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Place: Escuela de la Montaña, Guatemala

Original Language: Spanish

Recorded and translated by Lena Dorfschmidt and Justin Shenk

I am Maximilian. I am from Nuevo San José. My talk today is about immigrants. [I was an illegal immigrant]. I went to see the United States. My interest was to work.

My wish wasn’t to get to know the United States. My wish was to work. To make a little money. Here, I didn’t have any money. So I had to find someone to lend me money. […] I got some money to travel. But I needed a lot to travel; I had to borrow 40,000 Quetzals. […] I got the money, but with an interest rate. The interest rate was 5%.

So I [could] get [the] money. […] So I could look for a coyote in Guatemala to go to the United States. The coyote charged 40,000 Quetzals. So he took the money. He said we would go on that date. That day. In eight days we leave. So he said to reach […] the desert, only three days.

The coyote told me to talk to my family at home. The coyotes know […] that those that travel to the United States… sometimes they pass, sometimes they get lost in the desert. They die and don’t come back. So the coyote said, “Say good bye to your family. If you come back or not.” So I said good-bye to my family and we left. The coyote came to pick me up at home. We went to Xela and from there we went to a village that is called Mesilla. From Mesilla…. We spent six days in Mesilla. […] They gave us food, a place to sleep, everything. So we were there for six days. From there we went to another place. That village also is still on the Guatemalan side of the border. It is called Gracias a Dios […]. That was the last place. […]

We spent eight days in Gracias a Dios. After those eight days they sent us to another place, a ranch at the border with Mexico. There we spent only three days. After that the coyote from Guatemala contacted the coyote from Mexico. They talked to see if there is no migration close, to leave Guatemala, to enter the territory of Mexico. So the coyote said, “Let’s go. “ We left at about three in the afternoon to walk to the mountains of Mexico. We went. We arrived at about six in the afternoon. We arrived at a place were they were going to fetch all the immigrants. […] We were forty-eight from here, from Guatemala. Forty-eight immigrants, only from Guatemala. So we went. We arrived at that place. The coyote from Mexico was waiting at a house in the mountains. We arrived and the coyote said that there were two pickups, […] and we went one on top of the other. One with the head here, someone else with the head here and the feet there, and others on top. A lot of pain with all these people below us. They left us somewhere to walk again in the mountains. We walked all night through the mountains.

So we walked all night in the mountains. But many […], there were six women, didn’t want to walk anymore. We had to take their hands so that the women would walk. It was very dark and we couldn’t see the path. And we couldn’t use lamps, because of the migration. We walked all night. […] We arrived at about three in the morning at a place where there was a truck waiting, a truck to take us to another place. […] [The trailer] had a bed but on top it had a lot of gravel, for construction work. The gravel was on top and we below. [There was] a small hole to get a little air. Heat inside. And many were ill. We went all day in that trailer. There was no water to drink. There was no food. Nothing. Many, the women, were very ill inside. And a lot of heat. And the migration. We passed. There was migration. The migration was checking if it really was all gravel, and we were down there. Punished with hunger and thirst. We arrived at six in the morning of the other day. We arrived at a place they call Puebla that was on Mexican soil already. A […] big place. All of use ill, hungry and very tired. We had spent a while night walking and another night in the trailer. We had travelled all night and another day. A lot.

And in Puebla we only spent two days. Two days in Puebla, because we were very tired. Then we left Puebla. We had to travel four nights and three days to reach another village close to the border with the United States. But we didn’t walk, we went by pickup. In three pickups. It is all mountains. There was a lot of migration and military. But the coyote told us, “don’t tell them where we are going. Say we are on our way to work.” First he told us, “We are on our way to cut watermelons. Big watermelons. We are going to work. We will cut them.” So the coyote bought watermelons. He bought watermelons. He said, “Let’s go on.” To get far away from the military. They were on the highway. […] They stopped […] the pickups […]. They asked, “Where are you going?” So the coyote from Mexico said: “We went to cut watermelons. […] Now we are going to another place to harvest onions. Here we have the watermelons, see. […] He gave five watermelons to the military. […] “Pass then,” said the soldier. So we passed. Further on, they didn’t say anything. We went. We reached another place, also with military and police. They asked where we were heading. But the coyote had bought flowers and said, “We are going to a family that died. They died and now we are going to see them and we are bringing flowers.” We had flowers […]. So that is how we went. We arrived in Chicago [in Mexico].

