Jessica Maldonado, Beacon ’11, Commonwealth School ’15, Brandeis University ’19
I vividly remember my mom arguing with the coyotes when we were about to cross the river. It was early in the morning and tall weeds surrounded us. They wanted my sisters and me to go in one raft and my mother in a different one. I remember her saying, “I’m the one with the money.” I did not understand why she wouldn’t let them take us on separate rafts. I only now realize how brave she was for challenging them.
She had moved to the US when I was five and worked ninety hours a week as a dishwasher. She saved every penny so that, someday, she could bring us to the US. When my grandfather died and no one was willing to take care of us in El Salvador, my mom had to come get us.
Once we crossed the river, we climbed a steep, muddy hillside where they told us to wait for a red truck. We hid for hours in the bushes. Finally, my mom saw a truck. She hurried to see if it was the coyotes. When she found out it wasn’t them, she handed them money and asked them to buy us water and Doritos. They soon returned with our food and said they would come back later and help us. As they were leaving, my mom heard one say, me gusta la güerita (“I like the pale-skinned one”), which either meant my mom… or my eight year-old sister.
It was getting dark and it started to rain. We were hungry and exhausted. Scared that those men might return, we decided we would turn ourselves in. From behind the bushes, we saw a patrol car slowly driving by. We walked out of our hiding place, but something miraculous happened: they didn’t see us, even though we were only a few feet away. We watched the car disappear. Certain that it was a sign to keep going, we set out, unsure of the right direction. My mom explained that the signs would tell us.
After an hour, we saw a sign in English. We kept walking until we reached a small, quiet neighborhood. We desperately wanted to knock on a door but the dogs intimidated us. I felt as though we would never find help. We were soaked and covered in mud. Our throats were parched. I was terrified, but my mom said, “keep walking.” A red car emerged from the darkness. The driver slowed down, sped up, slowed down, and finally stopped by a lamppost. He rolled down the window and asked if we needed help. His wife looked unhappy. My mom explained that we were lost and hungry. She asked to borrow his phone; instead, he introduced himself and promised to help us.
“Are you sure you want us to get in?” my mother asked. “You have a beautiful car.”
“Don’t worry about that.”
I noticed our muddy feet dirtying the car and wondered why he didn’t care. We arrived at a two-story house with a front yard and elegant front door. I had never seen such a glamorous house. I felt ashamed to walk on their spotless hardwood floors, yet once again, they didn’t seem to notice. Instead, they gave us towels, showed us the shower and took us to our room. His wife gave my sisters and me teddy bears and Barbie dolls to play with while we waited for dinner. Still to this day, I fondly remember that meal being the most delicious dinner I had ever eaten. For a month, we had eaten whatever scraps my mom found for us, going hungry herself so we wouldn’t. This was the first time in weeks my mother was eating a meal. I now realize that meal was the beginning of a new life.