immigrants galdino
Image: Pete Stone

NAME Galdino Hernandez-Cantellan
BORN ON October 27, 1969
BORN IN Irámuco, Mexico
WORKS AS Foreman, BMC West; Proprietor, Hernandez Bros Landscaping Company
EMIGRATED TO THE U.S. ON April 26, 1992
LIVES IN Beaverton
NATURALIZED ON April 23, 2008

I LOVED IRÁMUCO, my little village in Guanajuato, Mexico. On one side we have the Zacatecas Mountains, and on the other side we have a great big lake called Lago de Cuitzeo. It’s very beautiful. Very peaceful. Most of the people who live in my village are farmers or fishermen, but no matter what you do, or how much you work, it’s really hard to make enough money to survive.

I’ve been working since I was 7 years old. When I was a boy, I either fished on Lago de Cuitzeo with my dad, or sometimes me and my mama and my two brothers and eight sisters would pick reeds from the lake and weave petates [the mats farmers use to dry chiles] to trade for beans and tortillas. But after my father died in 1989, even though I had a job as a carpenter, we were really, really poor. On Sundays, when I got paid, my mama would buy two little wings and the leg of a chicken, and we’d eat soup, beans, potatoes, and rice for dinner. By the end of the week, when the money ran out, it would be just salsa and tomatillos.

The main reason that I decided to come to the United States was that our house was falling down. The bricks were made out of mud and straw, and the goats we raised for milk and cheese chewed up the walls. The worst part was the ceiling. When we looked up, we could see the sky. Whenever it rained, the dirt floor turned to mud.

On the other side of the lake, there was a town called Villa Morelos, where there lived a coyote. The coyotes, they’re like the mafia. They’re smugglers, smugglers of people. You don’t want to mess with those guys. But one day in April in 1992, me and my best buddy, Miguel, took a bus to Villa Morelos and knocked on the coyote’s door to ask if he could bring us to Hillsboro, Oregon, where Miguel’s father was living. He told us to meet him at the bus station in Morelia, the capital city of Michoacán, and he’d ride with us to Tijuana, where we’d meet more coyotes who’d take us across the border and then to Oregon. We would each have to pay $500; that’s more money than I made in a whole year.

And so my family—my sisters and my brothers and my uncles—pulled together all of our savings, but all we had was 4,000 pesos, around $350. Miguel called his father, and he said he’d loan me the rest when I got to Oregon. My mama sewed the money into the waist of my pants. I left Irámuco on the Wednesday before Easter, wearing just those pants, a T-shirt, a really thin jacket, and tennis shoes. The only thing I carried was a plastic bag with some beans and bread and eggs. That was it. That was my food for the three days it would take to get to Tijuana.

Me and Miguel rode the bus for 40 miles to Morelia, where the coyote was waiting for us at the station. He rode with us for 300 miles through the Sierra Madres, then up the coast for another 1,000 miles north to Tijuana, where we met more coyotes and 20 other guys who were crossing into the United States. We walked into the desert outside of town, and we lay down in the dirt by some bushes right by the border fence and waited for it to get dark. At midnight the coyotes woke everybody up and said it was time to go.

First we had to climb two pretty good-sized fences, like 12 feet high, topped with razor wire. You have to jump from the top, and everybody was falling on each other in the dark. As soon as you land, you have to start running. We crossed a creek and then reached a highway, but La Migra, the border police, were waiting for us in two big Suburbans. They put us in handcuffs and took our shoes so we wouldn’t run away. Then they took us to a jail where they wrote down our names and fingerprinted us. In the morning, they gave us back our shoes, drove us to the border, and told us to stay in Mexico.