Oral history with Toña Rios (Part 2), 10/18/2019


Marta Valier (MV): This is Part 2 of the oral history with Toña Rios.

Toña Rios (TR): Finally I decided, and I said, you know what? I want to go. I don’t know where, but I’m going. I got my little cousin, he almost grew up with me and my grandma, Francisco. And I asked him. “I want to go, I don’t know where, but far away from here. We take a bus, maybe all day – because I heard my sister, what she went to Guatemala, all day in the bus or whatever and I said – you want to go with me? But don’t tell everybody, just go.” And he said, “Yes, I’m going with you”. “Okay.”

MV: How old was he?

TR: Ten, ten years old. And I said, but “We maybe, we don’t have something to eat. Oh, we don’t have a house over there. Oh, we need to live on,” “Yeah. It’s OK. It’s OK, but I’m coming with you I don’t want to stay here”. I said “OK. Don’t say nothing. And then, tomorrow, when it’s dark, let’s go.” “OK.” Yeah, at 2:00 in the morning, I just go out, just go out. Especially after Monsignor [Romero] died, because we feel like, if they killed him, how they cannot kill us. People are gonna pay attention to him because, “Oh, wow, he is a bishop, a bishop”. But the other people? A thousand, hundreds of people killed. Nobody knows. And, but, in my feeling is, yes, I leave for a moment, and I need to come back, because this is this is my country. That’s my family stay here.

And I went to Guatemala. After a week in Guatemala I said, “No!” The same problem, you hear the same things, they kill priests, they kill people, they kill indigenous. And I said “No no no no.” I’m going to come back to El Salvador. And I go back to El Salvador.

And I stay for a month in El Salvador, because I tried to put my family in different places and I separate them. But nobody knows I’m there. Not my sister, not my dad. My dad is in another place. My aunt is in another place. I put them separate. And I put I separate because if something happened, just one family or whatever.

After a month in El Salvador there were are a lot of problems, a lot of things. Whatever you see, dead people, whatever you hear, whatever you see. And I said, well, I need to go back to Guatemala.

MV: So you went back and forth many times.

TR: Two times.

MV: Two times.

TR: And I go back to Guatemala and I asked the nuns where my sister was first, I asked the nuns what they think if I stay here or go back to El Salvador, because it is dangerous because you cross the frontier and there is a lot of soldiers. “What do you think?” And then one of the nuns says “Why don’t you try to move more – this is the center – move more North, near to Mexico, I think it is better.” But the nuns didn’t know because they never went that way. I said: “But why? Why?” “There is the same church. You can help them. And they do. Nobody knows you. Maybe you go to make your life different,” and blah, blah, blah. They convinced me, but my family is more far away from me. And I said, “Well, if I do something else and I can work, and I can help, or maybe I can move one day you know, a lot of things. But finally I move, to Quetzaltenango. One of the nuns in El Salvador is from Quetzaltenango. I moved to Quetzaltenango, I work in whatever, I just, the first day I went there, I worked in the fields to guard, they call chilacayotes, it is like a squash. And one of the lady says, “Yes, you want to work, you can do, but you see the chilacayotes? You have to find that chilacayote and bring them from to here [she explains with gestures that they fruits were up on a very steep hill]. And there is a place like this, and the chilacayote are here, I said: “Oh my god!” And I got one and phiummmm [gestures that she felt down.] Oh no, but I did it. I brought the chilacayote. Yeah. They don’t pay me, but they give me a place to stay and food. And I said, “For now it is something.” And I put my little cousin in the school, the same day that I arrived I put my cousin in the school, and they took him. OK, I put him in and I go to work. But I just worked two days in the field but then I found another job in a restaurant. The restaurant is like a hotel, for me it was like a hotel, but they have a restaurant. The lady is related with the nuns, with the church, because she told me from the church, they sent me to this place. And I start working there, and I see a lot of people like the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, testigos de Jehová. Jehovah’s Witnesses?

MV: Oh, yes, yes.

