From El Salvador to Austin: UT employees share their journeys

May 6, 2008 at 12:42 pm 1 comment

Journey map
Eduardo Gonzalez/ Adelante staff
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

Not all Hispanic workers are Mexican.

After Mexico, most immigrant workers come from El Salvador. There were 44,252,278 Hispanics in the United States in 2006, according to the most recent online statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. Out of this number, 1,371,666 were Salvadorian. Since then, the number has increased because of widespread poverty, crime, natural disasters and wars in the region.

“I left El Salvador in 1998,” Tomás, who asked for his real name not to be used, said in Spanish. “I came because life there is very difficult and there are not many resources. I was only looking for a better life.”

To get to the U.S., Tomás crossed three borders, in Guatemala, Mexico and the United States. He walked 12 hours through the Sonora Desert in Arizona to get to a number of vans waiting to take immigrants to Los Angeles. After 15 days of travel, he reached American soil. For Tomás, this was just an adventure. He never thought he’d actually make it.

Now 10 years later, he has gained legal citizenship and works as a staff member for the Division of Housing and Food Service at the University of Texas at Austin.

Ana, another staff member for the same department who asked that her name not be used, left El Salvador at 3 a.m. a few years later. She took a bus to Guatemala where she slept in a hotel with four strangers for two nights. They took another bus to the Mexican border and secretly crossed into Quintana Roo, where they waited for a trailer that was taking jeans to Piedras Negras. The trailer, which was driven by her family member, had beds hidden inside the driver’s cabin.

When they reached Piedras Negras after eight days of traveling, Mexican police stopped the driver to inspect the vehicle. Huddled in fear, Ana and the others hid as silently as they could. Officials banged the sides of the trailer, even emptied it of its contents to make sure no one was inside the cargo trailer.

“If we moved or made a sound, they’d catch us,” she said. “They didn’t find us and that’s how we were able to continue.”

They were to cross the river in Piedras Negras to get to Eagle Pass, but heavy flooding delayed them 15 days. When the water level went down, they reached the river’s shore and hid among the brushes until nightfall. A rope was attached to the other side of the riverbank and Ana held on as she attempted to cross.

“At the middle of the river, I stopped feeling the earth under my feet and could feel things flowing between my legs,” she said. “I nearly drowned. When I finally crossed, I changed my clothes and walked along the shore of the river until I got to a park.”
At the park, she waited for five hours until a small car picked her up and took her to a large house in San Antonio that trafficked immigrants.

“There were about 100 people in the house,” she said. “They separated the men from the women. A friend picked me up and took me with her to Waco.”

It has been tough, both Tomás and Ana said. Looking for jobs and working odd jobs, while at the same time dealing with the language barrier and discrimination because of their dark skin color. Tomás was constantly stopped by police and questioned without reason, he said. At Ana’s jobs, people would call her arrastrada Mexicana, closely meaning ragged Mexican woman.
“I would say to them, look, I am not Mexican, and I am not a ragged woman,” she said. “I come here to work.”

Entry filed under: Crossing Borders 2008. Tags: , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Ni Modo  |  May 8, 2008 at 6:33 pm

    There’s a big difference between “trafficking” and “smuggling”.

    For example: “At the park, she waited for five hours until a small car picked her up and took her to a large house in San Antonio that trafficked immigrants.”

    In this context, you probably mean a house involved in a smuggling operation.

    Human smuggling involves the movement of a person across an international boundary after which, said person is able to leave on their own free will.

    Human trafficking involves the exploitation of a person for criminal activities, such as forced labor.

    Someone who is smuggled across a border can go about their business after paying the smuggler, but victims of trafficking are held against their will and forced into either prostitution or some form of manual labor.

    For more information:


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