Crossing the Border
We all came together on the train from Durango – en uno de esos trenes viejos full of chickens, pigs, and who knows what else. It had a lot of people. We never saw my grandma Mariquita no more because Mexico seemed like it was way on the other side of the world.
Well, when we got to the border, I wasn’t seven years old yet, but I was almost seven. We came in por la garita, because my dad said that we had to register instead of just crossing at the bridge.
Dijo, “No. Let’s put ourselves down right away that we’re comin’ over here to live. That way, everything is done right.”
That was a good thing. Because afterwards they knew if we crossed as contrabando – illegals, I guess. Then they couldn’t say, ‘We don’t find no record. You can’t become a citizen.’
My dad had to sign for all of us, but because he didn’t know how to read or write, they told him to just put his initials. I remember that he didn’t even know how to hold the pencil, so they had to help him. I don’t know how long we stayed in Juárez to see if Dad could at least get his “J” and “C”. That’s all he had to do, but he couldn’t. He didn’t learn and he didn’t learn. Finally, they let ’im write an “X”.
Then they put us in the bathrooms and I remember they gave us some clothes to wear – not clothes, just like robes. And they washed our clothes and disinfect them, and they gave us a bath. So there we are, all clean. We probably even had piojos, yo no sé. That I don’t know. I don’t remember.
But I do know that all of this was on the fourteenth of June in nineteen sixteen. My mom told us more or less when we passed, but when I became a citizen in nineteen sixty-seven, they ask me if I knew the date when we passed. I think it was to see if I was telling a lie.
I told the examiner, “No, I don’t remember. My mother only told me that it was in nineteen sixteen, sometime in June. We passed in those days, but I don’t know exactly.”
But they found the record. The man told me, “Well, you passed on the fourteenth of June. They have the mark there for Jacobo Chávez Rodarte from Chalchihuites, Zacatecas.”
The fourteenth? I didn’t know they still had those records! We registered, and that’s how they found out when we passed. So, I have my record over there. I’m still there en la garita. Look how many years!