What allows hearts to grow, when they could be breaking? How do you dare a reading or listening stranger to walk in your shoes and take your journey with you, while showing the secrets that are buried in your heart? These are the questions that our Herstory facilitator asked the first group of students who had crossed the border by themselves, back in 2015. This story that helped to launch the project at Central Islip High School is a testimony to resilience of the human spirit. We encourage you to reach out to the student writers, to let them know that their voices are heard, by leaving a comment when you finish reading their stories.
Story Five—A Longed-For Reunion
When my story began…
It was Saturday, April 5th, 2014. Everything was so confusing, sad, thoughtful, and even joyful, since I was embarking on my journey to the United States to be reunited with my parents and family. The hour to say goodbye came. My uncles and cousin and grandmother were home. Everyone wished I arrive safely, told me to not be afraid, that they would pray for me and that God would take care of me. We hugged and with tears in our eyes I said goodbye to my little cousin whom I love so much.
We left for San Miguel where the man who would bring me to the United States would be waiting. In San Miguel, I bought a cell phone to be able to communicate with my family on the trip, my grandmother still with me. She hugged me and asked if I was sure about wanting to come, that if I wasn’t, I could still decide, because she saw I was very sad, that I couldn’t stop crying. But in the end, I decided to come after all.
The man came for me. I had to say goodbye to my grandmother right there. It was one of the saddest moments in my life, especially since I’d lived my entire life with her. I hugged my grandmother crying, and she told me everything would be okay, that very soon I’d be with my parents, to always trust in God.
I got in the car. There were two girls on board. They were also crying and they saw me cry for a good while, like an hour. I couldn’t stop crying. Later we shared our names: one was named Rosy and the other Meyri. They were very kind. At the time, I didn’t know I’d get along with them so well. Later, at another location, a woman and her daughter got in; they would also be with us the entire journey.
They took us to a station where we would wait for a bus headed to Guatemala. We went from bus to bus, riding like five buses, to get to Guatemala’s border. When we got off the last bus, they told us, “Run, the police are coming and they can catch you.” At that moment I felt fear, anguish that the police could get us. We ran and the girls and I helped the woman with her daughter because her backpack weighed a lot and she couldn’t run with it.
We arrived at a house where we would spend the night. There were many children and adults. When I was there I felt more at ease, even though I still couldn’t stop thinking about the family I’d left behind. I felt awful. I thought, thought, and thought more about them and decided to call my grandmother to tell her I was alright. I spoke with her for only a moment. I felt awful about having left my grandmother and grandfather.
After talking with my grandmother, I went to where the girls were and met other nice kids. We talked for a good while before going to sleep. At about 11 p.m., they told us we had to go to sleep because we’d be leaving early the next morning. So we got settled to sleep on the floor. But I couldn’t sleep thinking about so many things: I thought and asked God at every moment to take care of all of us on the journey, for everything to turn out fine, that he, never, leave our side. After that, I could sleep a bit.
Around 3 a.m., they woke us up to shower and then continue with the trip. At about 4:30 a.m. or 5 a.m., we walked to some microbuses waiting for us. They told us not to make noise because of police, and so we didn’t. We got on the bus. There were many people on board. We then got off at this lonesome place where they told us we’d wait for a bus. We then waited for a while, and since it was dawn, it was cold.
About ten minutes later, we got on a bus. That bus took us to another place in Guatemala. We were on the bus for a long while. Later, we got off and took some taxis to the hotel where we’d stay for a day. We arrived and they placed us children and women in one room and the men in another. In the room we were in there was a television, they turned on cartoons, but it was hard to hear because there were so many kids. Many times they told us to shut up because the police were nearby and they could hear the racket.
Sometime later, they brought us food, but I wasn’t very hungry and just ate a little bit. I sat with the girls. We were talking about our families. There was another kid (his name was Kevin) with his sisters. They became our friends. The next day we left for the borders of Guatemala and Mexico. Once there, they told us if we wanted to wash our clothes to do it. And so we did, we started washing our clothes and drying them. We spent the night at that place.
In the morning, we left for Mexico, but they told us that since there were a lot of us kids we had to go around and through the mountain; that the road was ugly, with lots of puddles we had to jump. At one of those puddles, I couldn’t clear the jump and fell, my shoes got dirty and we kept walking even though my foot hurt. But in the end, we made it out of there and took a bus to a house in Mexico, where I was able to clean my shoes. I remember that after that we all talked for a good while. We were very hungry, but they told us we had to wait for the other group. They gave us some churros with soda.
While we were there, since it was a remote place, we all had some time to step outside and talk. I just looked at the sky that appeared so beautiful with its stars and the moon. There Rosy said to me, “Ana, look there, what a beautiful star.” I then looked at it. I felt so good at that moment, gazing at nature’s wonders.
At about 1 a.m., they brought us food: tacos. We ate and went to sleep. We left the next morning to another place in Mexico, where we’d wait to cross the Rio Grande to get to the United States. We got on a bus for hours. We then got off, and as I was getting off, a woman and man said, “God bless you, we hope you arrive safely.” I felt good with their words. We then came to a warehouse. There, we would wait to cross the river.
When I’d think about having to cross the river, I’d get very scared because I’d heard that in that river many people have died. In the afternoon, I was talking with Rosy and Meyri, when a guy who was a friend of ours showed up. He was very friendly and liked to clown around. We laughed at the silly things he’d say; at least he always had something funny to say. He was very positive and he brightened up the moment for us.
