Fifteen Years of Separation

I am from Cuernavaca, “The City of Eternal Spring,” in the Mexican state of Morelos.  It’s a small state just south of Mexico City.  The climate is perfect, the weather is always wonderful, and so there are a lot of tourists.  I have two sons, Ricardo and Miguel, ages 30 and 24.  I also have a granddaughter, Ana, 10.  My husband is Victor.  He is 53 years old.  I am 46.


My husband came here in 1992 with the dream, like all immigrants, of a better future.  In Mexico we had a tiny, one-room house that was half brick, half wood, and the roof was made of corrugated fiberglass.  There was a bed, a kitchen area.  It had no electricity, water, telephone, or bathroom.  One time a great storm came, and the roof nearly blew off.  We literally had to hold onto the roof to keep it from flying away.


My husband and I discussed what to do.  There was no work in Cuernavaca.  Many of our neighbors had family in the U.S.--That is, many of the husbands were gone.  I didn’t want Victor to go, but I said, “If you decide to go, I’ll support you.  While you are gone, I’ll wait for you.”  So he decided to go to the U.S. for one year.  He’d work, send money home, and we’d fix the house.  At that time, Ricardo was 14 and Miguel was 8.  Victor spoke to Ricardo and told him that he was now the head of the family.  And he left for the U.S. 


Well, one year became two years, but still we had nothing.  Victor came with the dream of improving our life, but he could only get work now and then.  He sent money home when he could.


Finally things began to change for us, little by little.  We ate a little better.  We put plumbing into the house, so now we had drinking water.  Then we put in a sewer hookup, a toilet.  We began to progress little by little.  And in this way 15 years passed.


* * *


Victor never abandoned us.  We were always in contact by phone.  He always worried about us, and he suffered being here alone.  Sometimes he had a difficult time, even though he had family here.  When he got sick he didn’t tell anyone:  he was the only one who knew. 


All this time in Mexico I never had a job.  My husband said, “Dedicate yourself to the kids and building the house.  I’ll take charge of everything else.”  He never stopped supporting us.  He was far away, but all that time I felt him with me.  We were always in communication;  we never lost our connection.  Although I was not there physically, in all other ways I was with my husband.  I knew what he was suffering here.  My love for him was so great;  my respect for him was so great.  It was as though he were really there with us our the home.  I always kept my obligations as wife there.  I was used to doing it;  we always understood each other.


My friends whose husbands were gone would run around.  One even got pregnant.


Now, my sons had a different experience.  Economically we were better off, but morally it was not good.  It’s hard to be a mother alone, with the father absent.  We were able to build the house, eat, buy clothing and shoes, pay medical bills.  The boys went to school.


I suffered too, watching out for the kids.  Sometimes I waited up for my boys until 2 and 3 AM.  They’re good boys, but they had to go out to the fiesta, entertain themselves.  But I couldn’t sleep until I heard the key in the lock, even at 5 AM, and I thanked God that they were home safe.  I told them, “You don’t know what a mother suffers when her sons are out in the street!  Until you come home, I can’t sleep.”


I also helped to raise my nephew, for seven years.  My younger sister was a single mother.  Our father got angry and threw her out.  She was 22 years old, and came to live with me.  Later she rented a room elsewhere, but for 7 years she brought her son to me when she went to work. Now he’s 14, still in Mexico.  He calls me Mama Laura.


When he was 19, Ricardo got his girlfriend pregnant.  She was 15, underage, and so he fled the country and came to the U.S.  He always had our support.  We consulted with Victor by telephone, and decided that I would raise my granddaughter here in my house.  When Ricardo came to the U.S. he sent more money, and we were able to build the house faster.


It’s hard when children grow up without their father.  When Ricardo came up here he was used to doing whatever he wanted, but Victor, his father, thought that Ricardo was still the same as when he was a child, when Victor left.  But no--you can’t treat them as though nothing has happened.  Problems began to occur.


