At the same time that her “perfect life” was solidifying, Joselina’s uncle, Alfredo, declared that he would be travelling to the United States. On a semi-impulsive decision, Joselina sold the car her father had bought her, packed her things and left for the United States with her uncle. The people around her had mixed feelings about her departure; her family wanted her to stay while friends boisterously declared how cool and rewarding the experience would be.
Alfredo had taken care of all of the logistics of the journey. The plan was to leave her home country and travel to El Salvador to meet up with a coyote that would get them get necessary documentation in order to get to Guatemala and Mexico. Mexico would be the final gateway to the land of endless promises and overabundant dreams. But, as predicted by Murphy’s Law, everything did not go according to plan.
Four Countries in Ten Days
From the beginning, Joselina and Alfredo faced complications. They traveled from their home country to El Salvador. When they arrived in El Salvador, the coyote was not there and he was not answering the phone. This meant that Joselina and Alfredo would stay in El Salvador longer than expected. Along with uncertain circumstances, Joselina also had to face something else: natural disasters. In 2001, El Salvador experienced disastrous earthquakes that have deeply affected the country. Joselina recalls that when her and Alfredo were there they “went through two big earthquakes…and we were staying in this hotel that was…we thought we were going to die there…it just looked like it was falling down”.
After a couple of days and countless phone calls, Alfredo was able to reach the coyote. Instead of providing any real assistance, he told them “You guys have to come to Guatemala”. The earthquakes and all their tangible aftermath meant that planes were delayed; or not flying at all. At this point, another man joined Joselina and her uncle on their journey. They boarded a bus, without knowing what to expect or what would happen next. All they knew was their destination: Guatemala.
Halfway through the bus ride, in the middle of mountains with no other humans in sight, the driver told Joselina, Alfredo and two other men to get out of the bus. The driver and a few other started taking out everyone’s luggage. The suitcases and boxes that carried reminders of people’s homes and told the stories of travel were pulled out of the bus. The newly empty space revealed a panel with a silver screw in each corner. The panel was unscrewed and revealed yet another empty space, but much smaller. Joselina and her group were told to get inside the opening and stay quiet. For three hours they rode next to the engine suffering from extreme heat, unable to move, whisper or even sneeze. After about an hour and a half, the bus finally stopped and people ran out to unscrew the panel to make sure the four people were still breathing. Joselina describes this as one of the only times she feared for her life throughout the journey.
After a terrifying bus ride, Joselina and Alfredo finally arrived in Guatemala. They were then taken to a hotel that Joselina describes as “sketchy”. “It was amazing because there were people from all over the world in that hotel. They were all waiting for their connection”. People from all over the country waiting to arrive to the land of the American Dream. Joselina and Alfredo were advised to stay indoors at all times during their stay at this ‘international hotel’, otherwise they would arouse suspicion. She explains that “Guatemalans and [people from my country], look very different. We dress different, we talk different…and that can be suspicious”. So they stayed in the hotel until their coyote arrived.
Finally, they met the coyote and were taken to be photographed. The next day, the coyote arrived with what seemed like another piece of the puzzle: Guatemalan passports and visas. Another test. Joselina and Alfredo had to learn facts about Guatemala- name of currency, presidents, national anthem. This test would prepare them for the next challenge: Mexico. When the group arrived at the airport, the coyote received a phone call and relayed to the group that only two people who be able to continue their journey to the United States because of discrepancies in the documents they had received. Joselina and Alfredo were told to continue while the other two men stayed behind.
At the Mexican airport, Joselina and her uncle went through customs and immigration and were allowed to board the plane. Alfredo’s papers were checked twice and then once more on the plane, but although this seemed strange to Joselina, she ignored it and they left tierra Mexicana (Mexican soil). The burning-hot sun and the luscious green palm trees indicated that they had arrived in Florida. In the chaos of trying to get through immigration, Joselina lost track of Alfredo. She frantically searched for him as she handed her papers to the immigration officer. When she did not find him, she stopped and listened to the officer. Afraid that she would look suspicious, Joselina took a deep breath, composed herself and tried to pay attention to what was happening- but on the inside she felt terrified. Amidst her worry, frustration and fear she heard “Well, welcome to the United States” from the officer with the semi-forced smile. She took that as her cue and proceeded past the window. She searched and waited for her uncle Alfredo for two hours but it was in vain; she did not find him. She still felt the fear in the pit of her stomach, but she knew she had to do something. She knew that if she continued to stand in the baggage claim lobby with her bags in hand and a worried look on her face, she would be asked questions that she could not answer.
Good People and a Trip to California
With only $500 in her possession and limited English skills, Joselina tried to navigate the Sunshine State. The coyote had told Joselina and Alfredo that once in Florida they would need to travel to a small local airport where they could purchase a plane ticket to California for $300. Remembering this, she began to search for a taxi driver who spoke Spanish and could help her. Surprisingly, after approaching what seemed like 100 taxis, she found no one who spoke Español. Confused and only able to communicate with hand signals and limited English, Joselina took a taxi to a nearby gas station. She remembers that the gas station attendant was trying so explain to her how to use a phone card and was very kind in trying to help her. Joselina needed to call her family in California to tell them what was happening and hopefully receive some help. After five unanswered phone calls to one of her uncles in California, she had no one else to rely on. “I was shaking. I was ready to cry.”
Luckily, before leaving Guatemala, one of the men traveling with her and Alfredo had given Joselina his sister’s phone number. With the help of the guy at the gas station, Joselina was able to call the man’s sister and took a taxi to her house. Good people exist and this family helped her call her uncle, purchase her ticket to California and drove her to the airport.Three days after arriving in California, Joselina received the news that had been waiting for but also dreading: she learned that her uncle Alfredo had been detained by immigration. The person whose information Alfredo had used for his travel documents had been dead for two years. So after Alfredo was caught the whole coyote organization toppled to the ground. From her uncle, Joselina also found out that the men who had stayed behind in Mexico had to travel through to the desert in order to get to the United States. One of the men suffered from foot problems and after a painful walk, he was unable to continue on and detained by border patrol officers.
From Latin America to Florida to California. Joselina’s incredible journey to the United States shows how determined she was to make it to this country.