Mexican families find refuge in S.A.
Published: Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 11, 2012 18:07
Two years ago, at a Carl’s Jr. restaurant in Monterrey, Mexico, 40-year-old Laura made a decision that would radically change her life: to take her family and leave her hometown.
“We were sitting, and I had my baby — at the time, he was just months old — sitting on the highchair, and my son and my daughter were there, too,” she said. “And I was just talking to them, you know. ‘How was school, how was your day, blah blah blah.’ Then all of a sudden, I see through the window — we call them convoys. It was like 10 trucks of soldiers with the machine guns and everything.”
Restaurant customers ran to the restrooms to hide while employees crouched below registers. Laura grabbed her baby and told her two older children to get under the table.
Within a few minutes, the convoys passed without incident, and Laura looked around to see the rest of the people in the restaurant had resumed their business as if nothing had happened. But as she looked at her children, she realized she didn’t want her kids growing up like that.
“They didn’t stop at Carl’s Jr.; they were just turning,” she said. “But we were so afraid, so scared, that we thought they were going to start shooting there. You don’t know how scared we are now. They didn’t even stop; there was no shooting, nothing. We just imagined something bad was going to happen. We were so paranoid.”
That was the day she decided to move to the United States. Laura’s husband was already working for an American company, but she had originally rejected the idea of moving so far away from Monterrey and everything she had ever known.
“I called my husband and said, ‘You know what? Start looking for a house,’” she told him. Laura asked that her last name be withheld because she still fears for her family’s safety.
The Mexican government released a database with documentation of more than 35,000 homicides in Mexico as a direct result of the cartel feuds since 2006. In addition, wholesale kidnappings have become an independent, money-making enterprise. These conditions have led many like Laura to move to the United States or at least consider the possibility, San Antonio immigration lawyer Jon Haynes said.
“The violence definitely plays a role in increased interest in immigration, particularly in northern Mexico from people who fear for their safety and are trying to get here,” he said. “It’s definitely having an effect.”
For Laura, the violent showdowns between law enforcement and criminals had become habitual in her hometown of Monterrey. As a result, like many in Mexico, she simply adjusted her daily schedule and habits. Instead of going out with her friends at night, they would meet at a karaoke bar at 9 a.m. after dropping the kids at school. Nobody would leave their homes past 6 p.m.
“You get used to it,” Laura said. “You adapt … people started thinking it was a normal thing. They’d say, ‘Oh, if you want to get to the store, go the other way; there was a shooting at the corner and the bodies are blocking traffic.’ … It was very violent and not safe for anybody, but you don’t realize that until you come here (to America). You come and see how peaceful life is.”
According to Laura, horror stories in Mexico have become all too common — a man is kidnapped while waiting in traffic, and neighbors betray neighbors to buy safety. Ticking off a list on her fingers, she said six of her 10 closest friends had found their way to America after near-death situations.
A husband had been kidnapped on his wife’s birthday; they moved to San Diego seeking psychiatric help for post-traumatic stress disorder. One couple ended up penniless after being forced to pay protection money. A man had been held at gunpoint and forced to choose which family member would be taken: his daughter or his wife?
Laura said she knew she needed to move to avoid having her family fall apart like so many others. She and her children were able to come to the United States in 2010 as temporary residents through her husband’s work visa.
Similar to Laura, Juliana Alvarez, 18, and her family were able to move from Mexico City to San Antonio in 2010 because her father is a U.S. citizen. Her father commutes to Mexico City for his real estate development business and the family lives in north San Antonio. Alvarez, a senior at Reagan High School, is aware of the dangers her family managed to circumvent by moving to Texas.
“We didn’t like how things were in Mexico,” she said. “Things here were better.”
Alvarez is aware of the deteriorating situation in her native country, even though she managed to avoid most of the bloodshed and loss that accompanied the drug wars in Mexico. Alvarez said that the worst thing that ever personally affected her was a robbery. Her family’s valuables were stolen and their maids threatened, but there was no loss of life. Yet she knows that things are changing, even in her nation’s capital, and she worries.
“You can’t walk out on the street alone,” Alvarez said. “When I first came here, it was weird. When people say ‘Hi’ on the street, it just felt weird because when people say ‘Hi’ to you in Mexico, you just run away.”
Alvarez said San Antonio is different from Mexico City. It’s smaller, quieter and weekends are often less eventful. But she realizes the benefits of moving to the United States.
“The thing about America is that there are so many opportunities, especially in school,” she said.
Alvarez attributes a lot of her success to the fact that she studied English in Mexico before moving to the United States. In the fall, she will be president of the French Club at Reagan and plans to join the newspaper staff. Alvarez loves San Antonio and plans to stay in the United States, but also is fiercely devoted to her home country. She follows Mexican politics and is watching the upcoming presidential election.