Both my paternal and maternal families have traversed the U.S.-Mexico border back and forth for generations; some uncles and aunts were born on one side, some on the other. Like hundreds if not thousands of other border families, we have maintained family ties and led lives across national boundaries. As a result, we are not your typical “immigrant family”: my mother, after all, had been born in Texas—so returning to the United States from Mexico in 1948 was a kind of coming home.
For all my relatives, those who remained in Mexico and those who migrated to the United States, life has remained split. One cousin, Alicia, went to live in Los Angeles, leaving her daughter with my aunt and uncle in Monterrey, the capital of the Mexican state of Nuevo León; another cousin’s child paid a coyote and came to the United States, only to be robbed and forced to return penniless. One cousin, Gonzalo, crossed the river, settled in Chicago, married, had a family, and then returned to the small farming community of Anáhuac Nuevo León, where he was murdered in a bar brawl. His family in Chicago remains unknown to us. My mother, while U.S.-born, lived in Mexico and crossed to work as a maid in a banker’s home until she married. Now in her eighties, she recalls how she traveled by train every week from Laredo to Rodríguez, Nuevo León, carrying goods for my grandmother and my aunt.
As children we traveled back and forth constantly, sometimes with my parents, sometimes alone, to visit grandparents, purchase certain goods, or just visit friends and have dinner in Mexico. The same freedom was not there for many family members who did not have papers to cross into the United States. In the past, my family had moved pretty freely back and forth. Some of my father’s siblings were born in the United States. As a child I often wondered why we even had a border and what it all meant to have to declare “U.S. citizen” to the uniformed young man who waved us through. But all the same, I knew it was serious business.
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