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An Immigrant’s Story of his Journey: I Had to Keep going and Arrive in Houston

The migrants who arrive in Casa Juan Diego tell of the difficulties in their countries that contribute to migration. Some years ago refugee youth from the civil war in El Salvador arrived in Los Angeles, where they learned about the life of gangs and delinquents from that area and were later deported. Then the International Monetary Fund did not succeed in contributing to the Salvadoran economy for the benefit of the majority of the people, but rather contributed to the delinquency of the economy. Ernesto had never lived in the US, but felt he had to leave his country to earn money to help his family.

In El Salvador there is no more conflict of war, but delinquency has increased and employment has decreased. Because of this I became one of the thousands of Salvadorans who day by day decide to travel to the United States to the so-called “American dream,” eager to get ahead in my country and have a better future trip from Soyapango in San Salvador toward Tecún Umán, Guatemala. I remember that when I arrived at the Casa del Migrante there, they told me how difficult it is to cross into Mexico.

In that place I shared conversations about ordinary things with other migrants who told me the places where it was best to cross, where the Immigration check points were, and thus I decided to cross to the other side of Guatemala toward Mexico. I crossed the River Suchiate in an inner tube. I remember that they said they would charge me ten Mexican pesos. Good, I said, that’s fine.

What I didn’t know was that on the other side, the same man of the rafts would assault us with a pistol and take the little we had brought. I was left without a nickel.

We continued until we boarded the freight train, which the immigrants call the iron beast. In the train station of Ciudad Hidalgo I asked others who were there waiting for the train, “Hey, compa’, what’s happening? When does the train leave?” They told me, laughing, the train has no hour or day. You just have to wait until night. Fortunately, we began to see movement in the train that would leave for Tapachula and then Tonalá, Chiapas, at approximately 2:00 a.m. In the early morning the train left, and with it hundred of migrants. I didn’t know where they all came from. They came out from all sides like ants. We came about fifteen in each car. When I looked out on the sides of the train, I felt like it was a carnival of people.

When we came close to Tapachula on this stretch, the assailants started to come out, from train car to car, assaulting the people. And if you don’t give them anything, they throw you off the train. I saw many people thrown off the train and saw the men put their hands all over the women and even rape them.

When one sees these things, one feels impotent in not being able to do anything, since they are up to 30 gangsters and delinquents. The only thing one can do is ask God to protect us.

Upon arriving in Tonalá after a couple of army check points, we had to go and ask for food, a taquito, since we no longer had any money-all was robbed. After a while the shame of begging left me.

I was the first to get off the train to ask for food in the towns after Tonalá. I continued on the train to Arriaga, then to Ixtepec, Oaxaca. After I arrived there, the train didn’t leave for three days. That is where I, with other companions, decided to walk. We walked for two and a half days to Matías Romero. On this path we went through moun-tains, where we slept with the coyotes surrounding us. They were very hungry, as we were ourselves. A Honduran woman whom we will call Sandra told me: “Either the coyotes will eat us or I will eat the coyotes,” she was so hungry. She was a little plump, so she suffered more.

As we arrived at this town, the “preventive” police came out, the ones they call “cuico.” They stopped us and told us to “share” some or, to Immigration. And since we had no money, my Honduran friend was the one who paid for us with her body.

From then on, there were no check points until Veracruz. We went through various towns. I will never forget one of these towns, with such beautiful people. When the train was arriving, all the people came out with bottles of water and bags of food and gave them to us on the train. What good people.

Upon arriving at Orizaba, we went to the Casa del Migrante. There I got to know other Salvadorans, from the Port of La Libertad, and one said to me, “Hey, you know the way.”

“Look,” I said, “I don’t know the way, but this train goes North, and everyone goes there.” In the end, we became compadres and went on together. We only knew that this train would take us to Mexico City.

We got on the train enthusiastically, not knowing what was awaiting us. Upon arriving in Tlaxcala, there was an Immigration and army check point and we all jumped off the train. I jumped off and then I saw my friend, the guy from the Port of La Libertad, who was walking along the side of the train, and he didn’t jump. Then he jumped and when he fell, the wheels of the train cut his two feet. When we picked him up he cried out, “My feet! The train took them off!”

Seeing this, I went running to a telephone to call the ambulance. The press arrived first. We did not want the press. At this moment we needed an ambulance to help my friend. When the police and the ambulance arrived, the others left and told me, “Let’s go, because Immigration will come.”

“No,” I told them, “If they deport me, it doesn’t matter, but I will not leave my compadre alone.

They took him to a hospital to recuperate. Thanks be to God, everything turned out OK. I had to sign so they could amputate his foot. Later, the “Grupo Beta” took charge of sending him back to El Salvador.

After this, I was afraid to continue on the train. I decided for bus or car-whatever ride was good. Then, arriving in the State of Mexico at a place called Huehuetoca, I decided to work to put together money to continue my journey. I worked approximately six months and earned $5,000 Mexican pesos. I said, with this I can make it to the North.

I didn’t know that, upon arriving in Celaya in Guana-juato, the federal police would assault me. When they assaulted me, the police told me, “Take off your shoes, socks, well, everything. It was there that they found my money. And they took it from me. Then I went on without money, begging for food.

When I arrived in San Luis Potosí to board another train that would take me to the Northern border, I met other Salvadorans waiting for the train. The private police hired by the train came out and asked us for money, but we didn’t have any. They beat us and let us continue on our way.

We got on the train and in two days we arrived at the Casa del Migrante in Nuevo Laredo. There, talking with other migrants, I got to know another Honduran who told me, “I am ready to walk to the other side.”

“Me, too,” I said, and we decided to walk together the following day. We found our way to the Rio Grande and looked over the possibilities of crossing to the other side

Arriving at the bank of the river, we saw about ten people crossing, and we said, “Let’s go down lower.” We took off our clothes and crossed. In Laredo, Texas, we walked for a day until we got to where the freight train leaves. I decided to board, but my Honduran friend did not. He said, I prefer to walk. I came, thanks be to God, without any other problem. Since at the border they had given me the address of Casa Juan Diego, I succeeded in arriving and said, “Thanks, God, because I know that you have helped me this far.”

Signed by one more Salvadoran in the United States.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XV, No. 8, December 1995.