EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third of many interviews that Ventura County resident Kathleen Roos has conducted with immigrants from countries with oppressive governments. Citizens Journal is eminently proud to showcase these valuable works which highlight real immigrant stories. All too often today, main stream media treats the topic of immigration in a totally political light. Far beyond the rhetoric of bluster and maneuvering, these stories illustrate the important human story that accompanies each and every immigrant that reaches our county.
by Kathleen S. Roos Ph.D.
Installment 3: Oaxaca, Mexico
Interview with Tony Galicia on Feb 15, 2021.
Tony was born in Oaxaca, a southern Mexican city. He came to the United States about 13 years ago.
Why did you want to come to the U.S.?
“We were very poor. There was no food, no money, no work. Every day was hard just finding something to eat. I did not have a family. I was on my own. I did not know this until I was about 8 years old. I was staying with a family but I did not know they were not my (biological) family. It was not a good life.”
When did you realize the family you were living with was not your real family?
“About 7 or 8 years old I sensed something was wrong, that things were different. I was always hungry while others in ‘my’ family ate. I found out I was adopted at about 1 year old. There is no formal process. They said my parents went north for work. There were jobs in the fields, just like here (in U.S.) in Mexicali and Sinaloa. I stayed with the older son but didn’t feel I was wanted. I felt I had to leave. I was always hungry, always thirsty. I told my older brother but he didn’t get it. He, nor this family gave me any love. I was told to go play but I would say I am hungry. We don’t care. I ran away when I was about 8.”
How did you know you had to leave and how did you get to the north?
“I just knew I was hungry and there was no love. There was no food, nothing to drink. I had to leave and maybe find my parents in the north where there is work. In Mexico the large trucks that transported fruits, and vegetables and other products are all open in the back, not closed like here in U.S. I hung out at truck stops and when one stopped, I would jump in the back and hide. I did not know how far way the north was!
Food was sold in carts and open stalls along road ways. This is how I sometimes got food.”
Did you pack clothing or supplies to help you run away?
“I had old cracked shoes and very dirty clothes. I never had clothes. There were no back packs. I ran away with what I was wearing and was in the trucks for 4 plus days with no change of clothes. I stayed on the first truck for about 2 hours.”
Tony had no watch, so he is estimating times and going by what he heard when he overheard the drivers talk.
“I got to a little city and jumped out. I asked where I was and was told “Little City.” I told drivers and people traveling that I wanted to go to Tijuana and was told over and over that that is very far away. I was 7 or 8 and had no idea. I was sleeping on the ground for weeks at a time. I kept asking people if they were going to Tijuana and they said it was very far. I jumped into another truck that I had heard the driver say he was heading towards Tijuana. I was not sure what he was delivering. I think it was fruit.”
“I waited for this driver, hiding, for almost 5 hours. I kept listening to the drivers trying to figure out which one was headed closest to Tijuana. After several hours in this truck, I jumped another one still heading north, hop scotching my way north. Maybe I could find my parents working to the north. I was very young. I did not know.”
So, what happened when you got to Tijuana?
“Tijuana was very bad life for me. I lived in Tijuana from about 8 to 16 years old. I lived under a bridge with other kids like me. They found me and showed me where to hang out. They were all about 8, 9 and 10 years old. Lots of boys living under the bridge. Some were experienced and knew how to find food. I would follow the experienced kids out early. Found food in trash, and some people gave us food. Outdoor food stalls were everywhere in Tijuana. We would ask if we could do some type of work or help to get one taco. Some people had good hearts and would give us a taco and others would say ‘get away’. One taco was a big deal! We had only dirty clothes, no shoes and smelled bad. This is why I love America. There were many American tourists in Tijuana and they were the kindest and would walk around asking” you want to eat”? They were very generous. None of us spoke any English yet we could understand the Americans would help us. Mainly buying tacos, but 3-4 tacos made us very happy as most of us would not get anything to eat later on. We did not know when we would eat again. Next day, nothing. Sometimes two to three days would go by with no food.
“I went to sleep often with no food, no drink. When I was 10 years old, I got very sick. I don’t know what it was, maybe flu but I could not get warm. I was so sick I could not get up to get food in the morning. The other kids would keep me warm and go get food. I kept asking where is my mom and dad? Where are you?”