When Miguel, my younger son, was 19, he came to the U.S. for the first time.  He stayed for 9 months, and then came back to Mexico.  His father had left when Miguel was only 8 years old, and the boy didn’t see him again until he was 19.  By then Miguel was different, and they had been separated for so many years.  The boys were used to their mother, and didn’t get along well with their father.  Their way of thinking had changed.  They already felt grown up.  They didn’t tell me where they were going, they didn’t ask permission.  They are men.


After seven years, when Ricardo was 26, the boys said to Victor, please come to Mexico.  Come and see the house.  Their father said, "No, I don’t want to come back to Mexico the same as I left.  I need money to start a business, relax for a little while."  He wanted a business of some kind.  I like to cook, and I always dreamed of  having una cocina economica—my own little cafe.


Miguel came back to the U.S. two years ago.  Ricardo has been here for four years now.  My son said, "Mamá, come." 


I had always said to my husband, "Let me come."  But he said, "Try to get a visa."  I tried twice, but both times it was denied.  I said to Victor, "If you don’t want me to come illegally, then you come here."  But he said, "No, I don’t have the money."  Everything he sent went into building the house. 


So I said to my son, “Your father doesn’t want me to come.”  My son said, “If you want to come, I’ll come to get you.”


Finally Ricardo was about to leave for Mexico without telling his father.  But his conscience told him that this was not good.  So the night before he left, he told Victor he was going. 


“Why?” said Victor. 


“I’m only going for a little while,” said Ricardo.  “I don’t know if I can count on you.  I’m going for my mamá.  I’m not asking you for permission.  I’m going for my mamá and my daughter.  If you want to support me in this, good.  If not, too bad.  You have supported me greatly, both economically and morally.  I want to do something for you.”


I didn’t know that Ricardo was coming.  I had gone out, and came back around 8:00 PM.  A neighbor stopped me and said, “Doña Laura, guess who’s here?  He’s waiting for you in the house!”


I went in and was shocked to see that it was Ricardo.  Mamá,” he said, “vino por tí.”  “Mom,” he said, “I’ve come for you.”  He said, “Nothing is certain, but we’re going.”  


He stayed two months in Mexico, then bought tickets for us.  We went from Cuernavaca to Mexico City on the bus.  Then we flew to Hermosillo by plane.  From there we went to Agua Prieta, and that’s where we climbed over the wire mesh fence.  Brincamos la malla.  We climbed a ladder to get over, and ran. 


The Migra caught us, put us in a bus and brought us to a detention center.  We were there one night, for about 7 hours, then they brought us back to Agua Prieta.  That was Monday night, November 7, 2006.  On Wednesday we tried again, and this time we got across without a problem.  We went to Phoenix, where we spent the night.  Thursday night at 8:00 PM we headed for San Francisco by car.  We arrived in San Francisco the 10th of November, 2006, at 5:00 PM. 


It was an enormous surprise for Victor.  I’ll never forget the look in his eyes:  they were full of sadness.  How the years pass!  All the time people work, they’re very lonely.  There is so much loneliness here.  When we were crossing the border, he was terribly worried.  He couldn’t sleep for days, worrying about us, if we were okay.  He was so afraid.


Where I lived all the people admired me.  Many friends said, “When will your husband come back?”  Fifteen long years we were separated.  But you know someone.  We were always in contact,  I always felt he was with me.  I sent Victor photos of everything as we built the house.  To this day, he has never seen the house.  We are still the owners.  One day we will return.


* * *


Let me show you my house!  


Laura has a huge photo album filled with glossy 4 x 6 photos.  There are many photos of painting, construction projects.  Victor always takes photos of his work.


The house is a large, two-story red brick house with two huge, graceful arched windows on the top floor.  The brickwork surrounding the arches is very beautiful, and the windows are set with multicolored glass panes.  Inside, all the walls are painted with a multicolor sponge effect.  There are three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, bathroom, and kitchen.  The bathroom has large white and blue tiles, some with white pictures of classical figures at the well.  The toilet and tub are dark blue porcelain, brand new.


There are piles and piles of photos, pictures of Laura’s two sons growing up, parties.  Pictures of all her granddaughter’s birthday parties.  There is a sweet little girl in pretty dresses, in a pretty bedroom with shelves crammed with little stuffed animals and toys. 


