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Catalina’s Amazing Journey from the Maquiladora to the Rio Grande to Houston

I’m Honduran. I love my country, but it was time for me to leave. Why? There is no work. They closed the factory where I was working, leaving a great number of us without jobs.

Even though we worked from 7am to 5pm, they gave us only 40 minutes to eat lunch. We had to ask permission to get a drink of water. We were not allowed to stand up if our work was done sitting. If your work was done standing, you couldn’t sit down. They’d warn us, they’d put out a goal of 1,000 pieces of clothing; it would depend on your particular job. If you did it quickly, the next day they would raise or multiply the amount of work you had to do and lower the wage for that job or the price, so that someone would kill herself working, but earn less than what she had before. I thought, and I continue to think, that this is unjust, that it is robbery, because the worker deserves a good salary, a decent wage. It doesn’t matter if you work all day, as long as they pay what they should pay. When our government put some pressure on the companies so that they would pay overtime, some of them removed their factories from Honduras in order to go to even cheaper countries. They left thousands and thousands without work.

When I found myself without a job, I decided to become an emigrant, because I have two children to provide for. Without work, I couldn’t give them what they needed.

In addition, the father of my baby insisted that I get an abortion. He almost convinced me- in my head, yes, but in my heart, he couldn’t. He gave me a little bit of money for it, but with the money, I embarked upon my journey, five months pregnant.

On April 11th at 10 o’clock in the morning, I said goodbye to my children and told them that if we never see each other again, that they must not forget the good ways I have taught them, that they must behave themselves.

I left without knowing the way. I only knew that I was on my way to the United States. First, I put my trust in the Lord, and told Him to clear all obstacles from my path–snakes, thieves, everything, and to send me an angel guide for where I was going, that his presence be my light and my guide, and I began my journey.

I came to Guatemala, and this is where the story begins. We arrived at the Guatemalan border. Immigration charged us for permits and then said they were worthless. When we had paid for just the seals, they took a great amount of money from us, and then the police broke the seals. Afterwards, the patrol was every two kilometers, charging 100 quetzals per head, as if we were animals being exported. I decided not to travel by bus, and began instead to walk and walk, passing through villages, mountains, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing at the luck of the poor traveler, because I had no address, I only knew I was going to the United States. But I did not know the way to where I am now. Along the path of my pilgrimage, I joined with coyotes and the people they had with them. I stayed right behind them and they asked me, “Do you have someone who will pay us for you in the United States?” “Yes,” I said. But in the end, no, they didn’t help me.

I crossed the border of Guatemala. When I was going to cross the Guatemala-Mexico border, some thieves followed us. They held us up with a gun. They threatened that if I didn’t stop, they were going to fire. I ran and ran desperately. I didn’t feel it when I turned my foot, and it sprained or fractured. A man helped me. He brought me to his house, where his wife took good care of me, treated me well, and I say that this person was sent by God. Because I called to the all-powerful Jesus Christ: “Accompany me, Lord. Don’t leave me,” and He didn’t leave me because He is faithful. Eight days later, I tried again, with my foot bandaged. I crossed the Guatemala-Mexico border to walk once more. All night we walked. In my mind, we had gone around the military battalion, but we actually came out in front of them, only by walking for so long in order to avoid them. I walked and was always with the battalion. They followed me. I ran and ran and they always kept up with me. They didn’t want to let me go, they said it was very dangerous, because it was already 12:30 at night, but I begged them to let me go. “Let me go,” I said to them, “The danger depends on my own luck; God goes with me and nothing will happen.” With so much begging, they let me continue on my way. I walked and walked. When I heard a car coming or going, I would throw myself into the brush, because I was scared they were going to kill me.

I continued walking in this way through village fields, brush, train tracks. Suddenly, I encountered a coyote who had 9 people with him. I stayed right behind them. They asked me with whom I had come and if there was someone to help me, and I told them, “I come alone, I don’t have the money to pay for a pollero.” The coyote came from behind them and said, “Leave her. No one help her with her bag, she must be left behind because she can’t pay.”

