On Saturday, our group ventured out early in the morning to set out on a desert hike to experience what the migrant goes through. The only thing I was sure of was that it was earlier than I was used to and the road to get there was barely even a road.
Our tour guide’s name was John, a crunchy granola looking fellow with long, white hair. His quirky character and love for all humanity is probably what stuck out to me the most. He took us across grasslands, up and down hills, through ravines, along both beaten and unbeaten paths. I fell within the first 15 minutes and tried to catch myself. My hands landed on some rugged rocks and got pretty scratched up.
As we were walking, I tried to listen to what John was telling us. We were crossing over from a cattle trail to a migrant trail when he told us that we were part of the story now, that this wasn’t just a migrant story. That struck a chord with me. Up until then, I always saw it as their story, their struggles, their lives. But it’s the story of the human race, including all of our struggles and our dreams.
Above is a photo of Isabel Navasca Corpuz, also known as my Lola (Grandma in Tagalog). She was born on July 7, 1927 in Manilla, Philippines.
During WWII, she lived in a house with five other families on a farm in a rural area. She had just become a teenager but she was prohibited from going anywhere public by herself. Whenever she did go out, she had to disguise herself in old woman clothes so that the Japanese would not capture her and rape her.
When the war was over, my Lola finished her college education. She met and fell in love with Raymundo Corpuz and together they bore two sons. However, they saw that the Philippines was not the best place for them to raise their sons. Like many immigrants, they faced oppression in the country that they happened to be born in. With prayers tucked into their pockets, they left whatever material things they had behind in hope for a brighter future. They found refuge in this country that I call my own, America, the land of the free.
Almost a half of a century later, Lola has five grandchildren. Both of her sons have pursued higher education and have been able to provide for their own families.
Above is a picture of Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quiteros. She was born on September 15, 1993 in El Salvador. When she was young, her parents left of the United States in order to make more money to support their family. Both came into the country illegally and had been working in the shadows. Meanwhile, Josseline was in charge of taking care of her younger brother. Eventually, her mother, Sonia, had made enough money to hire a guide to take both of her children all the way from El Salvador to Los Angeles.
Josseline, 14, and her brother, 10, went with other trusted adults to travel over 2,000 miles; jumping walls, hiking up and down the mountains, and trekking through the desert. They only brought with them the clothes on their backs. Josseline chose a pair of jeans and some sweatpants that had “Hollywood” bedazzled on the bottom. She planned to wear them when she arrived to the land of the famous.
They hid from Mexico’s national police as well as the United States Border Patrol. Just after they had crossed the US/Mexican border, Josseline started to get sick. The rest of the group were on a time crunch. They needed to be at a certain location where they would be picked up and time was running out. Josseline could barely walk. She encouraged the group to go on without her. Her brother cried and refused to leave his main caretaker. She encouraged him and told him to tell their mother where she was and to send help the second that he was able to.
Her first nights alone in the desert were spent in the freezing cold. She had on two jackets and two pairs of pants, but that still wasn’t enough to beat the 29 degree weather.
Three weeks later, members of No More Deaths were hiking the migrant trails to leave out jugs of water and canned goods for migrants. They stumbled upon the small body of a girl whose dreams were cut short. A memorial was held at the site where Josseline’s body was found. However, her family was not able to make it in fear of being arrested and deported back to Mexico.
I will be a part of my grandchildren’s history, like Lola was a part of mine. I grew up asking her stories of her hardships, of her hopes for her family, of her American Dream. When my grandchildren ask me questions, I want them to be as proud of my accomplishments as I am of Lola’s. I want them to learn from my courage and my determination for social justice. I want them to know how much I would sacrifice for our family and for our brothers and sisters around the world. I’m lucky that my Lola’s experience was not as difficult at Josseline’s and I have my life to show for it. I can only hope to do my 4 foot 6 inch grandmother justice.
Migration isn’t an us versus them issue, this is a we issue. When we see them as people with families and friends, with fears and dreams, then we will be able to stand in solidarity with them and fight for change.