SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2008        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Humberto Y Flores

The Other Side of the Fence

     I’m a lucky individual that has had the privilege to be born in the United States, in the state of Arizona but of Mexican parents of Mexican and Chinese decent.  When I was twelve years old in 1996 my four sisters, mom and I would often travel to Mexico and back to visit family. We would come back without much of an issue at the border since my four sisters and I had been all born in the US. But my mom hadn’t been, she was born in Mexicali.  One time going through the border would completely change our lives.

    This time we got unlucky at the border where we got verified to see if we were good to go.  The officer saw that my mom was not a US citizen and decided to send us to the second check point to have us inspected. Of the many times we had crossed, this was the first time we had been put in this situation.  After a while of arguing with the officers, they sent us back to Mexico. The immigration officer told us that my mom’s Visa had expired and that she would have to take care of that first, which is usually a process that takes months to many years.  At that point in my life everything that I had known was in Phoenix; school, friends, life, etc…. 

     My mom had to make one of the hardest decisions she ever had to make: she would cross the border illegally. She had no choice, having five American kids and a life to go back to.  Not to mention that she had not been notified that her VISA was expired.  My four sisters and I had to cross the border with some other random adult. Then from a distance we had to watch my mom jump the fence.  Unfortunately she was spotted by immigration and was pursued. The camera had gotten an image of her.  Luckily she had enough time to go the store and buy different clothes to change into, which helped her to evade the officers looking for her.  We met her at a McDonalds close by and made our escape from Nogales back to Phoenix.  I was never more scared in my life than I was at that moment. 

This experience completely changed my thought process about border towns and appearance.  It all happened because an officer noticed our ethnicity and race and made us go to a complete immigration check up.  Was it simply an unlucky day or did we just get the wrong officer at the border?

My mom tells us her personal experience of this event:

I am a single mom with five kids living in a country filled with opportunities.  Although I was considered a resident Alien at the time, I only cared about my children’s future.  Born in Mexicali Baja California, Mexico and having all my family there I decided to leave all that behind for a better future.  At first, I was able to travel back and forth between Mexico and the United States with no issues but without knowing it, all that was to be taken away from me.

    When I went to Mexico, I usually went to go visit my family in Mexicali Baja California but this one time I had to go through Nogales for a funeral.  After that long weekend it was time to go back to Phoenix.  In the car waiting in line for the next officer to be available, it was finally our turn after 3 hours of waiting.  As the officer started checking for status, he soon started to doubt my information so he made me go to the second checkpoint. Unexpectedly, I was told to go back to Mexico because my VISA had expired and I was not even aware of it.  Those gringos did not even care about the fact that I had five US citizen children that relied on me.  Not having much of a choice, I went back to Nogales crying and frustrated, not knowing what I could do.  With no options left, my friend got my kids through to the US but hired a coyote (a person that helps someone cross the border illegally) to help me get to the US another way later that evening.  Scared, mad, confused were only some of the emotions that I had going through me.  The coyote took me up the hill away from the entrance and helped me get over the huge fence.  Soon after I landed on the other side, I got spotted by a camera.  Only caring about my kids I ran as fast as I could to the nearest clothing store to change.  Soon after finding a clothing store and changing, I went to go find my kids, who were waiting for me at the McDonalds.  I saw them and ran to them to hug each one of them and started crying of frustration and happiness at the same time.

     One lives through many aspects of life that sometimes one doesn’t understand, but we will remember certain moments for the rest of our lives.  This specific event in my life will never be forgotten as it changed my life completely.  As a child of only 10 years old, I was unable to do anything but watch my mom get harassed and get tripped away from her rights as a Resident of the United States. 

     In 1994, a steel wall was built in Nogales as part of US crackdown on illegal entry along the entire 2000 mile Mexican border, making it an obstacle in our path to get over to the other side.  Even though my mom found a way to get through that obstacle to come back to the US side, now she was considered an illegal alien, as a result not able to work or request certain services because of her status. She had to work under the table for cash.  My mom couldn’t get a regular job like anyone else, instead she had to work by cleaning houses, working at small businesses and getting paid cash only.  It sure wasn’t easy on my mom, since we lived in a time of racial profiling and discrimination for being of Mexican decent.  This made things harder on her for trying to fix her legal status, since the US was cracking down on immigrants that entered the US in an illegal way.  Going to court time and time again, she continued to get her request to become a legal Resident declined.  I saw my mom work hard night and day to have enough money to let us have a place to stay and food to eat.  All I could do was watch and support her mentally, as I was still under age to help her out by working somewhere.  She always told me to concentrate on my education, but it was so hard doing it knowing that my mom was busting her heart for us to have a future.  It was sure not easy since. In 1996 the Welfare Reform Bill included anti-immigrant and other measures that eliminated many social services for undocumented immigrants.  This made it very hard for my mom to request any kind of services for us, even though all five of her children are US citizens. But somehow she was able to obtain services like medical health care and food stamps so that she could use them to buy food.  Although we were made to go though this horrific experience and somehow got though it, it completely changed my perspective of life. 

     The national border runs right through the heart of my family, as it does for many families here in the US.  We are in truth transnational families, in our insights and in our outlook.  By binding the two nations & cultures, we bring strength to the global fabric that now interconnects our worlds.  A border that divides two worlds/countries destroys families and relationships to the point that it creates a new vision, a vision of sadness, sorrow and desperation to the point that families fight for survival.  My mom was pushed to her limits for survival itself, and although it was contained, many others families are not as lucky as we were.


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