There is a moment in every person’s life when they become self-aware of a truth they have hidden from.
For some, that moment comes in a near-death experience, or when they take a trip to a third-world country. Others live day by day without experiencing that moment. Yet, no matter who you are, eventually that moment comes. In my experience, this moment occurred during my sophomore year of high school.
Growing up in a small, conservative town in Colorado as the son of Mexican immigrants, I was definitely a minority. My family was different. Well, at least that’s what my friends would say. Maybe it was because we spoke Spanish and some people told us, “This is America, we speak English, and if you don’t like it, you should go back to Mexico.” It always surprised me that people were so offended by our presence.
Ever since I can remember, I had to translate for my parents everywhere we went. In many ways, I hated it. Especially when my mom would make me go back to the store we had just left. I would have to go tell the clerk who just checked us out that she had given us two cents less than the amount had shown on the receipt.
My parents never learned English because their lifestyle didn’t allow them to. My dad came to the United States without papers. After living in a hole for three days, without food or water, in the middle of the desert, he finally made it to the United States from Chihuahua, Mexico. He was in pursuit of a better life, one that Mexico could not offer. His first jobs were in the fields, working long hours in the hot, scorching sun. Most of the immigrants he worked with only spoke Spanish, and their bosses too, only spoke Spanish. So many of them did not have to learn English to communicate or do their jobs. As a result, they would live years doing agricultural labor and never have to say a word in English.
My mom came to the United States with a visa. She also came for a better life. My mom, like my dad, never had an opportunity for free education. They were given the chance to either work and eat, or go to school and starve. In an environment where survival is everything, the choice is clear. In order to make more money, my mom decided to go to the United States and send money home. It wasn’t a necessity for my mom to learn English. She always tells me that I am blessed to be able to speak two languages.
From the hard labor of my parents, my siblings and I were raised. We were taught that education was more valuable than anything, and that no matter what, my parents would provide. The fact that my parents were undocumented was something that was never discussed. We avoided that conversation. We avoided it all the way until my sophomore year in high school, on a cold morning in November…
Like any other school day, my alarm woke me up and I got ready for school.
My sister would always be the first one up, mostly because she wanted to beat my brother and I to the shower. On occasion, my cousins who lived next door would come to my house, and we would all walk together to the bus stop. Usually, my sister would open the door to let them in. This is why it didn’t seem unusual when we heard knocks on the door that morning.
My sister was the first one to open the door. I heard an exchange of words, and the door close. Then my sister went to her room. The next thing I knew, I heard knocks on the door again. I was annoyed at this point so I got up and swung the door open.
I can’t really describe what I felt when I saw a man with a black jacket, dark blue jeans, and a hat that had the letters, I.C.E., embroidered on it. I just know, I was speechless, because I knew exactly why they were there.
It was like the monster that is under your bed. The one you pretend is imaginary. The one you don’t want to think of because you don’t know how you would react if it was real.
The agent asked for my dad by name, telling me that he had to come out, or he would have to return with a warrant to go into the house. He also told me to contact a lawyer, and to give my dad money because he was going to need it. I closed the door and walked to my parents’ bedroom. I remember knocking on the door and telling my mom that they needed my dad. I remember my mom’s broken voice on the other side of the door, telling me that she couldn’t come out.
Again, I heard another knock. I went to open it. The agent told me that they had to go, and asked me if my dad was coming out. I told him we needed five more minutes. He just held the door and said we had no time left. It was time to go.
There was one thing I do appreciate that the I.C.E agent did. When my dad stepped out of the house, one of the agents told him to turn around. The agent I had been speaking to told the other agent to stop. He said, “Not in front of his kids.” He took my dad around the van that they had parked in front of the house. All I could see was my dad looking down, and his back towards the agent. Even though I couldn’t see it, I knew he was being handcuffed.
The next month and a half, my dad was held in the Denver Detention Center. I remember all the conversations we had on the phone and how they were never long enough. They never lasted more than five minutes. Partially, because it was always too emotional for him to talk, and also because phone calls were expensive.
During the time my dad was held in the detention center, everything went from bad to worse. The day after he was taken, I had to go to school and act like nothing happened. I remember telling my teacher I was sick as an excuse for why I had missed school. Worst of all, my mom had to call my dad about my half-brother who had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumor, nine month earlier. She had to tell him that he had lost the battle against it. I wasn’t that close to this brother, which is something I will always regret.
It’s easy to tell immigrants to leave this country. It’s easy to be racist, ignorant, or closed-minded about immigration. It’s easy to choose not to listen to the stories behind every immigrant- the perils they go through, and the fear that they live with. It’s easy to ignore this issue when it is not part of your story.
El Camino de Inmigrante is not about the immigrants who walk, or the distances they travel; it’s about the stories they have. Many stories will never be heard, unless we share them. That is why I am sharing my story. That is why I choose to share about the moment in my life where a truth that was hidden, came into the light. I share my moment in hopes that others will realize the truth about immigration that is often hidden. It is these moments of revealed truth that change your life.
Ismael is from Delta, Colorado and is passionate about creating art, music, and poetry. Ismael is currently a student at Colorado Mesa University, studying Mass Communications.