But it turned out that no one knew the way, because it was the coyote’s first time crossing the border the way we had come. We crossed the path and didn’t know. The coyote sent us to ask, to knock on the doors of a ranch or nearby village in the middle of the night so that someone would give us directions, and this is how we spent four nights and five days. Four nights we wandered lost. We walked at night and at 4 o’clock in the morning we’d be thinking about where we were going to hide. I didn’t sleep during this period because I was scared of the others.

It was strange to me. I spoke to God and said to Him, “Lord, don’t let them abandon me.” One day they wanted to leave me behind at a ranch and said, “Stay here, you aren’t going to hold up during the trip,” and one of the women in the group said to them, “She goes with us, we can’t leave her behind.” They wanted me to stay in a corral where there were calves, or baby cows. I didn’t want to stay and continued with them, with blistered feet, but even so walked in front of them. We arrived at a place where there was nowhere to hide. We ran and ran. As we ran I turned my ankle; in other words, I injured my foot in a fall due to going along, running, running. And injured, I walked throughout the night.

Then, yes, they left me behind at 3 am in the morning. They said, “You can’t go on with us,” and I said to them, “No problem, I have walked alone and it is better to walk alone than in bad company.” Since they had already discovered the way, they left me behind in a sugar cane field from which it was difficult to get to the village because it was so far away. There I made myself soak or massage my foot. And I, with my bandaged foot, continued my journey. I was pregnant, walking through fields; the baby bothered me because of the walking. It seemed as though it was going to be born or going to fall; I wanted this to happen when I thought about how much further I had to go to get to the United States. I had no one and nowhere to give birth to my son. It’s better that he die instead of suffer.

For a while he didn’t let me walk. I rested and began to walk again. It took a lot to get to Matamoros, but I never tried to go back, I continued towards my goal. In Matamoros, I supposedly ran into Immigration. They treated me badly, they asked, “You have someone to receive you in the United States?” “Yes,” I said, and I gave them a phone number. “We’re going to get you a coyote,” they said, and took me to a house with an excessive number of coyotes and illegal people or emigrants. No one answered the phone number I had given, and the woman in charge said to me, “We’re going to send you back to your country,” to which I replied, “I’m Mexican. It’s against the law to hold me here.” I had the courage to say that I was going to press charges because they wanted $200 for the food plus what you had to pay the coyote. It was in dollars and there were only two meals a day. There I was, pregnant and wanting to eat well, sleeping on the floor, asking permission to go to the bathroom because there was only one toilet. In a few days, a great variety of emigrants came, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, from many countries. There were times when there was nowhere to lie down, there were so many people with the American dream. So many coyotes swindling the people sleeping like dogs and paying lots of money. I asked how much they were paying for the coyotes to bring them, and they said $4000 dollars, others $5000 depending on the coyote. If they didn’t pay, the coyotes would hold the person and treat them badly. I begged the woman to just help me cross the river, but she didn’t want to. But they let me go and I went in search of refuge or someone who could swim to bring me across the river. I asked where I could spend the night. They told me there was a House of Hospitality in Matamoros called Casa Juan Diego.

I arrived in Matamoros and was there for 5 days, and went to the river to see how I could cross it, but it was very difficult for me, because I didn’t have the money that the person charged to cross me over to the other side.

But suddenly, a boy or youth came, and he and other young people brought me over. This is how I crossed the Rio Grande and stepped onto American soil for the first time. Thank God. It cost me so much to get there.

I arrived at Casa Romero with the other women, and they gave me $25 to get to the city of Houston. I had nowhere to go in this city, but thank God for having inspired the thought, the desire, the work, the founding of Casa Juan Diego. God bless the founders, may He give them good health and strength to work, the wisdom to deal with each person. This house was where they reached out to me. They helped me with everything. Thanks be to God, thank you to all at Casa Juan Diego, to those with good hearts who bring donations to this house. I am an emigrant woman who is thankful for all these things. Thank you, thank you very much for all the good you’ve done for me. God bless the founders, the donors in all they do.

Thank you for forgiving me for my mistakes in my poor writing.

When I arrived at Casa Juan Diego, I was 9 months pregnant. The doctors told me the baby had a bad heart and that it was getting weaker. But, thank God, when he was born, he was healthy.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXII, December 2002.