In the first two installments of the interview, Carmen explained how six years ago she and her husband David left their hometown of Cuernavaca, Mexico for New York City. She was almost 30 years old at the time. They hired a coyote who arranged for them to cross through Arizona. In their third attempt, after being separated in the desert north of Sasabe, they made it to a house in Phoenix. From there they took a bus through Flagstaff to Las Vegas, and from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. They took flight across the country to NYC, where, a few months later, they were caught up in the horror of September 11th, 2001. In this final segment of the interview, David adds a few of his own observations.
One of the Millions
How Carmen Crossed from the Arizona Border to NYC
Interview and translation by Logan Phillips
I was there still a year and a half more after September 11th. David two years and a half. He was painting and I was working in a deli in Harrison. Work got scarce after the Towers. People weren’t interested in making improvements on their houses. And even if you are out of work, you still have to pay rent.
Look, I had plans to only be there two years. In October 2002 I bought my return ticket for February 2003. I bought it five months ahead of time, I had made plans ahead of time to return. It wasn’t spontaneous, as if I said “tomorrow I’m leaving.” No. I thought about it, but David told me to think about it more, to stay and save more money. I told him no, because I couldn’t be away from my daughters any longer. They were small, they needed me. He said, “well, go, but I’m staying.” And he did, a year longer than me.
I came back mainly for my daughters. I had nightmares about them there. Many times late at night I would wake up and David would tell me to calm down, but I would cry. I had horrible, ugly dreams. I’d think about them and cry. I talked to them twice a week on the phone. As much as I could. But I tried to save as much money as I could because it cost five dollars every time I would call them, and five dollars would begin to hurt after awhile. They sent me things, photos, and I sent them photos too.
I came back in a plane. Direct to Mexico City. Super easy.
Thoughts on Immigration
After everything, it wasn’t worth it. It’d be worth it if you’re going legally to visit, because it’s a beautiful country. To go with work lined up, maybe with papers to be there only seasonally. That’d be better. Because, like David says, going like we did, it’s dangerous. You die out there. There are so many who stay out there. Close to Sasábe there is a place called Altar, it’s on the way to the border. In Altar there is a pile of crosses and posters that say “don’t risk your life, don’t cross the desert, don’t cross the mountains, you can die.” It took us exactly 25 days to cross in total.
David says, “Me, to everyone who tells me ‘well, I’m headed there,’ I say, ‘why are you going? You’re abandoning your country. You can work here. You just need intelligence. You’re going up there looking for money, but you can find it here, and with less problems. There you’re going to go every single day to work, you can do that here too. Don’t be lazy.’
“Also, they want to see new things, because a lot of people come back talking about things that aren’t true. ‘There you earn bills hand over fist,’ and all that. ‘I don’t know what to spend my dollars on,’ but it’s all a lie.” They come back showing off, it’s not reality.
We paid more than $500 a month in rent in New York. You don’t save up a lot. I didn’t save my money while I was there, I sent it back to do a little bit of work on my house. Yeah, I added on a little to my house, I put a entrance on my lot. It’s something that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to do here as easily. And David saved a little for his taxi. But almost the same as when we left. What is good there is the clothes. The only good thing we brought back with us was good clothes and shoes.
Oh, it felt so good to come back. Lately, although work has been going a little bad for me thanks to the type of bosses I’ve had, I still don’t feel like going back to NYC. Even though it’s a beautiful city, you feel like an outsider. I felt strange, out of my element. I couldn’t just talk to people, “Hola, ¿qué tal?”
But we did some nice things there. For me the coolest thing we did was go to a Paul McCartney concert in Madison Square Garden. That was definitely the coolest thing.
It will never be possible to stop immigration. There is so much poverty in Mexico. We are poor, but there are people way poorer than us. People who can only eat tortillas, chile and salt. It doesn’t matter to them to risk their life to go looking for what is called “the American Dream.” Look, in the US there are people from little villages in Mexico that you can’t believe are there. People from the mountains, from villages that are at the tops of the mountains. One time I met some people from Michoacan who told me they were from some little tiny village, I asked them how they came. The same way, they found a coyote. There are villages here in Mexico where there are no men. They’re all there [in the US].
You know what messes things up financially to go? The coyote. The crossing costs $3,000. That’s $30,000 pesos, more or less. They have a good thing going. Look, the majority of them have already been deported from the US. The guy who crossed us, he was deported. They will never be able to get papers. Maybe someday David and I will be able to get papers, even though we’ve been caught. Maybe with time, I don’t know, some new law, an amnesty or something. Like that they would pardon your sins.
The coyotes are sure it will go well for them, all the better that it’s an illicit, illegal act. But the worst is then when they just leave you, throw you out into the desert. That’s really bad, and that’s why I’ll never go that way again. Never.
Sure, it would be possible to construct a wall along the entire border. But it’s not worth it to the government. And look, Mexicans are clever, they cross in tunnels and drains also. Would it be possible for them to construct the wall? Yes. But would it stop migration? No. See, everything here is a swindle. Like the saying, “he who doesn’t cheat doesn’t get ahead.”
The immigrant work force is a business. It suits the US government not to stop it, and also the Mexican government. It’s a business for them. They only thing they do is control it, nothing else.
David says, “How many millions have they invested in Iraq now? And they can’t close the border? It’s a business. If immigrants don’t enter, who is going to do the work? Everybody that takes care of the kids, that cleans the houses, they’re latino. If the US didn’t want anyone to come in, they could stop it.”
Los Angeles, California, is the city with the second largest Mexican population in the world. More Mexicans than in Mexican cities. More than Guadalajara, more than Puebla.
Look, this is my opinion. I put myself in the place of the people of the US, those who don’t have anything to do with the economy of Mexico, and I think, it’s not their fault things are this way. But yes, there are immigrants who have committed crimes. And that’s why people have a bad impression of all immigrants.
I would tell people in the US to put themselves in our place. The majority, we want to go to work, not to rob anyone of anything. We go to work. And if people gave us that opportunity, if they allowed us to work legally and efficiently, we would take it. Even while working illegally––and I say this not to to brag or to show off––after only two months Khol’s gave me employee of the month twice, paid vacation, prizes. What does that mean? That we would be really efficient employees if it was worth the trouble to go and work. So to those people who have the wrong opinion of the majority of us, they should realize that all we want is to work and nothing more. And we want to do things right.
Carmen and David continue to live and work in Cuernavaca. David works as a wholesaler and at various jobs. Carmen has gone through a string of jobs since he return, but continues perusing her real passion––singing at events with a band––whenever possible. Her daughters are now in middle school.
Since Carmen’s crossing through Arizona, it is estimated by the International Organization for Migration that over three million other Mexicans have left their country and crossed in a similar way, looking for greater opportunities for themselves and their families. Far more than in the past, 45% of those three million immigrants were women. The number of unaccompanied minors is also growing. 7,000 were caught and deported in 2005.