My name is Elida Leal and I’m going to tell a story from 1992 that has to do with my coming to the United States. I was obligated to leave my country for political reasons, and I came by myself with my sons. I crossed the mountains/borders with them very ill on the road and this has been very difficult for me because to come to a country where I don’t have any family, where I know absolutely nothing about the school system and also because of the loss of someone very dear to me, my grandmother who was like my mother. And in all these years, this was the price I paid for coming to this country.
On the other hand, I’m very grateful because I have two sons, who are marvelous, who have gotten ahead. I knew nothing about the system or the educational levels, I did everything in my power to learn so that my sons would be able to have a better education than me. Even though I’ve professional training, I was never able to go to the university and I always have memories of my country, right? I don’t know if one day I’ll return or if I’ll stay here with them. It is very difficult to tell all this, I’m overcome with emotion.
“How did we get here? I came walking. I crossed all of Mexico starting in Guatemala. I had to cross two borders—from Guatemala to Mexico. That was a very difficult decision because I had no idea how the journey was.”
I was told you can get a coyote and he will cross you, but I never in my life thought it was something so risky. I had to make the decision in five minutes. When I was with the person who took me to the hotel he says, “We will cross into Mexico today.” I never imagined, I thought I’d be crossing by car and everything. But no, imagine my surprise when he took me to the river. I saw a raft. No, more like a contraption with two rubber inner tubes.
He tells me, “Put the kids in and you walk.”
I was like, “What?” This is where I go, “I have to go with them in that?”
“You haven’t another option.”
(My sons) were five and three years old, two little kids, practically babies. It was difficult to come to a decision, “Should I go? Should I stay? What should I do?” It was five minutes. At that time I was practically by myself with the boys. It was a difficult decision for me, because if I were to stay what would happen to my sons and if I leave it’s an unknown. And the man in the river, “Are you going or are you staying?” So I say to him, “No, I’ve got to go.” And that is how I crossed with my sons.
If you were to ask me about the trajectory in Mexico, I don’t remember a thing because we were left at the first stop by the people somewhere like in the desert and they didn’t leave us water. Then, even though it was December, it was very hot in Mexico. And the people, there were men, women and only me with the boys. We were told that the women would stay so as not bring attention to us and the men went to look for water. And they found, I know them as water troughs for cows and other animals. We drank from that water, and because of that water that we drank, my sons had to because there was no other, my sons became sick with vomiting. So the whole trajectory, I have no clue how I crossed Mexico because for me, they were sick, sick. I said, “My sons are going to die on me.”
“By God it took me eight days, eight days to get to the border of Arizona.”
Eight days. Walking and by car, an experience that left me very, I don’t know how to say the word but somewhat traumatized because we were put in a little truck that appeared to be selling wood. But in the bottom half there was a space and there were a lot of us. So they started to put the other people in first. Those people were all standing and they were arranging them. Because of the kids, they left me until last and we were on top of them, laid out on top of all the people. We couldn’t talk. We don’t know how much time exactly two–three hours possibly. It was horrible for me and my sons. When I arrived, I contacted my husband. I didn’t know he was here. And besides that I didn’t have anybody else, nobody else.
(I had beautiful strength) I feel, because of my sons. My sons gave me, gave us, this strength because we had nothing. Perhaps, some years we had to sleep completely on the floor, we had nothing. Perhaps my sons remember…that it was later when we began to work. I started with a job that I never in my life imagined I’d be working. Because I had only worked in offices, right? They were good jobs and well here I clean houses. Very different from what I used to do but I was obligated to in part because of language and to remain in this work for my sons. This work permitted me to be with them, to share in their school, to be able to go on their fieldtrips. I ask you to give them support. It is very important for children –for their future. Basically, I think we are responsible for our children’s education.
Storyteller Elida Leal is from Guatemala. Elida attended the Sharing Stories of the Latina Experience workshop held at the Cesar Chavez Oakland Public Library.