Once upon a time in Mexico: Ana's story (Part III.)
Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico.
As living conditions were getting too difficult to raise a family, Ana’s parents decided to leave the region and settle in Mexico, D.F. Her father served in the military in Saltillo, Coahuila, in northern Mexico, but in the capital he took up work as a police officer, a position that made him a target. With a low salary and constant threats, the family decided to move north.
In 1998 Ana’s Mom and Dad left for the United States and she and her brother went to live with her paternal grandparents in Oaxaca. She was just six; Willy, her brother, turned two shortly after the family was separated and cried for nights and nights. Home was now a little town called La Compañia, a two-hour drive from the state capital, Oaxaca. A lot of people from La Compañia have emigrated, and most have ended up in Mexico, Missouri.
In Oaxaca people hold this belief, Ana recalls with a smile, whenever a child seemed sad, that lemons would tell if that was really what was going on, or something else was bothering them. So my grandmother wrapped this ring of lemons around me because she said if the lemons dried out really well it would mean that I was sad, and so here I am carrying my lemon necklace. Soon it was completely dried up and my grandmother was trying to do everything she could to make me happy.
Over the next few months Ana’s parents made repeated attempt to cross the border into the U.S. Once, chased down by border patrol, they were riding in a van crammed with forty people that almost rolled over, her mother feeling terrified and wondering what good she would do if she wasn’t around. Ana was growing increasingly sad and frustrated, an eight-year-old with a child’s understanding and a heart full of absence in an unruly eden shroud of farm animals and freedom.
There was no land line in her grandparents’ house, so Ana’s family had to use a place in the village where someone would make calls for them. Ana’s parents would call almost every day before heading out to the border to try to cross over the border. She didn’t understand any of what was going on other than that the ultimate goal was to get to the U.S., this faraway imaginary land, and she was upset.
With time she felt happy again. Her grandparents had pigs and goats and sheep and donkeys, a little farm, and she was carefree.
A river flows through La Compañia. The only way across the river was then a rickety little bridge that high waters would chip away at, and as Ana’s grandparents lived on one side and the school was on the other she had to cross the bridge no matter what pieces of it had fallen off and rifted away during a storm. Sometimes her aunt would put the two children over her back and climb through. Ana didn’t know how to swim. One of her mother’s sister, a nurse, would visit regularly, and on one of those visits she was so upset by the children’s living conditions that she called Ana’s mother immediately to complain.
Another call came one day. Her parents had finally made it through to the U.S. and they would send for them to join them.
Ana’s mother embarked on a campaign to try to convince the reluctant child living carefree on the threadbare farm that she would like it in America. She talked about the beautiful parks and she talked about meeting her cousins and she talked about how Ana would really like the schools, and the toy stores. They would come back to Mexico in no time, she would say, and build a house. Maybe it would look like her grandparents’ house, but it would be theirs?
With the time to leave approaching, her grandmother started prepping her for the journey by asking her questions and having her practice the new names, because the children would have to use a false identity at the border. The day came. Ana, her brother, and her grandparents traveled north.
It was a rainy night in Tijuana the night they walked up to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection barrack. They were accompanied by a man they didn’t know and had never met before, but he looked kind, so Ana wasn’t scared. She remembers her grandmother crying softly when they parted. She remembers her saying that it was ok because she would return soon. Many years later she would say I’m sure my grandma was crying because she knew it wasn’t true, she knew that the story that happens to so many families was going to happen to us. So many leave for years and years, and there is always the possibility that you will never see each other again.
They got in the taxi and she remembers turning around, and by this time it was pouring in Tijuana, and her grandparents were standing in a corner and her grandfather was hugging her grandmother and that is the last image she has of them.
Ana was her grandmother’s first grandchild and they were very close. She has never seen her again.
Going through immigration Ana forgot all the things she was supposed to say, but they all made it through, and after resting through the next day they were taken to join their parents, a short drive away from Fresno. What should have been a joyful reunion turned wrenching with her brother’s tears, and a chaos of rolling and conflicting emotions. Willy did not recognize his mother and kept asking for his Mama Reyna, his grandmother.
Ana thinks of that moment often now that she has a toddler herself.
Whenever I see pictures of families separated at the border it does break me, because all I see is my little brother.