When we had arrived in Puebla, there were other people from Brazil, Argentina, from Mexico. We got to be 58 immigrants.

[…] When we reached Chicago, the coyotes from Guatemala and Mexico said that there were minibuses waiting for us already. Minivans to take us […] to the desert. But I don’t know if the migration saw us when we entered the minibuses. We went, but the migration was following us, to get us. But the coyote noticed that it was the migratoin that was behind us, so he said, “Better we get back to Chicago. You will take a bus, I will drop you there and I will give you the money for the ticket.” So he gave us the money and they left and we got into the big bus. The coyote had said, “I will wait for you further on. I will wait for you at that place.” So the coyote left and the migration came back, and went after the microbus. But we, the immigrants, weren’t in the microbus anymore. We were in the big bus already.

So the coyote was waiting for us further on, maybe about an hour away. So we arrived and there were the minivans waiting already. Waiting for us and we get down from the big bus and into the minivans. It was late already. Maybe three in the morning. So the coyote said, “Let’s go, we will eat and drink till we arrive the border between Mexico and the United States.” So we went by minibus and around seven in the morning we were close to the desert. We were very close. But about half an hour away from the desert there was a control on the highway […]. They asked a question about where we were from. But the coyote had told us before, “All of you will say you are from Mexico. Don’t say you are from Guatemala.” So he gave papers to all the immigrants.  I had another name, another name, and I was from a place in Mexico. I worked in Tapachula, Mexico. I knew some places. I had to say I was from that village and they let us pass. All of us. No one had to go back. Everyone said they were from Mexico. So they let all of us pass. We arrived. We arrived close to the desert […]. [There] they were selling food, water, everything. We got breakfast. We rested. At about three in the afternoon […] the person […] that takes care in the desert, said “At three you will leave. From here [we go] in cars and pickups. I will drop you about half an hour from here at the edge of the desert.”

So the coyote from Mexico said, “We leave now. We will stay there. At one in the morning we will walk into the desert. We will sleep a little [at the edge of the desert] till one in the morning. Because there is migration with horses and motorbikes and pickups. Watching if there are immigrants passing by. So the coyote said when they go to sleep, we will pass. So there was no notice. At one in the morning we entered the desert to walk all night.

Walking, we’re in the desert already, walking at midnight. At about eight in the morning we arrived at some cliffs. We arrived at a hill. So the coyote said, “We will rest for two hours.” So we rested, […] but there were two women and a man. They stayed below. I was a little more uphill, with another young man. But then I thought, I better go a little more uphill. So I stayed close to the coyote. After about an hour of resting, when I was up there already, the young man close to me said, “Hey, hey, let’s go, they caught the women and the man.” He said, “The migration caught them already.” So the coyote said, as below there there was a fence, “We will pass below the fence. To go and hide. Run and hide.” But it was all thorns, all thorns. We got in there to hide. After just about five minutes the helicopters and airplanes arrived. Coming down, searching, where they were, where were the immigrants. After some time the helicopter landed. It picked up the women and the man. And the two airplanes stayed, searching. But we were below the thorns […]. The coyote… after about an hour the airplanes left. They weren’t there anymore. So the coyote said that… those that were close to him should come out. To see where the other immigrants were. But they were hiding very far away. We were only eighteen immigrants close to the coyote. So the coyote said, “I will drop you a little further on from here. Then I come back to look for the rest.” But the coyote from Mexico said, “When I come back to fetch you, I will call like a tiger call. When you hear the call, you will come out. So if you hear that call you will come out. But if someone else calls, not like that, don’t come out because it could be the migration. So if I call like a tiger, you come out and know that I am there.”