Tony never found his parents.
“It was the same life every day. When I was 11 after about 3 years living under the bridge, maybe I was 12 a lady came by. She looked rich. She was Spanish and asked me my name and where I was from. Are you hungry? She bought me food from the outside vendors. I asked her if she would buy food for my friends, about 7-10 kids. They would split off and go in different directions every morning and come back to the bridge at night. It was many kids and maybe more than that. She bought them all tacos. I showed her where we were all sleeping. Where is your mom, she asked? I am looking for her.
“‘Do you want to go with me’? I said no because I didn’t feel I could leave my friends. She came back again after a couple weeks. She asked again do you want to come home with me where you can live and eat and have a shower and go to school? I said no. She asked him what he really wanted and he said a bicycle. She said ‘I will give you good life and nice clothes. Tony felt too bad to leave his friends. Finally, he agreed to go live with her under one condition. That condition was that he could come back every day with food for his friends. I came every day with food for my friends. She lived close by.
“Her name was Angelica and she was a teacher. After a few months she said she could no longer keep going every day to bring food to my friends. She had to work. She would continue every week or two but not every day. She picked me! I don’t know why. There were many kids but she picked me. Made my life better.
“I stayed with her until about 16 years old. She gave me a very good life. She was single and maybe 30- 32 years old when I knew her.
“Just went to school until I was about 16. My relationship with her changed when I was about 14 years old. She wanted a romantic relationship. In Mexico it as OK. Here you would go to jail. She molested me. Her mind was different than before. She bought me everything. I stayed until I was 16 and just left, working small jobs and going to different places looking for work, a place to stay and food.
“My thinking was to come to the U.S. I had learned from many in Tijuana how to get into the U.S. I found a sponsor. I saw everything in Tijuana. Drugs, shooting up, asked to sell drugs, human trafficking, mules, people killed because they didn’t pay. Saw most of this especially at night. It was bad.
“I worked for a company in San Diego and would travel back and forth across the border. I tried to find out who my parents were. To get a Green Card or residence in U.S. you have to know where you are from and who is your family. I will never know that. Immigration came while I was working construction in San Diego and asked for papers. I had to go back to Mexico.”
Tell me why you think the U.S is such a great place?
“U.S. is the best place. There are lots of opportunities if you are willing to look and work hard. Opportunities to go to school and if you want, to work. I have never understood graffiti. With so many opportunities to make a good life, they just must not want it. I don’t know why these people (born here) do not want to use these opportunities they are born with. They are born here and can make money, go to school and they want to live on the street.
“In Carpinteria I was working construction for a very nice family. All my customers are really nice people and treat me with respect. They had just constructed a new wall around their place and within a month it was totally covered with graffiti. I feel so bad for them. I don’t know why people do this.
“If I were a citizen, I would only want good things. Very big opportunity to get here and make a good life. I cannot make this opportunity as I don’t know where I am from (born) or who my parents are.
“In Tijuana I met an older lady, about 50 years old. She treated me like a son. The first time I ever felt love like a son. I was looking for a job after I left Angelica. I met Regina and she said I could stay at her home. She said she was poor and it was a poor home but I would have food. I told her I don’t have any money but I work jobs. I lived in her poor home for about 6-7 months buying food that she would prepare for us. The home flooded and I left to find a better life. I told her I would come back for her. I promise I will come back for you Regina.
“I brought her to Oxnard, California. She was like a mom to me. I felt loved. She was like my mom or what I wished my mom was. She was the only mom I really know. We were very happy in my apartment in Oxnard for 7 years. She had family still in Tijuana. Three daughters but she felt I was her only son. She got sick, went to St. John’s hospital. She remained in touch with her daughters. She died several years ago (in 2017). She ended up back in Tijuana.”
Roos: I did not understand whether Regina died at St John’s or was sent back to immediate family earlier. I could tell Tony greatly misses Regina and feels intense loneliness when he comes home from work every night. Tony is a very hard-working man. He tells me of all the opportunity here if you are legal. He tells me it is always under threat of deportation so he remains connected to Mexico.