TR: And Elin, the church, where they have a little white thing here, the women has a little white thing. But finally in Quetzaltenango, because I always go to the churches to find cover or something, they tell us “Why you don’t move to Mexico? Mexico’s better. They, they describe Mexico, they don’t know Mexico, but they describe Mexico. They hear maybe stories or whatever. And I said: “Oh, wow. But, you know, the family is even more far away. No, I don’t want to go far away.” “But you can help your family, or maybe one day you can bring them.” Then people start saying something like that. And finally, like, you don’t want it, but you don’t have a choice. I find another job, in a convent. They have like a daycare. And they said, “You can work here with the children, you can help – in Guatemala, near Mexico – and they are going to pay you.” They gave me money, a little money. But at the time I didn’t know how much money because this was quetzales is, I don’t know how much in El Salvador, but I just start thinking, OK, if I have money, instead of going back to El Salvador, maybe we go to Mexico paying and blah blah blah. I just make a little my life better. But no, I stayed there.

And that I think in the month they killed the bishop in Malacatan, near where we are, we are here, and then the next place is bishop, I forget his name now.  And they killed the bishop, because the situation in Guatemala is the same as in El Salvador. But in El Salvador, there is a war, everybody knows, in Guatemala no, it is under, they killed thousands of people, and it is under, nobody knows exactly that there is a war in Guatemala. When they killed their bishop, I start thinking, oh, my God, it’s the same thing in El Salvador. They killed bishop Romero for preaching, to open the eyes, and mind to others. Same thing here, what do we need to do? To stay back? To go? Not in front of us. Finally, one of the families we meet in the church start talking. “But I want to move, from here to Mexico. How far is Mexico?” “Oh, maybe an hour, two hours by car. By bus.” And I said, “Oh, that’s not far.” “No, but you have your documents right from El Salvador right?” And I said “Yes, but no visas, they are passport but,”  “OK, that’s easy, you go and blah blah blah, very easy, I go every week.” And I said, ”How about we are going with you when you go?” “Oh yes sure.” And we came to the frontier but I see that it is not easy.

They ask for visa, because it’s Mexico, Guatemala and Mexico. OK, the illusion we had to cross is gone. But I stayed around, stayed around, all day. Finally, about 5 p.m., maybe 5 or 6, it is a little dark, a man appears. And he told us:”You not eat all day, I never seen you eating, you don’t have no money?” Then I said “No.” “Where are you coming from?” Then I don’t say, I just say “From here”. He said “OK, let me see.” He went out, and brought a piece of sandia, watermelon, big piece of watermelon. Oh, my God. I got the watermelon. I eat it. But he caught my attention because he had a big scar here, big, and just like. And then his eyes like this.

Finally, after five five minutes of us eating the watermelon he came back and says, “You want to cross, right? To Mexico?” And I said:”Yeah.” Because a lot of people, a lot of people trying to cross and I said, “Yes.” “Do you have money?” And I said, “No, that’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m here all day.” “And no papers?” “No, that’s why I’m here all day.” “And no papers?” “No.” Oh my God. ”Can you swim?” And I said:”A little bit, but I don’t know.” I know, I swim, but in my river, in my country, but I don’t know here and I said: “Yes a little bit”, and he says:”The river is so big”. And yes the river was there, very big, from here to there. And I said: “Yeah”. And he left. And after, more darker, I’m just thinking thinking, thinking. And he came back, he said, “I’m going to help you, okay? Take your brother and let’s go.” He helped us to cross the river, I don’t know how. Because he said that the river was so big and so dark, dark. I can touch my brother, just touch him. I didn’t see him. That night so dark, I don’t know why.  But the darkness is right for for, you know, for guards. We crossed the river, trying to whatever. Because he said “Don’t try to stand, just just go in.” That what he asked us.

MV: Because of the currents?

TR: The currents just take you. But we walked a lot a lot, a lot a lot a lot up, and then he said: “OK let’s go here, straight, don’t talk, don’t say nothing, just go straight and don’t try to put your feet, you know, to step just go, go, go, go, go. When you cross and you touch the monte, or whatever there is there, if you touch something just hold, and then jump. Yeah. We walked, walked, walked, walked, and then we, I don’t know where, said “OK, let’s go to the river.” Oh my goodness. I don’t know how far we went, but I just try, and try, and he got my cousin from the hand and then go. Finally we crossed, I don’t know how, but we crossed the river. And until now I want to see, you know, in the day, how the river is because I feel it is so big, I hear the noise of the river. But now I would like to see it, but I never went back.

