Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series about the Garcilazos, an Emporia family who immigrated from Mexico by way of California. We pick up the story when Trinidad is already in the United States with his wife, Doralinda, and two daughters still in Mexico. His family is preparing to make the trip to join him in the U.S. To read the first two parts of the story, see the April 9 and April 10 editions of The Emporia Gazette.
Doralinda was eight months pregnant with Lily when she and her children crossed the border. They didn’t do it the way he had — they couldn’t. Instead, the coyote they hired — a woman — brought them across the border by car. In order to sneak them across, they had to disguise Doralinda as a wealthy American woman — that was the only way they could get across the border without being asked for papers. So the coyote covered Doralinda in makeup and dressed her in expensive, brand-name clothes.
The coyote, who remained in contact with Trinidad by phone off and on throughout the process, joked that he wouldn’t recognize his wife the next time he saw her.
The children — Lily’s older sisters — were instructed to pretend they were asleep for the duration of the crossing.
Doralinda was nervous — horribly so — and the coyote told her to eat to calm herself down. She snacked on a bag of seeds the entire time, according to Lily, trying to not panic and give herself and her children away.
Trinidad sat waiting, filled with anxiety, in a hotel room on the United States side of the border.
But eventually, after hours of waiting, he was reunited with his wife and daughters.
Reunited, the family went home to spend time together, but the children grew hungry. There wasn’t much food in the house, Lily said.
In a yard next door, there was a tree laden with large pomegranates. Lily’s sisters — still quite young — took some of them, thinking it wouldn’t be an issue.
Trinidad scolded them for stealing the fruit and told them the neighbor had mean dogs. The dogs had been let in the house, but if they had been in the yard when the girls were taking fruit from the tree, someone might have gotten hurt.
Together again, the family lived and worked in California, where Lily was born. They stayed there for several years.
“That was when our life kind of changed,” Lily said.
Her dad had a stable job and was working in the United States legally at this point, which made things easier. The children were able to attend school and, while Trinidad was hardly striking it rich, he was able to earn enough for them to live on.
There were many kind people here, they found — a case in point being the man who gave Trinidad a pair of jeans on his first day in America — and they++≠ have been nothing but thankful for this, because it has helped them achieve so much.
In 1999, the family left California for Kansas — specifically to work at Emporia’s Tyson plant, where they both still work full-time.
“Back in the day, if you would come from the fields, you would have a really good reputation,” Lily said. “Work in the field is really, really heavy, and so a lot of individuals that had that experience — they would automatically get a job at Tyson.”
Both Trinidad and Doralinda worked in the fields at that time.
He knew some people in Kansas, and California was expensive, so that winter, the Garcilazos packed up for the drive to Emporia. It was a rough trip, Trinidad recalls.
Lily cried the whole way. At one point, an officer pulled Trinidad over to see what was the matter — he’d swerved a bit trying to deal with his sobbing little girl.
Around Topeka, however, something that looked to them like trash or dirt began falling from the sky.
“We saw the trees without leaves,” Lily said. “In California, everything was green and every day was sunny.”
Doralinda asked her husband if they could return to California.
Then they saw what they had taken for garbage lying in white piles on the ground and understood what they had just experienced.
It was snow.
Once the Garcilazos realized they had just experienced their first snow, they were much happier about their choice to move to Emporia.
They still sometimes miss California’s weather.
At Tyson, they worked a set schedule six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
It was exhausting at first because they didn’t know the job, but once they learned everything that was required of them, it was fine.
And Emporia was, aside from the weather, so much better for them than California. They didn’t struggle economically the way they had on the coast.
Today, according to Trinidad, the immigration situation is different. In some cases, it’s better and in other cases it’s worse, he said. At the border, the situation is worse than it was when he crossed.
But there are more laws protecting undocumented workers such as he once was, Lily said, and they have more freedom of movement. Undocumented workers don’t have to live every moment in fear.
Immigration officials can no longer block the streets at random and pester people for documentation or raid their homes, Lily said, which at one time they were free to do.
Everyday Americans, too, have become more open-minded and knowledgeable about issues surrounding immigration, according to Lily.
At no point has the family given up on America, even when times were tough.
Immigrating has led to opportunities for the whole family that they might not have had in Mexico, including a chance for an education. Trinidad has taken English classes, from which he has picked up a conversational understanding of the language.
Lily, who is pursuing a Master’s Degree in clinical psychology from Emporia State University, recently received second place in the college’s 1863 Scholarship Essay Contest.
“The U.S. did change their life,” Lily said. “They’re grateful that there’s a lot of services here that help a lot of individuals — a lot of minorities … They are really thankful to be here.”