“Victor and I talked about the house, everything about the house and the kids.  He told us how he wanted things, and I sent him photos of everything.” 


There are pictures of ornate, beautifully painted ceiling medallions that came from San Francisco Victorians.  They have brightly painted flowers, fruit, gilding.  Victor painted five of them and shipped them back to Mexico for the house.


There are also photos of the garage where Victor, and eventually his sons, were living.  He rented it for $550 per month, and in it kept all his painting and power washing equipment:  polisher, ladders, paint cans, tools.  There was a small area set aside for them to sleep on pallets on the floor;  a small refrigerator, and a little bathroom.  Even now, Victor can’t sleep in a bed.  It hurts his back. 


In the garage, tools are everywhere and the walls are covered with photos of Victor’s family, and the house in Mexico.  There is also one wall where Victor painted a small mural of dolphins and the sea.  And there’s  a big column base painted a bright, metallic teal blue.  It looks like an altar.  Laura continues:


Moving to this apartment was Ricardo’s idea.  He was tired of living in the little cuartitio, eating fast food, burritos, pizza.  He wanted real food.  My husband does all the maintenance on this apartment building, and works for the owner, Jeff.  My son told the owner, “My father wants to talk to you.” 


“Okay,” said Jeff.  So when Victor came into the room, Jeff asked him what he wanted. 


“Nothing,” said Victor. 


But Ricardo said, “The apartment.” 


“It’s 1,800 per month,” said Jeff. 


“We can pay it,” said Victor.


It’s a lot to pay.  My husband’s work still isn’t stable.  My sons now work for a company, they have better work.  We’ve been in this apartment for the past year and a half. 


* * *


While we’ve been talking, a little boy comes out a door at the back of the living room and walks down a hallway.  Now I realize it’s much larger.  There are 2 bedrooms, the living room, a good sized kitchen and a bathroom.  Laura and Victor have the smaller bedroom.  Ricardo and his wife, son, and daughter have the other bedroom.  And Miguel, who is single, sleeps in the living room.  Laura continues:


Jeff’s wife speaks a little Spanish.  When she heard my story she said, You should write a book:  Maravillas de Mi.


We all make sacrifices.  Even now I send $50 each to my father, my husband’s family, when we can.  Fifty dollars here is nothing, but in Mexico you can eat a little better, it makes a difference.  My father says, “I miss you, hija, but I think you’re happier there.  I pray to God you are well.  My prayers are always for you.”


I cried because I remembered all that I had in Mexico.  I wanted beans.  There, I had all the conveniences.  I had everything. 


My huband says, “En la vida no todo se puede.  En este vida, todo cuesta.  Tienes que sacrificiar uno o el otro.  Todo cuesta.”  In life, you can’t have everything.  In this life, everything has a price.  You have to sacrifice either one thing or the other.  Everything has a price.


When Victor walks down the street, many people know him.  They respect him:  they call him Don Victor.  He speaks English.  He’s a perfectionist in his work.  When he was lonely, he painted ceiling medallions.  He sent 5 to Mexico for the house. He painted a mural on the wall of the garage.  Now I help him in his work, cutting in paint, and so on.


* * *

I have great satisfaction and pride that my husband has been so steadfast.  He said, “The day you arrived, I went with my head up high.”  We value respect, honesty.  He always respected me.  I tell this to my daughter-in-law:  my dignity as a woman has been preserved.  These are the fundamental values of my life.


I owe it all to my father—these values.  He says, “You have to appreciate the time when your mother was here.  I love my children, I take care of them.  I feel better being single, for if I had a new wife, there might be more children.  Who would I take care of then, my wife or my children?  This way, I can take care of my children.  I feel that it’s better.”


When we were separated, every night I prayed to God, “Give me the opportunity to see my husband once again.  That nothing else happens.”  I asked my sister to intercede for me with God.  He always hears me.  I have great faith.  I’m very grateful to God:  He gave me all I asked for.  To see my husband once again.


Every time I can say this, I feel relieved;  every time I tell this story.  The wounds are healing.  Little by little they heal.