We crossed the river and we went to Mexico. It was very bad very bad. Because with no family, a big city, oh my goodness. But remember, I had two times and this is the first time. But I crossed it, I crossed it. And I stayed in Mexico, Tapachula, which is very close to the border. And I stay there. I helped what I can do. I went to the refugees place for people who tried to cross in the la Bestia in the train, we never took the train, but the people can back sometimes without legs, without hands, or whatever, a lot a lot a lot of people come back, but they have a space for twenty four hours to stay for to eat or to relax or or to try to again, whatever, right? We there. I don’t know how we there but I offer myself to the lady who take of, it is a church. And I said “I’m here I can do whatever I can do. I cook.” And I cooked there. Thanks God because my cousin who want to eat a lot and finally we stayed there and then I moved in a a car, sometimes in buses,  to Mexico. Finally, we appear in Tijuana. It’s not easy to go, but finally we arrived in Tijuana, it was in December, it was December, yeah.

MV: What year?

TR: 1981, almost ’82. Yeah, I was there, it was so dangerous for us, but we crossed into the United States. How? Is not because “I want to go to the United States,” no! The people they tell us “Move move move there, more ahead.” They mention names like Monterey, Guadalajara, Hermosillo. I know the names now, but I didn’t know where are the places. But they mention them, ”Why don’t you go to Monterey, why don’t you go to Guadalajara, why don’t you go to Hermosillo?” “I don’t know!!!” But at the same time, when they say that “Go, move!” Something happens right? There is maybe something there? The first time from from Mexico to Guadalajara, I didn’t know if Guadalajara was going back or the direction but I asked: “Where is Guadalajara?” “Just take a train, three days train?” “Three days in the train?” And they said “Yes only three days, and then you can find job there” Three days? And I did it in three days. And when I was in Guadalajara I said, what are we doing here? It is the same place, same situation, people around. And you cannot knock the door and say “I’m here,” because nobody knows you. But the same thing, people say “Where are you coming from?” “I come from El Salvador” “Oh my God it is far away, how did you come?” “I don’t know. I just sometimes walked and sometimes the train and sometimes”. “Oh, my God. Why you don’t go to – in this case – Hermosillo”. I don’t know what Hermosillo means! But the idea of the people is to move these people near the United States, they never tell us, “Go to the United States.” In my life, I never heard, “Go to the United States,” but that is the idea, because there is more opportunity, that’s what they say right? And I moved to Hermosillo, my first time. And Hermosillo, and I said wow, and then? What is the next move?

But I stayed in Hermosillo, Iworked in the tortilleria, they made tortillas. For my first time I see the little tortillas ‘delgaditas’. When I started the tortilleria I said thanks for God, because the tortillas that were not good for selling, they would put them in a different things and they give it to me, a big bunch of tortillas. And the place where I stayed is a church too, and a lot of people, maybe in the same situation, I never asked, but you don’t need to ask, you see the people. And they are going to work sometime, some of them stay, especially women and children they stay, and they got a big bunch of tortillas, and in few minutes the tortillas disappear. And I said, tomorrow I’m going to bring more. And I stayed there for a little while, I liked that tortilleria. Because the lady, with the tortillas that are not good they put a little salt and they do like this. And she is eating the tortilla like that, and I started eating liked that! I never ate tortillas like that! To put the tortilla and put a little salt in it. Oh, my God. That’s the way we eat tortillas. My cousin, oh, my God. He got a bunch of tortillas together, because they are so thick, and he got a bunch together, and he eat it like this. He put salt in there in each tortilla, and they got bunched together. Because the other one, the thick ones, you cannot bite them. And oh my God, always we talk about those tortillas. And then we had the tortillas the same here but, but there, for us, was so new, we don’t know. And oh my God, we always talk about those tortillas, “I never feel like eating until we had those tortillas.” Yeahh, so good. And I stayed there for a month. Yeah, almost almost almost, well, less than a month, less than a month before it is December, until December, but it felt like years in the same place. And then one of the guys, one guy around there, he says, are you coming from El Salvador? We say, “Yes,” we’re afraid because we don’t know people, right? And say, “yes”. “Oh, OK. We can help you guys. There’s only two, right?” Yes, “OK.”