So after about two hours the coyote came back to where we were. All the others were with him again. He  brought the lost group. They arrived where we were. So we went on walking. We kept walking all night. We arrived. It was another night already. We arrived. We walked. At about four in the morning, maybe three, we arrived at a resting place. To rest, to sleep a little. And the coyote said, “We will have a break of two hours. At five we will get up again to go on walking.” We had to walk day and night.

So we stayed at that place. And we got up at five in the morning. The coyote said, “Get up, we will go on walking.” At about five thirty when everyone was ready with the backpacks on their backs already, the coyote heard something in the grass close by. He heard a noise. “Down to the ground,” he said. We threw ourselves on the ground and the coyote stood behind a tree to see who was coming, if it was the migration.

It was an immigrant that was lost. A few days ago a group had passed where we were and this man had fallen on the stones. He hurt his foot. So the coyote had left him behind. He didn’t take him along anymore. The poor man had only a little bit of water in his bottle. He met us. The coyote said, “What happened?” “My group left me behind, because I couldn’t walk anymore.” he said. “I haven’t eaten in four days, only a little water.” “So what now,” said the coyote. “I can’t stand,” he said, “the hunger and the thirst.” Our coyote […] gave him a little water and he got a little better. […] He talked and said, “And now? If you can take me, I will go with you.” He was lost. He said, “Another day and I die here in the mountains.” “If you pay me, I will take you,” the coyote said. “Fine, I will pay you. In Los Angeles, I will pay you.”

So he came with us. […]

We kept walking. It was another day. We walked. But the helicopter and the airplane were searching again. The coyote said we had to hide below the thorns. We all threw ourselves on the ground to hide. But I and another man and his wife went. I went. I went first. Behind me was the woman and her husband. There was a tree that had fallen. I climbed over it and hid a little away from it. But I didn’t look behind the tree. There came the woman with her husband. Behind the tree there was a dead woman. The woman saw her and screamed, […] when she saw the woman and saw that she was dead. After some time the helicopter and the airplane left. We went on walking. But that women was scared. She didn’t want to walk anymore. She was in shock and didn’t want to walk anymore. The coyote carried her for a while. They carried her, but we were close to Arizona already. After some six hours we would arrive in Arizona. So the coyote said, “Let’s go, let’s go.” And the afternoon passed by.

We kept walking about six hours. At about one in the morning we arrived in Arizona. “In Arizona,” the coyote from Mexico said, “There is another coyote to take us to Los Angeles,” he said. But when we arrived in Arizona it was about one in the morning already. We arrived at the [other] coyote´s house. “I wont take you anymore,” that one said, “because it is very late already.” He said, “There is a lot of migration at this time. So you can stay or you can leave, and I don’t know where you should go, because there is a lot of migration in Arizona.” So the coyote said, “What do all of you say? Shall we go on? Or do we stay?” So the coyote said that if we walked another six hours we would arrive in Phoenix. All of us said yes and we kept walking. We left at one in the morning towards Phoenix. We arrived at six in the morning in Phoenix. We stayed there half a day to wait for the coyote from Los Angeles to come and get us.

The coyote from Los Angeles arrived at about twelve, at noon. He came with three microbuses to take us to Los Angeles. He brought us clothes, shirts, pants, shoes and sweaters, because ours were all dirty and muddy. We left our clothes there and he took us. We arrived in Los Angeles at about six thirty in the afternoon. We only passed a day in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles everyone went into different directions. Many families came to fetch them. So we were only eight left that would go to Houston. One to New York. One to Washington. And we to Houston. But the coyote that had taken us to Los Angeles said, “If that is okay for you, we will go and bring two to New York and two to Washington and then we will go down to Houston.” In Houston we arrived at about three in the morning. From Los Angeles it took us another four days and four nights. A lot.

