At Night All Cats Are Strays
We weren’t exactly strays, but we were in the dark in many ways.
That night we made the decision to leave for the city there was nothing but frantic movements. In one instant the sharp pain of my father awaking us with jagged force, the overfilling what little we could into the few bags we had, the hurrying to leave before sunset, all blended together into one drunken blur of adrenaline and excitement. Before I knew it we were on the road going north farther than we had ever traveled away from our sleepy little border town, at least in this direction.
My father hadn’t worked up the nerve to tell his uncle that after more than eight years of working for him and living beside him he was moving us out of town, so we had to hurry up and leave before anyone awoke that morning. We were heading for Houston. My father had a brother there and my parents had enough money to get us there. People said there were lots of jobs there and something called minimum wage. I don’t know if there was an actual plan to what we were doing, but we were told we’d be staying with my uncle for a few days until we could afford a place of our own. I’d never met this uncle, but the excitement of knowing he was somewhere new made me want to meet him.
Our biggest excitement in the Valley was making the weekly trip to the grocery store. Valley Mart was an hour away from our home in the woods and every Saturday like clockwork we would all pack into my dad’s car to make the trip into town. If we were lucky, he’d hand us a few quarters to go buy some candy or anything else we could afford. Even when we didn’t get any money, being inside the Valley Mart was thrill enough. Yet we had always wanted to know what else was out there.
For years my mother had begged my father to move us into the city. He always shot her down by reminding her neither of them, nor my two eldest sisters had the legal documents to make it past the immigration checkpoint on this side. One slip of the tongue and we would be back in Mexico faster than you could say immigrant.
By this time, though, everyone had their residency papers, and try as he had, my father finally realized improving our life in the Valley was not going to be possible. He didn’t earn enough and we were only getting older, requiring more and more.
This was long after our days of running to hide from la Migra. Before then, every time we’d see their green trucks driving along the main road – a good football field from our home – we’d run inside yelling la Migra, my mother would lock us inside the house, and we wouldn’t come out again until we were certain no immigration officers were nearby. They did come to our house a few times, and just a few years before, their threats of involuntary deportation had been enough to send us packing back to Mexico for several weeks. Our family, however, like countless others, could not afford to stay put. We came back and were lucky enough to gain legal status in the United States.
Green cards were all we needed to take flight. Now there was nothing stopping us from hitting the road towards Houston. My father, my mother, my three sisters, my two brothers, and I all crammed inside my dad’s car for the trip. My youngest sister was not born yet. On the drive over my brothers and I spent the entire time asking the same questions over and over: What is the city like? Are there any trees there? How tall are the buildings? Are we there yet? We imagined a barren landscape with nothing but concrete floors and metal skyscrapers shooting up from the ground. Apartments and homes stacked one on top of the other, building after building.
My father didn’t do much to avoid our wild imaginings. Perhaps he thought they were charming, even a little magical. For me they were – I didn’t sleep at all that night, afraid to miss any of the incredible new things my eyes were discovering. That moment of driving into the big city I would not miss!
Ironically, we never actually realized where the city began because the trees and grass never disappeared as we had imagined. Instead we rode in on a sea of concrete past the extravagantly spacious commercial complex labeled The Galleria. My older brother yelled out look dad that huge building is a galleria (hen house). We all gasped in amazement: wow what an enormous hen house! We could even drop off the rooster we brought in the backseat of the car with us there if we wanted to, or sell it for money. Eventually we realized it wasn’t a hen house at all – it was, and still is, one of the most prestigious shopping malls in the United States. Later we’d get to know it well because our first apartment was actually within walking distance of The Galleria.
That night we wandered aimlessly, lost in the little we knew about the world from our vantage point as simple country folk, but amazingly on the road we were like so many others – immigrant or not. Just another car driving down the interstate looking for a new start in a new place; hopeful about the possibilities ahead; scared, nervous, happy, sad, all at the same time. In the darkness we were no longer invisible.
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Beautiful, just beautiful. Took me back and brought tears to my eyes.
Thank you guys!
Very awesome, makes me so proud.
Brought tears to my eyes.
Thanks, Rosa. Means a lot to me.
Ay Juan, no lo había leido. This is absolutely beautiful… in an “innocent era” kind of way. Qué bárbaro. Me dejaste sin palabras.
Me encanta que te haya gustado esta nota. Realmente fue una de las que mas he disfrutado revivir 🙂
Wow, very inspirational 🙂 It reminds me of when I was a kid & we would leave in the middle of the night to drive 8 hours to NYC. I lived for the last hour of that trip, amazed by all the cars, the buildings, the bridges, the people, the energy. : ) I loved how you brought the rooster & thought that The Galleria was a henhouse! Awesome details! 😀 Thanks for sharing Juan.
Victory, thank you! In the moment it was a little embarrassing, but now it’s a treasured memory. Glad you could relate.
Love it. “La Galleria” – LOL.
Reminds me of another story – now honestly this is one of those things where I can’t for the life of me remember if I read/heard it somewhere, or if it happened to us for real. I can almost swear this happened with one of Carlos’s Tíos, but without being totally sure, I don’t want to claim the story as mine and look foolish…
That being said, this is how I remember it – One of Carlos’s Tíos lived with us for a few months and was very proud of his limited English. One day while we were driving in the car he pointed to a bank and said, “Mira, podemos parar allá por almuerzo. El rótulo dice que tienen pollo gratis.” — I was completely confused until I read the words aloud to myself, “Free Checking”.
Thanks for sharing your family’s story. It’s important that we share them in this way – without shame and with beautiful words. When we tell our sons about how Carlos came here, we try to share it in such a way that they are proud of their father and imagining the excitement of the moment, rather than caught up in any political stigma.
Removing shame from these stories is an obligation for all of us. At the end of the day, these are human stories about our experiences in this world…and above any and all differences, we all share the commonality that we are human beings and want the same things – happiness, health and love. Gracias, Traisy!
“we all share the commonality that we are human beings and want the same things – happiness, health and love.”
Wow Juanito !! You are a great writer! You should really write a book! YOu got the talent. It took me back and I could remember everything as you described it. I’m so proud of you and our family!! These are great memories and we should never forget our roots!! Nothing to be ashamed of!
OMG TIO YAL R CRAZII BUT I FEEL YALL HAHA ITSZ LYK VING FRM HOUSTON A PLACE I LOVED AND ENJOYED LOL YAL CRAZII WELL IT WASZ GEWD LOL
Juan, me encantó la historia y tu manera de contarla, de acuerdísimo con Lola, esto debería estar en un libro! Saludos y después te contaré algo de la mía, esa es ootra historia…