $10 to $15 dollars per apartment. She also ironed, and got paid $10 dollars per dozen of shirts. She also noticed that Americans liked tamales very much; so she started making tamales in a friend’s home. She used to get good money that way. Since she liked design, she used to design clothing or bedroom designs, and got paid for that. One time, she got paid to design a very famous hotel there: Camino Real.

All that happened while I was in high school. Two or three years later, she became a housekeeper in a house. Then, on the weekends, she used to clean some other houses and started raising a lot of money. Currently, she is the manager in a restaurant, and even became American citizen. She continues designing, but only seldom.

After I left the “paleteria”, I sold books. My brothers crossed the border without documents – as Americans. Since they are tall and blond like my grandfather, they used to cross like that. They worked in small things. My younger brother likes working with wood, so he used to make houses for birds, dogs, and that kind of work. The youngest brother has never worked in his life.

During that time, I didn’t like to cross because I was scared of crossing illegally. I was afraid of saying “American citizen”. I was shy. However, while selling books in Laredo, I was very secure. I also worked making documents with the typewriter for doctors. They always insisted for me to go. In fact, they got a scholarship for me to attend the University of Houston, but I didn’t want to live in the United States. I didn’t like the racism. I saw all my friends working on the other side as waitress, mechanics, and I knew they way they got treated on the other side. They said they were treated badly and their pay was less. A lot of times, tourist arrived in Laredo and used to drive by Guerrero street – main street in Laredo, and used to shout: “*** Indians!”. I never liked that, and stayed with that idea for a long time.

I never crossed to the other side. My friends used to ask me why, if I looked like an American. I replied by saying that I didn’t like to hear that. However, I became aware that the racist people were not the blond Americans, but Chicanos instead. I think Chicanos felt superior; however, even though they treated my friends badly, they never treated me bad.

From all my high school friends, no one continued their college education. Everyone left to the other side to work as waitress, drivers, or in anything they found.

After I finished high school, I returned to Guadalajara to study at ITESO. I never worked until the second semester as a secretary. I returned for two reasons: (1) when I was in high school, I was reunited with my father and we were quite happy, and (2) since he had worked at the ITESO, he convinced me to return here because he could get me a scholarship. At the end, he didn’t get me anything. I got half the scholarship, and I never paid the other part, so I couldn’t continue studying.

I arrived with an aunt – my mother’s sister. It was different because I had never lived with family. I hadn’t seen them for about eight years. I was very sad because I didn’t want to depend from my family. My mother then called me:

- Hey, aren’t you going to go to school this year?

I said no. Then she asked me to return to Laredo. She had applied for residency through IRCA. A friend of hers signed as a sponsor, saying that she had lived with him for five years. But, when I returned to Guadalajara, my brothers came with me. We lived in an apartment and then with my aunt for two months. I only lasted that long because they wanted me to be home at a certain time. In addition, they didn’t like how I spoke; I used to speak with a Northern accent, very aggressive. They wanted to boss around, and I didn’t like that.

My brothers arrived by the end of August; then my mom came, got us an apartment and after two days she went back. We lived there for eight months. My brothers flunked in school, so Carlos – the oldest, went with one of our aunts, and the youngest moved with my father to Tulatlan.

I finished the semester in ITESO, and I was two subjects short. Even though I was sad, I continued studying throughout the summer, but I didn’t finish because of lack of money. I got ill as a result of depression; my father came and took me to Tulatlan, and I was there for a month. However, he didn’t helped me out with my debt. I talked to my mother and told her about my problem. I told her if I worked in Guadalajara, I couldn’t do anything with that kind of pay.

She used to send us money, but not as before. It was not enough. She worked with a doctor due to the IRCA requirement; her salary was not enough, so by September of 1988, she said: “come with me.”

I had a cousin, daughter of the aunt I first arrived in Guadalajara. She was getting married soon and she was saving money. So, my mother said: “if you want, your cousin may come along.”

My cousin admired my mom a lot, because my mom never conformed to the family’s rules. For my cousin, my mom was the rebel aunt, the artist aunt and educated. So, we decided to go to Laredo. My mom got so excited, that she made a very pretty painting. She said that we would work with a lady making donuts. Since this lady was leaving for two months, we would take care of the house and would get paid $1.5 million pesos a month. My cousin and I said “how wonderful!.” So we started our trip.

Our mother said that we would cross as American citizens with a friend of hers. However, that friend left early, and we arrived with a friend of mine from high school. She was very poor, but worked hard. She used to work at a local hospital, while studying nursing. We stayed there for a week. My friend’s house was made out of wood; it was filled of cockroaches. It was a very hot time of the year, and we were very afraid. During those days, we gained weight because we only ate flower tortillas.

After a week, my mother sent us some American clothing. She also sent instructions with a friend, who took us with a smuggler. To get to his house, our way was like a labyrinth. We got to the first house asking for the smuggler with a very weird name. Then, another lady took us to us to the smuggler’s friend house. This guy would call the smuggler. The next day, a very tall and fat man got there, with his hat and boots. He looked at my cousin very lustfully and said, “I charge $300 dollars to cross you both.”

He would cross us to Laredo by boat at midnight, and he was charging a lot of money. Perhaps he thought we had a lot of money; and, he was looking at us in such a way that I didn’t trust him. So I said that I wouldn’t cross with him. My mom had gotten us that smuggler through some friends. We call my mom and told her that we wouldn’t cross with him.

My mom said that she would get us another smuggler. I don’t know how, but she got us a blond guy from a farm. His age was about 20 years and was very live. He is one of those persons who gains your trust right away, however, we were not very sure about that.

