El Traque

Anyway, my dad signed, and we finally crossed but I don’t remember how, if in a car or walking, I don’t know. And everyone – all the people coming in – they was there all bunched up in El Paso. They passed the border, but then they couldn’t leave from there unless somebody took ’em. Nobody thought, ‘I’m going to a certain place in the United States.’ They had to go enganchados to some place – to California, to Pennsylvania, to Kansas. Any place.

That’s how they took people to other parts of the United States – puros enganches. You could see the offices at the Santa Fe railroad there in El Paso full of enganchistas saying, “Come over here.” And another one, “No, I’ll send you over there.” And, “No, I’ll send you someplace else.”

Oh, and so many Mexicans lookin’ for work. Because in El Paso they came in free. They didn’t have requirements like they do now. They registered, they paid their ten cents, and that was it. And people kept on comin’ from Mexico because, well, the war was really bad.

Anyway, we passed, and my dad and the other ones who came – my uncles and other men – right away they got work on the railroad. There was a lot of families, and they put us all en carros de ferrocarril.

Everybody still said ‘ferrocarril’ for the ‘railroad’ because we barely came in from Mexico and we didn’t know the words that they used over here. And they stopped the trains outside of the towns in camps that they had for the railroad workers.

When the train stopped, they left us there in one place for two or three weeks, and they brought railroad cars with water and food. Then they would take us to a different place. But the train always stopped close to an irrigation ditch. Mom gave us a bath in there, and she washed clothes in there, too. Well, there wasn’t no other place. And if we had to go to the bathroom, well we went behind a tree. Oooh!

Us girls really enjoyed it, though, but not Mom and Dad. It was in the summer, and besides it was in Texas where it got really hot. They were all working, so as soon as the train stopped we jumped out. We would go play in the ditch or go running around in the fields. Then, we went inside and laid down on the mattresses. Except Ruth because she was too little. She was one year old when we passed.

So then after they finished in Texas, they sent everybody to Pennsylvania and New York – Buffalo, New York. They needed people to work on the tracks. The men worked over there all winter, but we stayed there in a railroad camp in El Paso.

We were two families that lived in a boxcar – my tía Pola and us. Her name was Telésfora, but we called her tía Pola. She was my tío Santos’ wife. She lived there with us and she had just as big a family − four children. And we were four also – Cuca who was the youngest, Alta, Jobita, and me who was the oldest – five with my mom.

So, everybody together we were ten, and all of us in one boxcar, one of those that had four little windows, two on each side. And it had big doors that opened where there was steps to climb up. They gave us one half of the boxcar to each family. ¡Fíjate! Half of one car – one family over here, and the other family over there.

We slept in there and cooked in there. We put some sheets to divide the rooms. It had a coal stove right in the middle for both families. Both of ’em cooked on that stove, and the one that got it first, that’s the one that cooked first. We had to go out to the ditch to wash clothes – a big irrigation ditch that was there close.

My mom told us afterwards how she suffered with my aunt who was mean to her. She didn’t hardly let her cook. And when she cooked, she had to make tacos that we took outside to eat. My mom got a lot of sores on her face, I think from that.

And then the men hardly sent us any money. Very little. The railroad took away for their expenses. And the rest, pos, ¿quién sabe? What was left they sent by telegram from the office. My dad didn’t know how to read or write, so the clerks there were in charge of sending the money.

And my mom and my tía Pola went to the bank any way they could to cash it. It was so little. And at that time, who was gonna help us? The railroad didn’t help at all, and the government even less.

That’s why Mom went to work on the other side of town as a maid. They paid her one dollar and gave ’er ten cents for the bus. Ten cents each way. But she didn’t spend it. She went over there walking, and she walked back so she could save twenty cents because we didn’t have no money even to eat. It was a dollar twenty for ten people. God knows how we must’a lived. I don’t know. That was in nineteen sixteen, nineteen seventeen. By then I was already seven years old.

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