The next night we tried again. Over the fences, through the creek, across the highway—we never stopped running. We ran all the way to the ocean and walked along the beach. I couldn’t see the ocean, but I could smell it on the wind. We kept walking for, I don’t know, 70 miles, until we reached San Clemente, California, where more coyotes were waiting for us in three or four cars. Those coyotes drove us to a house in Santa Ana, a suburb of Los Angeles. We were 40 guys in two bedrooms, and we stayed there for two days with only fried eggs to eat.
Then they loaded us all in the back of a van to take us to another house farther north, in Modesto. They told me to lie down on the floor and then they piled five guys right on top of me. When we got to the house, some of the men had to carry me out because my body was really hurt. I couldn’t even move.
Inside the house, a guy says, “Here, have a beer.” I don’t drink, but I took the beer—a Budweiser. The guy, he says, “Brother, welcome to America!”
We left Modesto at 10 that night and we were in Hillsboro by 8 the next morning. At a gas station, the coyote called the house where Miguel’s father was staying, and Miguel’s father came and paid him the $150 I owed. Then we just walked away. Miguel’s father was living in a garage with five other guys, and they were sleeping on the floor, on cardboard. That was pretty sad, but I thanked God that there was at least somebody to help me in the United States.
Me and Miguel found jobs near Klamath Falls. From May to July we lived in a small trailer with a bunch of guys, and picked pinecones for Christmas wreaths for $4.25 an hour. In July I sent my first money order to Mexico, for $800. Right away, my mama started buying the materials to build a new house: mortar and bricks and cement. Every month, I just sent home more money.
I don’t drink, but I took the beer— a Budweiser. The guy, he says, ‘Brother, welcome to America.’
In 1995 I found a good job as a mill foreman in Sherwood, and I married an Oregonian, a bookkeeper named Shelley. Five years after I came to the United States, in December of 1997, I flew for the first time in my life and went to see my family. My mama and my grandpa and my auntie, and my brothers and sisters, they all rode in the bed of a pickup truck and picked me up at the airport, and we drove to my village.
When I saw our house, I was so proud: It’s two stories tall and made of concrete that’s painted a pretty light blue. There are flush toilets, hot water, everything. It’s not a big house. It’s not an expensive house, but it’s a good house. All of my tough days were worth it just to see that house.
I became a citizen so I could sponsor my mama to visit the United States. There’s no way she’s going to move here, but I would like her to see how I’m living. I get up in the morning at 3:45; I go to work at the mill; and then I get home at 3:30 in the afternoon, get into my landscaping truck, and go to work again, sometimes until 8 at night. I’m the only Mexican in the neighborhood where I live.
I was 21, almost 22 years old when I left Mexico. Even though I was a grown man, when you leave a village like Irámuco, you cry. I’m 38 years old. And I’m still crying.