Night came. Rosy had a Bible, and I asked her if I could borrow it, she said yes. So I began to read the Bible. I felt very good reading the word of God, and I asked him for everything to turn out okay and for all of us to be able to cross the river, because, at that moment, it’s what I feared most.
The next day, we got up and ate. Later, I was washing up out by the sink when they told us, “Run! The soldiers are coming!” We ran out to hide. At the time, I had on sandals and couldn’t run well, so I took them off and kept running. But I felt stinging because there were thorns, but I continued until we found a place where we could hide. So, I hurt my feet a bit. About 15 minutes later, they told us to come out and to return to the warehouse, and so we did. When we got back, I began to pull out the thorns, but there were so many and they hurt. A while later, the time to cross the river had come.
They drove us to the river, There, they placed us on inflatable rafts, they said, “Get on.”
I just looked up at the sky and asked God to protect us. They told us, “Don’t move because this can flip over.”
Since there were so many kids on aboard, some moved a lot, and I just closed my eyes because it seemed we were going to flip over. Thank God, that wasn’t the case. We got off the inflatable. About five minutes after crossing the river, immigration agents apprehended us. They then took us, in a car, to the coolers.
We got out of the car. They began to check our backpacks and threw out all our stuff. They said we didn’t need any of that. Then they put us in a place where we would wait until we were called. They called me, took my picture and asked me my name, the name of my parents and other questions. He then told me, “Go in there.”
There was a cooler, a very cold place. They held us there for a while. They called me again and asked me my mom’s number. They called her and told her they had me there. They passed me the phone for a moment.
I could hardly speak; I felt a knot in my throat, the urge to cry as I heard her. When I was done talking, the officer said to me, “She’s not your mother. You spoke for a very short time with her.”
That made me feel awful and I started to cry. That man was very mean. I went back and I couldn’t stop crying. I just wanted to sleep, but there were so many of us I couldn’t. Hours passed, and they came to take us to another cooler. We arrived and were there for a long while. Being there is the worst because it is so cold, and you’re without a coat.
Late at night, around 3 a.m., they took us to a center for girls that came from another country. Once there, they asked us questions. They checked our hair and ordered us to shower. When we were done cleaning up, they gave us something like breakfast. Around 6 a.m., they took us to a room, told us to sleep some. By 7:15 a.m., they woke us up. They told us some of the rules of that place, and said we had to help out.
When we were done cleaning, we went to eat something and watched some TV. They then took us to see a doctor to check if we were healthy. At night, when everyone was asleep, I just cried and wanted to be with my parents already. I also felt guilty for coming, for being locked up in that place and having left my grandparents. But, I also thought about one of the reasons I came here was to be able to study, since in my country, it had been a year-and-a-half since I was in school, because of the violence we live through. Even though I wanted to study, I couldn’t. So, I began to think I could study here and, with God’s help, have a better future.
At dawn, they took me back to the doctor for injections, so that by the time I started school I had all the vaccinations. That was like three days straight. Approximately, I received 15 shots.
Days passed and they wouldn’t tell when I’d be going home to my parents. That stressed me out a lot. But then, one Monday, they took me to the social worker and she said, “They’ve sent all the paperwork, so you can leave and the money for the flight. You leave Wednesday at dawn.”
That was the best news I could get there, it was what I so wished they’d tell me.
Tuesday night I couldn’t sleep from all the joy about leaving the next day and being with my family. I was very excited. Wednesday, they woke me up very early to get ready and eat so we could be early at the airport. When we got there, we waited a bit before getting on the plane. That was something very nice, a new experience for me; it was the first time I ever got to travel on a plane. Since it was still very early in the morning, it was dark. The beautiful moon was there illuminating. Only a short time before the so longed for reunion.
We got off the plane and got on another. I remember the woman I was with gave me candy, she was very sweet. After a couple of hours on the plane, we arrived in New York. We got off the plane and the woman said that we had landed ahead of schedule and told me and the other girls to look for our parents. But, we didn’t see anyone. I looked everywhere, but neither my mom nor dad was there. The woman decided to call parents and let them know we were there.
We continued walking in the airport, doing circles, hoping someone would see their relatives, when all of a sudden I feel someone hug me from behind. I turned around, it was my mother. At the sight of her, I cried out of excitement, it had been 10 years of not seeing her, and to see her again was something very beautiful.
We left the airport, and my mom said my dad was waiting in the car because there was heavy traffic due to the rain. We got to the car, and I saw my dad. At the sight of him, I also cried and hugged him. In the car, we talked, they asked me how I felt, and said they were happy I was finally with them and that our family would now be together. We arrived at the house, and I called my grandmother to tell her I was now with my parents. She was very happy that I was with them and that I was alright.
Later, there was a knock on the door. It was my cousin, or better yet, my brother, who I had lived with practically my entire life before he came here. He hugged me and told me he was happy I was finally here. About an hour later, my little sisters and cousins arrived, and they were also happy to see me. Later in the evening, more relatives came to see me. At that moment, I thought and thanked God because I was with some part of my family, even though I still thought about the grandparents I’d left in El Salvador.
That was my story about coming to the United States.
– Translated from the original Spanish by Silvia Heredia