Daniela’s story: the trip to the United States (I)

Daniela Sánchez, a 33-year-old woman born in Caimito, in the province of Artemisa, lawyer by profession, recently married and childless, decided to leave last year for the United States: “too much stubbornness “, too much secrecy, the fear of being caught in illegality when it is not possible to live otherwise; in short, few options for the future. And so she organized and undertook her journey, selling everything she could in Cuba and supported by her family in the United States. Here is the story of his “journey”:

I left Cuba on February 8, 2022 with a seven-hour layover in Panama, seven hours in Costa Rica, one hour in El Salvador and from there to Nicaragua, all by plane. When we arrived in Nicaragua, the “contact” for the trip was there, a person who took us by bus through Nicaragua until we arrived very close to Honduras. We stayed there in a place that had terrible conditions, we could hardly lie down because we were all crammed on the ground, on dirt floors and in a house with no windows where we could not bathe or look at the outside. Of course, they brought us food in a “thermopack” despite the poor conditions we were in.

New wave of Cuban migration to the United States

We left from there, they put us on buses in groups. About five or six of these big buses arrived, these big buses with a capacity of fifty, sixty people, I don’t remember exactly, that crossed the border and took us through Honduras.

The police stopped us there all the time. They told us that if we didn’t give them money, they would send us back to Nicaragua or take us prisoner. We went in groups of eighty, seventy people, we traveled in large groups, and there were rows and rows of buses, caravans of buses… In Honduras almost the whole trip was like this, until we arrived in a city, I don’t know, I get confused in the place names, imagine, but the crossing lasted almost a day, we hardly slept there, all the time that we went by bus.

We crossed the border into Guatemala at night and they put us up in a hotel. Early the next day they took us to a bus station, and we took one all the way to the end of Guatemala and there it was the same process: “money all the way” for the Guatemalan police: twenty pesos, thirty pesos, fifty pesos, whatever they wanted to ask, blackmailing us, if we didn’t pay them, they would hand us over or deport us to Cuba. Even though we knew that there was no extradition because these countries cannot extradite people to Cuba, we are always afraid that they will arrest you, send you back to Nicaragua, and that is why we are going to give them the money they are asking for, because the objective is to reach the final destination and not to return to Cuba. Many exclaimed along the way that they would rather run out of money, or even stay working in “one of those countries,” than return to Cuba.

In Guatemala, near the border, they put us up in a small hotel. We stayed there for about two days because the guides told us that it was a bit difficult to go to Mexico. And, when we finally got there, the stay was much longer because I left Cuba on February 8 or 9, I was already in Mexico on February 14, and I just went to the border of the States United March 6th… so my longest stay was in Mexico, 21 days or more.

We spent three or four days in Tapachula1 in terrible conditions. They put us in some sort of warehouse with duvets on the floor, because they weren’t mattresses, but duvets which, of course, had already been used by a hundred thousand other people, imagine the conditions in which they were. There we slept on the floor, although they gave us breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was struck by the fact that Tapachula did not look like a Mexican town because of the large number of Cubans there: it was full, full of Cubans, it was such a wave of Cubans that it felt like I was in a marginal area of ​​Cuba because of all the Cubans there, so crowded that when the food arrived in a small school that functioned as an improvised dining hall, there were “queues” of thousands and thousands of people, thousands…. And when the day came to leave the city, everything was stopped because, according to “them” (the “polleros”), they had not received the “green light” (from the authorities), and the day they finally put on the transport, a few groups left and not the thousands of people who were in the city.

There they divided us into warehouses and put us in trucks, sitting next to each other. We were all huddled together and our backpacks on the ground below us so fifty people could fit per truck. That day I saw about seven or eight trucks, you can imagine how many people we were, and despite that more than half stayed in Tapachula.

From there, they took us to another place where they took care of us because we were their “commodity”—because that’s how I felt, like a commodity—and we stayed there for several days, also with many Cubans. They took us in boats for a trip of an hour or a little over an hour until we reached the coast of, I think, Oaxaca. When we landed I had to make a very tedious trip in a 4×4 van which I thought was going to kill us. I said to myself: “here’s how far we’re going”, because we were going at an extreme speed and I felt that nobody was going to come out alive… but we survived and we reached the city of Oaxaca.

From there we flew to the border at Mexicali and came to a very desolate “eight lane” type highway. I realized we were already in the desert. We crossed a fence and walked for about four hours. It was a very arid place and the journey was very tiring. The women sat down exhausted, there was a girl who passed out, another who had asthma and we thought she couldn’t go on, and so on… I had very scared when I saw this and I started to cry: a young woman, much younger than me, twenty-four years old, with this asthma attack and there was no way she would give it back. Luckily one of the guides had salbutamol and with that she perked up a bit.

When we arrived at a certain place at the border, the “guides” told us that they could not accompany us anymore because they could not be in that area, so we continued to walk alone for about an hour and, according to the instructions they gave us, we knew that we had to climb a hill and then descend it to see “the Wall”,2 and there, it was necessary to begin to circumvent it.

In this part of the trip we had to walk so much and the fatigue was so great that I thought I would never get to the place where this “Wall” was: it was “walking, walking, walking, walking, walk, walk…”

And, when I was finally right next to the “Wall”, I had to go around it on a very high hill, and that’s where my strength was exhausted, so much so that I no longer wanted to walk.

I think I was able to get there thanks to the men who were on the “travel”. They encouraged me and took me by the hands and practically carried me because I said I couldn’t take it anymore, because it was too long a walk! Imagine, through the desert, and where we definitely sink into the sand, which was very soft. Besides, we went into holes, we fell, we were covered in thorns because of the number of thorn bushes there, cactuses that are in the desert, no, no, no, no way, it was horrible. I think that was one of the worst things, the ending; for me it was the worst part of the trip.

There the men had to help the women because it wasn’t just me who couldn’t climb the hill, which was huge, a huge hill, and the sand didn’t help you because it was sand from the desert, the one in which we sink, you fall all the time…. All I did was hold on to the bars of the wall with one hand, while a man pushed my shoulder with the backpack from behind and another helped me with the other arm in front. Then, when we rounded the “Wall”, we realized that we had to go back down the hill and everyone, even the men, sat down as if to say “we can’t take it anymore”. But everyone there, oh! I can’t explain it to you, it was one of the deepest feelings, a very deep feeling because everyone was crying: crying and crying and crying… Because we realized that we had succeeded, that they hadn’t come to get us, but now we were already on the “other side”, on American soil, and we immediately drew strength where we had none. and we came down that hill like bats from hell: everyone was crying, everyone was going fast, fast, fast, fast, and immediately they came… they came in these little trucks, I don’t know not if you have seen them?

I remember him as if it were today: he was a gringo boy, an American blond; a young blonde American woman; and a very nice tall dark-haired boy, Cuban by the way, who said he came there as a child and treated us very well. They told us “Welcome to the land of the free”. To imagine! Everybody’s crying: men, women, everybody’s crying with joy… They told us to sit down, take off our shoelaces, our coats, the things we had in duplicate, the hair ties, the earrings for women.… Then they gave us “nylons”, plastic bags to put backpacks inside, shoelaces, things like that. They sat the women on one side and the men on the other, and we walked many miles and it took us a long time to get there because it seems like we’re turning around, I don’t know not why, and we couldn’t see anything on the outside, only a few small holes…

To be continued.…

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Remarks:

1 Mexican city belonging to the state of Chiapas and bordering Guatemala where a large number of irregular migrants, including Cubans, have been transiting for several years.

2 Refers to the wall that separates the border between Mexico and the United States.

Nivia Marina Brismat