On October 8 th, they came for us at around 1pm. I believe it was a Wednesday. It was very hot outside. We dressed with American clothing: shorts, tennis, t-shirt, just like people from the other side. This guy went for two more friends of his. He crossed every weekend, stayed there for a week and returned. He crossed by the river using a tire. He had his hiding place. I remember he picked up his friends, and another guy who was saying farewell to his children because he was going to work to the other side too. We departed by road towards the desert. We entered through a part very desert like and filled of cactuses. We arrived to one side of the river. There are a lot of trees on the river’s sides. When we were crossing, we spotted a border patrol detaining illegals. This guy changed the route immediately. We crossed some kilometers ahead and we hided. It was about time to change guards from the border patrol. There were a lot of helicopters flying before returning to their base. We were hiding by the bushes. Each person had a tire and a plastic bag. We took our clothing off, just stayed with panties. I laid down above the tire and my cousin just above me, and the smuggler starting swimming and pulling us on the river. The water was dirty and cold, but since it was pretty hot outside, it wasn’t that bad. We arrived to the other side quickly. While he went back for the other guy, we dressed and fixed ourselves. We noticed that there were a lot of socks on that small area. We thought that the area was common to cross. Finally, the smuggler arrived with the other guy, and after he dressed, we continued our way walking. I noticed that two of the guys were very tan and we were very white. They told us to partner with them and hug them. My cousin did hug the guy, but I walked by their side. I was very afraid, and always walked behind them, observing everything. My cousin and I looked more Americans than the rest.

We walked like twenty blocks, it was plain desert. One of the guy’s wife had papers, and had crossed by the line in car to wait for us. Once we met them, they drove us to my mother’s place, which it was a very nice and elegant place in Laredo. It was a very big Victorian house. My mother was so happy that almost hugged the guy. He charged her $100 dollars total, and arrived around five in the afternoon.

We got placed in a job quickly. My mom took care of us. I stayed there for a year, and my cousin stayed from October to February, because she got married in March. I stayed there, and separated from my mother to seek for jobs on my own. My mother took care of me and looked for jobs with her acquaintances. I continued working with my mom. She had a small house within the big house. Since she was trustworthy, she used to get meals there as well. She gave me all her positions cleaning houses, because she wanted to get a job in a restaurant. On Fridays, I went to a big home all day, and I got paid $20 dollars. At night, I worked at a home of some Arabs for the whole weekend, and they paid me $50 dollars. Then, I started taking care of an elderly lady. I cooked for her weighting all the ingredients for her food. I gave her medicine, injected insulin, took her blood pressure, and I got paid very well. That family liked me very much. Then, I worked at a doctor’s home. I cleaned his house and cooked for him. Then, he paid me to take care of his African parrots, macaws, white peacocks, and very weird plants. I worked there for three months with my cousin. Then, she worked for another lady, a friend of that family.

While working for the doctor, I also had the opportunity to work in other apartments. On our free days, we got paid $5 dollars to take care of the kids. They liked us because we knew English and were educated. In addition, we taught the kids to sit and eat properly. Before us, they had two nannies – one from Oaxaca and another one from a small town, but they didn’t speak properly. So, they gave us their jobs.

When my cousin left, I continued working at the same house, but no kids. I started working extra in other apartments. I worked in an apartment about two hours; there I cleaned the bathroom and the kitchen, and since it was a very small place, I finished quickly. I did everything with machines. The most difficult thing was that there was not transportation to get to those homes. I had to walk a lot, and since everyone had a car in that area, it was quite strange to see someone walking. I was afraid that someone stopped and asked me what I was doing. I saw the border patrol detaining people, but I got never stopped. Even one time, they got to the house where I worked, but nothing happened. I was afraid to get caught.

I remember when I worked with the Arabs, I didn’t do so great. The pay was good, but they were stingy. They gave me food after they were done. I slept in a room with no windows and no heater. During winter, I suffered a lot. I started as a nurse and ended up cleaning bathrooms. One day, all of their cleaning staff left them. I was leaving too, but the wife said, “I pay you double to stay!” I said no because I had another job. So she said, “I pay you triple!”. I didn’t want to work there anymore. They were not nice with people and they were quite strict. They had a son aged 60, with brain paralysis, and a granddaughter in high school who was not smart. The lady noticed that I helped her granddaughter, and she paid me $5 dollars per homework. It was weird because I did that to help her.

So, I worked like that from February until June, when I returned to Guadalajara. I returned because I was inquiring with some friends to start at the University of Guadalajara. So, they told me that due to my last name, I had to come back a specific date. All of my friends were from high school, and one of them was from ITESO.

Just before returning, I felt that I had more experience and less fear. I had more goals now; while working at the doctor’s house, I spent a lot of time alone taking care of animals and reading all sorts of philosophy books the doctor had. I read a lot while working there. That’s when I knew I was not going to continue that kind of life for the rest of my lifetime. So, I returned.

With my savings, I bought women’s accessories to sell. Then, I worked at the mall with a very bad salary for a whole semester. Then, while talking with a friend, he said that there was a job opening at the university’s library. I started working there and everything went well.

I remember when I was returning to Mexico through the bridge, I felt weird. I felt like I had worked so hard, and I felt proud. I didn’t want to return back anymore. I came back July 15, 1989. After I finished my career, I started working at the DDA, with a new whole ideal. The truth is that part of me wanted to stay in the U.S. longer and raise more money. However, I wanted to study, and I didn’t care if I had money or not. The only thing I wanted to do was to study, that why I’m here.