“We are North American. We are gringos.” “Ohhh, gringos!”  “We are gringos.” And we pay attention very clearly what they are going to say. They say “But we are part of the sanctuary movement. Maybe you don’t know, maybe you don’t hear about that. But we tried to help you. What we do is, if you want”, they offered to a lot of people, but they don’t qualify because they are from Mexico or other countries. And the refugee movement was for Central America. And I said “What do you want to do?” “We can can help you to cross the border to the United States, say to Los Angeles.” And I said: “Who is going to Los Angeles?”  “You are going to the United States, right?” And I said, “No, I’m not going there” “Where are you going” And I said, “I don’t know. I just want to go to a safe place.” In my mind I want to save my family, but I never stop. I’m going here, no, I’m going there, no. But that day he told us us “We we can help you to cross the border. But we put you in here and then you cross by yourself and then on the other side  somebody is going to take you by. This is safe.” They told us in Spanish, very good, how do you say, very good information. But we don’t believe in nobody at the time. We don’t believe because we don’t know. But finally, he says, he tried to convince, he said “You are part of the church, we are part of the church. And then this church is going to help,” and he mentioned a lot of things. Well, finally, we agree what they say, they are going to help us, OK.

And they put, after two or three days, I don’t know, they put us in the car when, we went to another place, Sonora or I don’t know where is the place, but very close to the border in Nogales, Arizona. OK, but they changed their mind. “Let’s go to Tijuana instead. Not in Nogales.” Tijuana? I know Tijuana because I heard about it. But finally they say Tijuana, and they put us in the border, very close to the border, maybe five minutes walk from here to the border, and then they left us there and they say:”We are going to the line and then we take you there and yeah you cross to the United States. “OK, we try, we move, we go there, not easily but we cross. Like that, we cross. I don’t know! I just, they tell us there is a hole and then you go there and go over there and go to the church. And then we go over there. The first time we crossed like that with my cousin. But we crossed, but after here we need to walk a lot. Another guy guided us from, after crossing the border. We walked a lot a lot and we run into the freeway. We need to cross to the freeway, just running. And we doing it. We’re doing it. And we appeared in Chula Vista, now, I know where is Chula Vista. In Chula Vista those guys that helped us to cross, there was a sanctuary movement here in 1982 in the United States. They started, they sent me a lawyer, the lawyer tried to help me get a work permit, and I don’t know what else for political asylum, a lot of things. But I didn’t qualify. During that time, I didn’t qualify, I just got nervous. My family again. I said I go back to my country, I don’t want to stay here, but I stayed a year, one year here.

MV: You were in Los Angeles?

TR: In Los Angeles. After a year, I said, No, this is not for me. Even if I tried to work, but I can’t stay here, my mind there and my hands here. My cousin started school. But it is not a life for us. No family, no friends. No nothing. And I said “No. No, no, no. I don’t want to stay here. I don’t want to stay here.” One day, I buy my flight, my ticket, just going because no papers and I talk to my cousin. “Do you want to stay or you wanna go? Because I go” Even I just to see where is the family. In that case, two families. One family, my mom and my brothers, plus my aunt, widow aunt and a lot of children. And I said, “You want to stay? You wanna go?” “No, I want to stay, waiting for you. But come back,” and blah blah blah. “Yes I want to come back, you know me, I’m gonna come back, but I want to know.” Because at the time no phone. Yes phone in the city, but not in there and then the war more and more and more. And I said, “I’m going back, ok?” And I went. I just stayed there almost one year, 9 or 10 months, I think, and I went there, but oh my goodness.

