Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Dad, the illegal immigrant

This piece is written by the child of a man who came here illegaly in 1968. Now a citizen, this was the only way he could accomplish this. Please, read the whole story. DP

From a Chevy's trunk to a home in Orange County: It's still the American dream.
By Gustavo Arellano Millions of Americans point to Ellis Island as the place where their family was first introduced to the United States. Others trace their ancestry to ships that dropped anchor centuries ago in New England. Still more greeted Lady Liberty by way of airplanes and a visa. My father? He fondly remembers the comfortable space in the trunk of a Chevy Bel Air that was his ticket to the American dream.

In 1968, Dad left his dying village of Jomulquillo, in the Mexican state of Zacatecas, to join his three older brothers in East Los Angeles. Eighteen years old, impetuous and with a fourth-grade education, Lorenzo Arellano would have had to do months' worth of paperwork to enter the United States legally -- and there was still no guarantee that he'd be allowed to enter. Youth and a growling stomach have little patience, so my father paid a white woman -- a U.S. citizen -- to sneak him into the United States. In Tijuana, he squeezed into the Chevy's trunk alongside a cousin and another man and prayed.

The Bel Air passed across the U.S.-Mexico border with no problem -- the agents just waved it through. It sped north on Interstate 5 for an hour until it came to the Border Patrol checkpoint just south of San Clemente. The car slowed to a crawl, then stopped. A moment of tension. The migra gave the Chevy the OK to leave.

"We made it!" the other man whispered to Dad and his cousin. They wouldn't speak another word until the woman finally stopped in Chinatown, where two of my uncles greeted young Lorenzo by taking him to a bar and drinking long into the night.

That wasn't the only time Papi entered the United States illegally. Twice, he climbed a fence from Tijuana and ran through the desert east of San Ysidro. Once, he spent a month in jail for using false documents. Perhaps Dad's most dramatic border crossing was when he crawled through a sewage-filled pipeline for about an hour to San Ysidro, in total darkness and with others ahead and behind him. The sewer emptied out near a McDonald's -- insert your own Big Mac joke here.

My father, now a naturalized citizen, never tires of telling these stories to anyone who'll listen -- his eyes light up, he gestures wildly and a smile always cracks wide. And, frankly, neither do I. Although millions of Americans might consider Dad a repeat violator of national sovereignty, I see in his borderland adventures the pluck of the Pilgrims, the resolve of a homesteader, the type of pioneer ethos that has fueled this country for so long. Frederick Jackson Turner was wrong; the American frontier will never close, not as long as there are people like my father who were and are willing to cross deserts, stuff themselves into cars, float across water -- just for the chance to establish themselves in this country and thrive.
Be sure to read the rest of this story! This is only a small part of it.

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