The Crossing

for my friend, Renato Aquino Mora


I arrived in Mexico City by bus.

I was carrying two thousand US.

At the airport, I was robbed.

The two of them had a knife.

“Give us your money or we’ll kill you.”


“I don’t have any money.”

“You expect us to believe that?

You think we’re joking?

You’re going to cross.

You must have money.


They killed my eighteen-year-old brother

Last year.  I knew what they could do.

I didn’t care.  I was mad.

“Go ahead, kill me.  I don’t have any money.

I’m just going to Tijuana to get a job.”


They frisked me and stole my ticket.

They didn’t find the money.

I’d cut a slit in my jeans under the belt loops

Stuffed in the bills to hide them.

I kept out a few pesos just in case.


“I have only these pesos

That my parents gave me

So I could get something to eat

Along the way.”

They took the pesos and my ticket.


They started to leave but one came back.

His eyes were looking away.

He gave me my ticket and left.

With my ticket there were twenty pesos.

I still hated them

But I was thankful.


In Tijuana I met the coyote

Who would cross me.

I was wearing light jeans¸ almost white.

“What?  You gonna cross like that?

They’ll see you a mile away.”


I stayed in a hotel where the others were staying.

There were chickens in cages.

There were fires where they did the cooking.

I picked up the dust from one of the dead fires,

Rubbed it all over my jeans to make them black.


I met a guy who said

He’d been there for six weeks.

Six weeks!  They hadn’t tried to cross him

In all that time

But they still took his money.


I asked around.

There was another hotel

Where I heard they were going to

Cross that night.

“Hey, you wanna go with me?”


“Yea.  Sure,” he said.

“But, how do we find that hotel?”

We walked all over

Until we found a phone book.

I looked up the place.

It was only a few blocks away.


We went there.

The people weren’t happy we’d come.

They were leaving the next evening.

They thought were would bring bad luck.

Napkin Art, Sea Gull Cellar Bar, artist unknown

Napkin Art, Sea Gull Cellar Bar, artist unknown

It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

It was freezing cold.

I didn’t have a coat.

There were seventy of us

Only two were girls.


The coyotes took the girls

Into the bush and did them.

No one dared to help.

I knew then I was no good.

When they came back

The girls were crying.


We walked for hours.

We came to a barbed wire fence.

One of the girls got stuck on top.

“Just leave her,” they all said.

Everyone walked away.


Not me.  I went back.

One of the coyotes saw me.

He came back too.

“Shit, why am I doing this?”

That was all he said.


We told her to jump

And we’d catch her.

When she jumped

She caught her arm on the wire

And cut it badly.  She was bleeding.


I tore a strip off my shirt

And tied it around her arm.

Told her to hold it up high

So the blood wouldn’t flow.

We walked and walked and walked.


When we got across

We all went our own way.

I never saw that girl again.

She left with her sister.

I stayed with the coyote and did what I was told.


They asked me where I was going.


“So, who’s going to sponsor you?”

The sponsor pays the fee to get you across.

That’s how it works.


“My cousin in Chicago.”

“Give me his number so I can call him.”

They call your sponsor and arrange for the cash to be paid when you get there.

I’d never met my cousin.

My mother told me to contact him

When I reached the other side.


They gave me a ticket

LA to Chicago.

“At the airport a guy will meet you.

He will have a black hat.

Follow him and do everything he does.


If he takes off his hat, take off yours.

If he stops, stop.

If he sits, sit.

When he gets to the gate,

Wait until he removes his glasses.


That’s when you go in.”

I did what they said.

I guess they bribed the guard.

He let me pass

Without even checking for an ID.


There was one problem.

I had to change planes at St. Louis.

What was I gonna do?

They told me to go

Directly to the gate.


I did.

A woman was there.

“Where are you going?”


She pushed me against the wall


She held me there with her hands.

I stood there shaking.

Was this it?

I expected the police to come.

If they did, I knew what I would do, run.


They didn’t come.

After the first class passengers boarded

She let me go.

I got on and took my seat.

I didn’t speak a word of English


When I heard the others say

“Hello,” I said “hello.”

I saw what they did,

And did the same.

I think someone was looking out for me.


Next thing I knew

I was in Chicago.

I didn’t even know my cousin

But he was there

And helped me get started.


I worked washing dishes at five dollars an hour.

I lived with four others who did the same.

We slept five to a room.

I worked two jobs to pay the rent

And saved a little to send home to my parents.


One day I met a man who said

He would pay me ten bucks an hour

Under the table to work at his restaurant.

He was Japanese.

I said OK.


The place was slow

I got bored

I started to clean the kitchen

The floors

The windows.


The others who worked there

Didn’t do anything.

They smoked and complained

About my working and cleaning.

They didn’t like it.


One day a customer who saw what I was doing

Asked me to come and work for him.

He offered me a couple of bucks more per hour.


I left.


A month later my old boss came by

And said he wanted me back.

“Why did you leave?”

“Well, they pay me more money.”

“How much?”


“Well, two bucks.”

“Look, if you come back

I’ll pay you the same and

I’ll teach you to cook.”

In these places they cook at the table


The cooks get tips.

“OK.  Yea,” I said.

When I go back I notice that

The cooks just did their job.

They didn’t talk to the customers.


I started to talk to the customers when I cooked.

Made jokes and did funny things

At the table like play with the knives.

Customers liked it.

They started requesting me.


One day one of my best customers

Told me he was going to bring

In some friends and he wanted

Me to cook for them.

He wanted me to be funny.


I put on a good show.

Next thing I know he asks me

To come and run his restaurant.

Run it!  He said he’d pay me four grand a month.

I couldn’t believe it.


I only had to work nights

And had a couple of days off.

It was the American dream.

All cash.

Under the table.


Some days they would call and say

“Don’t come to work today.

The Immigration is going to do a raid.”

So I stayed home

With my girlfriend.


She was legal.


We had a son.

We bought a house.

Then, one day we had a fight.


So, here I am

Back in Mexico.

You want another glass of wine?


What’s your name anyway?