Immigrant stories: Anayeli Espinoza
Anayeli Espinoza grew up just outside of Mexico City, the daughter of hardworking parents trying to make a better life for her and her brother. It was their commitment to their children that convinced them to head north, to the United States.
Espinoza: I came to the U.S. thinking it was going to be a different place. But I didn’t realize how big a change it was going to be for my life and for my future.
Gallacher: How old were you when you came?
Espinoza: On our first attempt to cross, I was 12 years old. I came with my parents. But unfortunately, we got caught. And then the second time, we had to split, since for younger kids, it’s easier for them to cross than for adults.
We decided to split, but it ended up being that they made it and I didn’t. So, I was returned back to Mexico. And after that it was a journey because I had to cross five times.
So, the authorities returned me back to an orphanage, and I just waited for someone to claim me. My uncle finally came and we tried again. But we got caught. He went to jail and I went back to the orphanage. But this time there was no one to claim me. So my mom called her friend and she claimed me. For the next twelve months it was like I was adopted.
It was very, very hard. I felt really lost. At some point, I even remember telling my mom, “Why did you put me through this”? I thought things were going to be better and everything was going to be okay. And here I am by myself, missing my brother and just waiting to see what’s going to happen.
Gallacher: You must have a special place in your heart when you hear the stories of the kids at the border today.
Espinoza: Yeah. People say that it was easier before than it is now. But everybody goes through a journey. And even 10 years ago, 20 years ago, it was difficult for some of us. And I still consider myself blessed and lucky that I didn’t get … that nothing bad happened to me. I’m alive. At this point, it’s just a memory. But at the time, it was very challenging to understand, especially at the age of 12.
Gallacher: So, you tried with your uncle. Then he was thrown in jail. And then you were on your own, but your mother called a friend. And then you stayed with your mother’s friend for how long?
Espinoza: For 12 months and then I tried again, by myself with another group. This time, I made it through the Rio Grande River but I got caught again. And at this point, they knew that I’d tried many times by myself. I think they thought that I was the one crossing the people.
Gallacher: They thought you were a coyote?
Espinoza: Yes. I told them I was just trying to get to my parents but I couldn’t give them information about my parents. So, I just tried to stay quiet and hope that things were going to be okay.
I was really dehydrated from being in the desert. So I just wanted to drink water. But the water they gave me was really chlorinated and I got really sick. I hadn’t eaten for days. So the water burned my stomach.
Gallacher: You must have felt like you were always in danger.
Espinoza: Yes, because I was walking and traveling with adults, not many women. And the adults see that you are by yourself. And you just hope that nothing is going to happen to you. There’s a lot of faith that goes along. I think God knows how much you can handle. And I was only given what I could handle.
Gallacher: I think God may have gotten mixed up and given you a double dose of whatever that was, because it sounds terrifying. So, they sent you back. Then what happened?
Espinoza: I went back to my adopted family. I told my mom, “You know what? I think I’m done. If you want to stay over there, then I’ll just stay here. And it is what it is. Eventually at some point, you’re going to come back.”
I started a normal life until my mom decided that it was time for her to come get me. And one day, she just showed up. And she says, “I’m here. And we’re going to do it again.”
I didn’t know she was coming. I feel like she didn’t tell me, because she wanted to see the conditions that I was living in. So, she came out of nowhere. All of a sudden I saw her and I had mixed feelings.
Gallacher: You felt like you had been abandoned, and that your mother was too late coming?
Gallacher: So, what was your mother’s plan?
Espinoza: My mom said, “I’d rather wait for you to learn some English before we attempt to cross again, and then fail.” So, we stayed there for three months. It gave us a few months of relief, of spending time together, putting ourselves together for what was ahead.
And after three months, we crossed. That time, I couldn’t cross in a car because my mom was with me, and she said, “I’m not going to leave you by yourself. We’re going to do this together.” So we walked, and walked many days. And just when we were about to be picked up, we got caught.
Within hours, we were out and returned back. The coyotes just picked us up. They put us in a house and fed us. And we waited for a chance to try again.
Gallacher: What were you feeling at this point? You were pretty much done before your mother showed up. But did this give you a new incentive to try? Or were you discouraged?
Espinoza: I think that’s the part that hurts the most. I couldn’t understand my mother’s decision. As much as she would explain it to me, all I wanted was a normal life. I kept telling her, “I don’t care if we have to eat frijoles every day. I just want a normal, stable life. I want to go back to school.”
Gallacher: All you wanted was something normal. And it wasn’t within your grasp at all, was it?
Espinoza: No. I just wanted my bed, you know? I wanted a home. I didn’t want to be staying different places every month.
Gallacher: So then, you get another chance. How long did you stay, waiting for the right time?
Espinoza: We were there for probably a month. This time when we tried it was definitely different. It was a different route. Instead of going through the desert, we just went through a lot of ranches. We made it through the first part. And once again, we waited there for a few days.
I remember the lady who took us on the second part of the trip saying, “This is going to be it. I can feel it. We’re going to have a good trip.” We went to bed early that night. We woke up the next morning and got ready.
We were put in a car and were eventually stopped at the border. The immigration officer asked us a few questions. And then he said, “You’re good to go.” And that was it. And somehow, some way, we just crossed.
I remember the woman who was driving telling us as we drove away, “Do not look back.” And for those few seconds, I just couldn’t believe what had just happened. I had crossed so many times, and all of a sudden, we’re just driving and we’re being told that this is it.
And 30 minutes later she said, “Okay. It’s time for a break. We made it.” She was really happy. And even then, I just couldn’t believe it until I arrived in Houston and saw all of those highways. I was like, “Oh, my God. This is it. This is the United States.
When I finally saw my brother, I think that was what made it real. I remember thinking, “Okay. Now my family’s together. We have a place to sleep. We have food. There’s no more walking.” And a whole process of getting adjusted started, going back to school, doing normal things.
Gallacher: How long did it take you as a teenager to forgive your parents for making your life miserable for that time?
Espinoza: I questioned their decision. But I never had any resentment towards them. There’s always a reason. I knew that I was going to have that answer later on. I have had many moments in my life, since then, where I can say that I understand. And in many ways I am thankful because all of those difficult times have taught me a lot of lessons.
Gallacher: What lessons did you learn from that?
Espinoza: People are always working for more. And sometimes I don’t feel like you should look for more. Sometimes what you have is enough. And you have to be thankful for what you have, for being able to go home, to have a bed, and have a roof, and stability, emotional stability. Just being able to be happy and enjoy what you have, because that’s enough. There is no need for more.
Note: Last year, Anayeli became a U.S. citizen. She devotes her time to making a life with her husband and their four-year old son and working on the management team of a national retail company.
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