Four days. But the coyote that went with us – [he was] very bad, because he didn’t give us any food. He only gave us a small hamburger and a little orange juice. A little. A lot of hunger.

So we arrived in Houston. Our families were waiting for us in Houston. We arrived at their apartment at about three in the morning. I have a brother in law and cousins there. And some friends. I stayed there with a family. […]

When I arrived I didn’t have work for three days. But then I got work. I went to put grass in the garden. Here we call it grass, but it comes in packages. You put it… in the house. In the garden. That was it. I learned a little. Then I got work. I had to distribute leaflets […] pizza and other restaurants’ flyers. That was my work. […]

That was my story from Guatemala till reaching the United States. The coyote had said it would take some fifteen days. But it didn’t take fifteen days. […] We arrived after thirty days. One month.

That is my story. [It is] a lot.

The trip was bad for me. Because I stayed two years and seven months there. But I didn’t want to stay [only] two years and seven months. I wanted to stay eight years. I wanted to have some money here in Guatemala. But I couldn’t, because I got ill there in the US. I got an illness […] called diabetes. […] I was very ill, so my family told me to come back. But I didn’t have the money to travel. […] There was a church in the United States and all the brothers and sisters from the church gave some money for me to travel. They paid the ticket. So I came and they paid. That is why I came back to Guatemala. I didn’t do anything. I got ill.

When I came back to Guatemala, I still had debts. But I became ill. I couldn’t work. I didn’t know how to pay the money back. I had some land. I had to sell it to pay the money back. 30,000 [Quetzals]. Because I noticed, it got more through the interest rate.

I left Guatemala in 2009 and came back in 2012.

Now I am working here, I am working in Concepción close to San Juan. They have a lot of plantations there. Now we are harvesting the corn.


Comments are closed.

  1. Stanislaw Hrouste 3 years ago

    It is a very interesting story, but here are some observations. It looks like the text requires some editing.

    The graver was on top and we below – was it gravel?
    We arrived at an active hill – what’s active hill?
    but there were two women and an uncle – uncle is NOT a middle age guy, not in English
    He heard a noice – a voice? Noise?
    He hurt his food – foot?
    There came the women with her husband – bad grammar. Even if there is one husband for multiple wives, he is their husband, not her husband.
    He came with three microbuses – these vehicles are called vans or minivans.
    I went to put […] is what they call grass that is put in the garden – I can’t understand what the guy was doing.

    • Justin Shenk 3 years ago

      Thank you for the welcome edits and suggestions! I made the edits you suggested. Another question is if it deserves more overall editing – how much editing will preserve the original sense while keeping it easy to read. Appreciate your thoughts.

      • Stanislaw Hrouste 3 years ago

        I think this one doesn’t require much editing, it is far more coherent than the WWII story.

  2. Stanislaw Hrouste 3 years ago

    “When I come back to fetch you, I will call like a tiger call…” – doesn’t make much sense. There are no tigers in America and most likely these people never heard the tiger roar. Maybe it was another big cat, such as puma?

    • Justin Shenk 3 years ago

      Good point! Making the edit now.

    • Justin Shenk 3 years ago

      You might be interested to learn that tiger call is like the English “cat call,” whistling at a woman. Thanks for bringing it up.

  3. Stanislaw Hrouste 3 years ago

    “So the coyote said that if we walked another six hours we would arrive in Phoenix. All of us said yes and we kept walking. We left at one in the morning towards Phoenix. We arrived at six in the morning in Phoenix” – makes no sense at all. The distance from Phoenix to the border is about 150 miles.

    “In Houston we arrived at about three in the morning. From Los Angeles it took us another four days and four nights. A lot.” – It is too fast and almost impossible:

    From LA to NY 40 h (2,789.5 mi) via I-80 E; from NY to Houston 24 h (1,627.4 mi) via I-81 S and I-59 S; some time for Washington, stops – no, it isn’t possible.

    Is it a piece of history or pure fiction? Description of the desert crossing doesn’t seem authentic for many reasons as well.


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