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My trip to a faraway place: L.A.

April 09, 2006|Esperanza Mendez | Esperanza Mendez is the pseudonym of a 17-year-old junior at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights. This essay, along with her sister's (which appears on Page M6), was adapted from the book "Entering New Territory: Dreams for a New Los Angeles."

MY FATHER grew up in a really poor village in a rocky and mountainous area of Mexico where the houses were made out of mud. It was a scary place because dangerous animals roamed at night. For these reasons, my father decided we should immigrate to the United States.

My parents had three children: my sister Patricia, my brother and me. I was 4, Patricia was 6, and Armando was 1. There were big risks in coming to the U.S. If we walked, we would probably get lost. And babies have lots of needs: You have to feed them, change them and put them to sleep. Instead of the whole family traveling together, my parents decided it would be less difficult and safer to take just my brother, initially.

In 1993, the three of them left our small town, which doesn't even appear on a map, and went to Tijuana. Once you reach Tijuana, you really have to make up your mind about what you're about to do.

Some people are not honest; they are persuasive and try to trick you by saying they will take you across the border, but that is not always true. Sometimes they'll start to take people across, but then they turn their backs and just leave them there, lost in the mountains or desert after they've taken their money and all their valuables.

I was scared, even though I didn't know what was going on. At 4 years old, you just want to be attached to your parents, to be safe and receive their love, but one day I woke up and my parents were gone. I tried to find some explanation, but there were too many questions and no answers. I had to stay behind with my grandmother and my sister. My grandmother was the only mother I had. I lived an ordinary life.

Six years went by. One day, when I was 9, I came home from school and was told that I had to go to a faraway place -- my sister and I were going to Los Angeles to be with our parents.

Just hearing those words -- "Los Angeles" -- made me excited. And scared. The reason I was so excited was because I was going to see my parents for the first time since they had left us behind. I had no idea what my mom and dad would be like, because seeing a person in a picture is not the same as seeing them in real life. But then on second thought, I was thinking so many bad things about my parents. I used to ask myself why they had decided to leave us behind.

I remember back when I was 9 or 10 years old, I would hear stories about L.A. -- so many different people saying so many different things that I didn't know what to believe. They described good things about L.A., things that would make you want to go there right away, as if it were no more difficult than going to your next-door neighbor's house.

Still, I didn't want to come to the U.S. at first because I knew my life was going to change completely. But I had to: My grandmother was suffering from a heart condition, and so I had to join my parents. It had been decided. The next day, my sister and I were to begin our journey northward. I also heard many things could happen during the crossing, but ultimately you either die or you make it safely.

It was exciting at first to be riding on a bus to a faraway place, seeing different landscapes on the way. However, leaving my grandmother behind felt like leaving a piece of me. It was very painful because I knew that it was going to be a long time before I saw my grandma again, if ever, and this thought made me feel terrible and want to cry.

But I had to go on -- l wanted to be strong. I put the painful thoughts behind me and decided that coming to the U.S. would be fun. I imagined all the people I was going to see on the way there. All the different places I'd never been and would discover for the first time.

I thought that boarding a plane to Tijuana would be the best part of all. I had never seen a plane so close up, only in pictures, and the thought of actually going inside one and sitting there for hours -- God, I felt so excited. I just wanted to feel good, so I kept thinking good things about coming to the U.S. and meeting new people and learning a different language.

And there was so much I did not know: Where would I live? What would it look like? And school. I thought about school. Would it be the same as my old school? I had no idea at all. The only thing I could do was wait.

But then I realized I never really wanted to come to Los Angeles in the first place. I wanted to turn back and run like I had never run before. On the way to L.A., I was trying to memorize the route so I could find my way back, because I really wanted to return to my grandmother.

I was afraid to meet my parents and nervous about talking to them in person for the first time in all these years. While they were gone, I had talked to them at the beginning of every month.

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