Wiping The Slate Clean
An infant in one arm; a toddler in the other; nothing but rubber underneath, shaped in the form of a tube; separating danger from hope. In a tiny bag all her belongings, clothing and a few dollar bills. All the coyote had told her before loading them on that makeshift raft was “don’t move a muscle or you and the children are dead.” As she sat praying for dear life, doubting her own decision, the rejection of that divided river could be felt against her entire soul. Telling her she was not wanted, enticing her to give up. She did nothing but squeeze harder on the legs of her children and stare fixedly without so much as a wink at the tube behind her carrying her two eldest daughters. A moment later they were all on the other side.
That side her mother had implored her so much to forget. The one her brother called her crazy for wanting to immigrate into. Her two youngest boys were citizens of the United States, but know they were also mojados.
She had almost chosen to stay behind when the coyota who was supposed to pick her up from her rancho in Mexico never showed up on the date they had agreed. All daylong she had waited, bags packed and ready to go. She had tearfully bid her mother farewell, asked of her father’s blessing and locked all her earthly possessions in a tiny home of concrete and cement her husband had built just a few years earlier. As night arrived she accepted her brother’s words and felt stupid for having confided in a stranger she did not know.
If she did show up eventually, there was no way she would leave with her now.
Days went by and quietly she resigned herself to the idea of not crossing back to el norte, at least for a while. She phoned her husband and told him to continue sending whatever money he could. Every dollar she received was turned into pesos for nixtamal, eggs, chorizo, sardines and crackers to keep their children fed. What little garments he could send were used to clothe as many people in the rancho as possible. Here every style and color of attire was fashionable in any season.
One day as she went about her daily life in her humble home, a brisk walk away from her mother’s property, she heard these words from afar: “there is a lady here looking for you. Says she is from el norte and that she is here to take you with her. You’re not going to leave with her right mija? You are going to stay here now. You are, aren’t you?” No words were exchanged between mother and daughter as they raced over to greet the Chicana waiting inside of a small truck. Anger flowed through her veins as she remembered the countless hours she’d spent waiting just a few days before, but mobilizing within her were also renewed feelings of hope. For several minutes they argued about the missed encounter, debating who had misunderstood who. As she turned back to face her mother the look in her eyes revealed a decision already made.
She would be leaving, this time probably for good.
My mother has never been one to fear many things. Besides the misfortune of her children, there are few matters that evoke in her panic and worry. In that moment, she thought of nothing more than the hunger and despair we all felt. She hugged her mother goodbye, soothing her as much as she could through her own tears, and then packed us all into our coyota’s truck – with one last glance at her life in the rancho she was gone, never to return for longer than a few months at a time.
Now in el norte with my brother, two sisters and me, she hurriedly dressed herself and us by the Rio Grande River and walked us across the last stretch of U.S. –Mexico border. We were now all invisible in our immigrant status. The next eight years we’d spend in the Texas Valley redefining every single aspect of who we once were. Here my siblings and I learned a new language and culture, my mother and father finished growing up hard and fast, we learned of Washington and Jefferson instead of Zapata and Pancho Villa, and became a new breed of Mexicans from our rancho. From then on, every time we’ve returned to Mexico we are referred to as los del norte, Americanos or Chicanos.