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Maria
By Olivia Tafs, Chugach Optional
Genre: Fiction Level: Elementary 4-6
Category: UAA/ADN Creative Writing Contest

My name is Maria Anjedro, I was 15 years old when I immigrated from Senahu, Guatemala in 1971. I came over because of the civil war. My father was killed when I was 10 years old. A soldier came to the door and asked to see him. He stepped outside and we never saw him again. No body, no note. Just gone. At that point, My mother was 8 months pregnant with the twins, Alejandro and Pablo. She did not cry, like I did, understood completely, unlike the girls, who were almost babies then. She just went quiet. Never smiled, never laughed, barely even talked really. We just sort of blocked him from our heads. In the beginning, out of the blue the pain would hit me, doubling me over with sobs, but I got better at blocking him from my head. We slowly let go of him. And so at the age of 10, I became the second parent. As the oldest child, I had to quit school to work. I helped the ladies who sold weaving in a shop near my house. It wasn’t easy, but Mama and I were determined to keep the girls, Angelita, who was 6, and Josefina, who was only 4 when my father died but started school later, in school and not working. We were both adamant about that, that I would be the only one to quit school. Mama told me I couldn’t quit school either, but we wouldn’t have been able to survive without my job. I told her that, and she reluctantly agreed.

Eventually, we decided that we should try to move up to San Antonio, Texas with Tia Adelita, my father’s sister. Finally, after many tries, one of our letters got through. She hadn’t known about my father, had assumed we were all alive and just hadn’t been able to contact her.  She had never had children of her own, but had always wanted them, and was near ecstatic about our moving up. Unfortunately, she was not in a great place financially, so although she did have a place for us to stay when we got there, she couldn’t afford to help us come up. So, in that respect, we were on our own.

With some research, we discovered that it could take up to 20 years to obtain the correct paperwork to immigrate legally. We decided that, although it was dangerous and risked deportation, our only choice was to immigrate bajo alambre, “beneath the barbed wire,” before anything got worse.

One day, in the middle of June, My mother told me we were going. She said she had hired a coyote, someone who smuggles illegal immigrants across the border. I went into my room. I decided to start small and selected my best white pillow case. I then some necessities- some clothes, my hairbrush. I put the locket My mother had given me when I turned 13 in a small bag I had knotted myself. She said that it was the locket my Abuelo gave my Abuelita when they were married. I was only four when they died, but I can still remember the way he looked at her like she was all he ever wanted. My mother says that he died of old age, and she died of heartbreak. My journal, a pencil. My bag was almost filled. One more thing- the little worry dolls my grandfather made my mother when she was still a child. I tied a knot in the top of my pillowcase and went to check on my brothers and sisters.

When I got there, they were arguing. No one wanted their pillowcase to be filled. so they tried give their brothers and sisters the stuff they wanted, so they would get it but not have to carry it. I asked them if they had brought any, I don’t know, clothes, and they  immediately started reassesing the value of the items in their respective bags.

When finally we were all packed, with all the food and items we could carry, we went to meet the coyote man. There we saw three other scared looking families. Finally, the coyote showed up. We all climbed into the big truck he was driving, meant for transporting platanos.

My eyes adjusted quickly, and I studied the families in the hollow back of the truck with us. One of them had a father, no mother, and three very small children, the oldest was probably three or four. The other family had a mother and a father, a tiny newborn baby and a five year old. She smiled and waved a tiny wave at me. It was awful in that truck, stuffy and airless. It took us three days to get to America in that horrible truck. We ran out of food halfway through the second day, but finally we made it. As we all got out of the huge truck, I saw the river. The coyote man said it was the Rio Grande, and told us that we had to cross it. I held my skirt up to my knees and slowly waded it with the rest of the people. We all clung to each other. At one point Pablo was almost swept away by a swift current, but Angelita and I grabbed him at the last moment. Finally we made it across.

The coyote man left us then, on the side of the Rio Grande. I spread my skirt out and waited for it to dry, and Angelita mimicked me. Josephina and the twins ran around and chased each other, just happy to be out of the truck. Finally, My aunt came and picked us up, and we were all delighted to see her. We all headed to here apartment building in San Antonio. It took all that day and half of the next, and we had to stay the night in a tiny motel, but it was positively luxurious compared to that awful platano truck. Finally we got to her apartment. I was amazed at first- so many little houses in one big house- but I got used to it.

Tia Adelita has been homeschooling me for a year now. I am learning so much I never could have in Guatemala. It is difficult, and there is so much I don’t understand yet, and so much I miss, but I believe I can make it here. America will never truly be my home, but Guatemala is no longer quite my home either. I’m not sure where my home is. Maybe I will never really know, but I think I’ll be happy anyway.

 

I lay down my pencil and close the journal with a snap as I hear a knock on the door. I get up and look through the peephole. The man looks familiar. Very familiar. I open the door and greet him hesitantly. He looks at me, surprised. “M..m..Maria?” he stutters. He looks tired and shell shocked and just plain shocked at the same time. I see bruises and scratches on his arms and he has dark circles under his eyes, but I am positive he is someone I know. And the instant I recognize him, and wonder how I could have ever forgotten. “Papa!” I cry, and I run into his arms.

My yell wakes Mama, Tia and my siblings. They come running. Mama and the twins arrive first. Her eyes go wide. “Adrian?” She gasps. And she hugs him too. “Who is he?” whispers Pablo to Tia Adelita. But she’s already running towards her brother, along with Angelita and Josephine, who must still remember him, even though they were tiny when he disappeared. My mom turns to the twins, who look confused and scared. She’s sobbing and laughing at the same time, and I realize so am I. “He’s your father!” They run across and hug him too, the idea that we’ve always told them he was dead never crossing their mind. I giggle and cry and we all fall into a heap on the couch, and I realize that maybe my home isn’t a place. Maybe it’s just these people, my sisters and the twins and my mother and my aunt and my father, who I will never let go of again.


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