Portrait of J.C.

“The most important thing to do in my life is to stay with my family.”

28 and 29. IMG_0402The first time I came to the US, the travel part was easy. That was 13 years ago. The first year in America was very difficult. I came here in 1998, like everyone, looking for opportunity. I had a brother here, and he helped me to find a job. I got a tourist visa and flew to New Jersey from Ecuador. My first impression: it was very exciting but I was also afraid. The buildings, the construction of houses, were so beautiful. I thought I would stay here for one year, maybe two. I missed my daughter and my wife. When my wife came a few months later, I was very happy to have her with me.

Just before I left home, I played soccer with my friends. My best friend stopped playing, called all my friends so I could say goodbye to them. At night, I had dinner with my parents and got everything ready for travel. At 10am, I took a bus to the airport. My daughter and wife came to see me off.

After four years in the US I went back home to renew the visa. They told me I could renew it after six months. I prepared the visa paperwork and then they say no. I waited another six months. I went back again and again they said no. That was one year in Ecuador. I needed to go to the US—my family was there.

A friend convinced me to start looking for contact for coyote. Somebody says, take this phone number, call it, one person says it will be ten grand, the other person says it will be $5,000. Go to Mexico City then call again. It was $5,000. I don’t know how the system is, I don’t know how to travel through Honduras, Guatemala, into Mexico. So I go to the Mexican consulate, apply for a visa and get approved. I fly from Ecuador safely into Mexico. I was a very lucky man.

The next week I flew to Mexico City. I was afraid; this was very risky. I had a reservation in a hotel. I called the coyote. He picked me up and we went to a big house. There were twenty people waiting, everyone afraid. I had opened up the seam in my shoe and hid my money inside. The coyote said it would be 1,000 dollars.

I take one change of clothes and gave away everything else. We travel by bus with the old guy (the coyote). Army guys pull over our bus and ask the driver if there is anyone suspicious. My heart is pounding; it was 11 or 12 at night. He lets us go. At 2am we are stopped again, everyone is sleeping. Another three or four hours, one more stop. In the morning at 10 or 11, immigration control stops the bus again and asks for identification. I tried to stay asleep. The old guy says, “He’s sleeping, he’s got a stomach ache.” I pretend to be really sleepy and get down my bag. He says, “It’s ok don’t bother.” That was good luck. The old guy says, “This is my job.”

There are five of us, we cross the river at night, it is very dark. There’s an inner tube just for the girl. We each have trash a bag to carry our shoes and everything. It is maybe 30 meters across. We are told, “Be very quiet, put on your shoes and do what I say.” We stop, see the lights of a police car, go a different way, across fields. Then crawl through bushes for a couple of hours. We are told someone will pick you up in two or three hours.

We finished crawling through the bushes at dawn. We see a patrol car. We stop at a gas station. The guy tried to use his phone but there is no reception. Nobody had American coins, only pesos. When the gas station opens, we can buy something to get change to use the payphone. We stay in bushes to wait for day. I was not going to take my money out of my sneaker to make a phone call. Finally he is able to call and we are told the car will be here in ten minutes. We get in the car and are told to stay down. They leave me and one other guy in a house. There is no food. We are hungry and want to take showers. I tell him to bring me food. Next day again, there’s no food. I go out myself this time and find a store to buy food and bring it back to share with the other guy.

After two days, they pick us up to go to a big house where there were about 30 people mostly from Central America and Mexico. At night, we all get in pickup trucks and lie down so no one can see. They stop outside of the city and everyone gets out. They say, this is the coyote, do what he says. We try to walk around the police stations. We walked early morning and very late, in the daytime we stayed still. We each have one water bottle, a little container with sweet potato, corn and beans—that’s it. Everyone was very tired. After walking for two or three days, another truck picks us up and takes us to a bus station. We all bought tickets to different places. I bought a ticket to Philadelphia and I was here in two days.

It was quite an experience. I had good luck. I was outside the house. I go to the back door and looked through the window. I saw my daughter, and my niece too. They knew I was coming but not when. They were afraid. I said, “It’s dad, open up.” My heart was so happy.

I try to find a job. I don’t have many contacts, not like the first time. I find a job working in a pizza shop. I work cleaning banks at night, and I work construction. I do construction 8 to 4 in Philadelphia, then go back home to take a shower. At 5pm I go to my pizza job. At 11pm I go to a different place for my cleaning job. I get home at 2am. Next day is the same. Children are asleep. Sunday I have more time. Sunday I work in the pizza shop, but only one job that day. After one year I just did the pizza shop and construction work. I try to stay under the radar.

My daughters grew up very fast. They finished high school and college too. I might want to go back someday. But the most important thing to do in my life is to stay with my family.

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition June 25–28, 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.


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