The boy gives his name to Sara Isela Hernandez Herrera, a coordinator at the home, but says he does not know how old he is or where he is from. He says his mother has gone to the United States. He holds Hernandez's hand with all his might and will not leave her side. He asks for hugs. Within hours, he begins calling her Mama.
When she leaves work every afternoon, he pleads in a tiny voice for her to stayor at least to take him with her. She gives him a jar of strawberry marmalade and strokes his hair.
"I have a family," he says, sadly. "They are far away."
Francisco Gaspar, twelve, from Concepcion Huixtla in Guatemala, is terrified. He sits in a hallway at a Mexican
immigration holding tank in Tapachula. With a corner of his Charlie Brown T-shirt, he dabs at tears running down his chin. He is waiting to be deported. His smuggler left him behind at Tepic, in the western coastal state of
Nayarit. "He didn't see that I hadn't gotten on the train," Francisco says between sobs. His short legs had kept him from scrambling aboard. Immigration agents caught him and bused him to Tapachula.
Francisco left Guatemala after his parents died. He pulls a tiny scrap of paper from a pants pocket with the telephone number of his uncle Marcos in Florida.
"I was going to the United States to harvest chiles," he says. "Please help me! Please help me!"
Clutching a handmade cross of plastic beads on a string around his neck, he leaves his chair and moves frantically from one stranger to another in the hallway. His tiny chest heaves. His face contorts in agony. He is crying so hard that he struggles for breath. He asks each of the other migrants to help him get back to his smuggler in Tepic. He touches their hands.
"Please take me back to Tepic! Please! Please!"
For Lourdes, the disappearance of her ex-boyfriend, Santos, hits closest to home. When Diana is four years old, her
father returns to Long Beach. Soon after, Santos is snared in an INS raid of day laborers waiting for work on a street corner and deported. Lourdes hears he has again left Honduras headed for the United States. He never arrives. Not even his mother in Honduras knows what has happened to him.
Eventually, Lourdes concludes that he has died in Mexico or drowned in the Rio Grande.
"Do I want to have them with me so badly," she asks herself of her children, "that
I'm willing to risk their losing their lives?" Besides, she does not want Enrique to come to California. There are too many gangs, drugs, and crimes.
In any event, she has not saved enough. The cheapest coyote, immigrant advocates say, charges $3,000 per child. Female coyotes want up to $6,000. A top smuggler will bring a child by commercial flight for $10,000. She must save enough to bring both children at once. If not, the one left in Honduras will think she loves him or her less.
Enrique despairs. He will simply have to do it himself. He will go find her. He will ride the trains.
"I want to come," he tells her.
Don't even joke about it, she says. It is too dangerous. Be patient.
Now Enrique's anger boils over. He refuses to make his Mother's Day card at school. He begins hitting other kids. At recess, he lifts
schoolgirls' skirts. When a teacher tries to make him behave by smacking him with a large ruler, Enrique grabs the end of the ruler and refuses to let go, making the teacher cry.
He stands on top of the teacher's desk and bellows, "Who is Enrique?"
"You!" the class replies.
Three times, he is suspended. Twice he repeats a grade. But Enrique never abandons his promise to study. Unlike half the children from his neighborhood, he completes elementary school. There is a small ceremony. A teacher hugs him and mutters,
"Thank God, Enrique's out of here."
He stands proud in a blue gown and mortarboard. But nobody from his mother's family comes to the graduation.
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