No family around. Nobody knows about my family. Even the people knows. I didn’t find them and I looking for them, day and night. After three, after almost a week, I have a, because I’m walking I don’t have a car, after a week I know what is my family. One family was in refugees center, far away and and the other one is with my sister who lives with the soldiers. But how can I, now? And then my sister, she didn’t know about us. We’d disappear, and that’s it. Oh, my God, when she saw us. “You are crazy! You are this, you know we are  family and,” oh, my God, she was very angry. But finally we are there, and she invite us to her house. And I say: “No I cannot go to your house, we are going to meet in this place.” Just for a moment and then disappear because it is so dangerous. Yeah. After a week, I tried to decide to come back, to move again. Same thing with the first time. To Guatemala, staying in Guatemala, and around around. But why is I move the second time? It is because I see the family cannot stay in no places. My brother priest, he passed away, they killed him. My sister who is a nun, she disappeared with the family we don’t know about her but we know she’s in Italy because the nuns in Guatemala they told us they took her to Italy. OK, the family is going to spread around. And I said, “Well, okay. Why do I need to?” I had two sisters, one twelve when almost thirteen, and one twelve, because a year and a half apart. But one of my sister was sick. And the 13-year-old is very good, even for the guerrilla, or the government. For both. My family, they believe the children do not serve in the government, because we know, we see the government. And then we don’t know the guerrilla exactly, what they do and why. There is no choice. Even you don’t have a choice, you have to do something. And that night I decided, when I didn’t find my family, and I see a lot of things are wrong, and said “I want to take my two sisters, I don’t want let them here.” How? I don’t know. And I said, God, you know me, and you see the situation here. I want to take them. And I arrived, the next day I go away again. Same thing, just with 50 dollars in the pocket at that time. And nothing else. Well, God. God and each one. And we move again, same thing, very hard to cross, and then, the first time we had passport, but this time nothing, no passport and three people, no passport. The first crossing, which is El Salvador to Guatemala, very bad to crossing. We crossed to Guatemala. We went to the same house, nuns’ house where my sister was, we stayed for two, three days. I work, I work wherever I stop I work a little bit, for money or for no money but just for eat and live, a place to stay. That’s why I find the guy, they offered us to work with them, but they have a bordel. We don’t know. We found this place, “Oh thanks God this guy is going to help us.” But with my two sisters, I’m afraid for everything, because it’s my responsibility, not only because they are my sisters, but they are girls, at that age. And I find the place, and the bordel and we don’t know, they say “You can work here and you can wash clothes for these people,” and I washed a lot of things, and we clean, we do a lot of things here. And he specifically said, I give you just a little money, but you can have a place to stay here to live here, and food. And we say yes, because we don’t have a choice. But the first day, everything good, at the second day, no. “Your sister need to go there to help my mom because my mom has zapateria, they make shoes.” And I said, “No, no. My sister need to stay with me.” “No, but she’s 13. She can help you. She can help you. They are going to get money.” And I said: “No. I come in for work not them, they need to stay where I’m staying.  They need to learn by me, if I wash clothes, they need to learn how to wash clothes,” and I start arguing. But the guy was very insistent. “Oh, no, you sister is 13-year-old, she can do this job.” And I see too many things. I don’t like it. But finally, one day we went together to her mom house. They sell shoes. Nice shoes but we don’t have money to buy. But on the second floor, there is a lot of noise and we discover that there is a bordel. And they offer us to sleep there that night, because her son is going somewhere else. And I said, well, yes, we are going to to sleep here. And at about 7pm the people start coming, mens, lot of men, and women. “Oh my God.” And we go to the first floor, the third floor, where there is no roof and nothing, and we are looking around, who can sleep here? There is a lot of trash, old mattresses. And I said, “if we go under, and then we cover with that, nobody knows people are here.” And that’s what we do. Well, finally, I stayed there for two weeks. After two weeks, and I worked hard, about 3:00 in the morning or 4:00 in the morning to cook, to clean, to wash clothes and everything. It doesn’t matter. But we have a met, we move ahead. We stay there. And then the guy who’s in charge, Leon, I never forget Don Leon, finally, we talked to him about we want to go to Mexico. “And why are you going to Mexico?” “Oh, because we have a brother who’s a priest.” And finally he said he is a coyote. He told me. “You know what, I. Yeah, I work in this. I cross people to different places, but especially to the United States.” “Oh, yeah? Oh, OK”.  We never asked him to cross us to the United States because we don’t know him and we don’t have money and a lot of, you know, dangerous things. But I said, “Oh, OK. Good. Maybe you can help us to cross to Mexico.” “Oh, yes. Yeah. One day. But for the meantime work because you need to find money for that,” and blah, blah, blah. And I said “Yeah. OK, OK.”  But after three weeks, almost almost, three weeks almost four. He said “OK, you know what? Tomorrow I’m going to.” Because he was going almost everyday, but the way he works is they got these people and they send them to somebody else. That’s the way they work. And I catch a lot of things, what they say and what they do.  After that he said, “I’m going to Mexico. You want to go with me?” And I said “Yes.” He says to cross to Mexico, we need some passports. And I said “Yes, but I don’t have passports.” He said “That’s ok, don’t worry about it, you have a little money and we are going to buy the passports, as a Guatemalan persons”. I said “OK.”

When we crossed to the border, from Guatemala and Mexico, we showed the passport and that was it. We were going with Don Leon. Oh, I don’t know. He gave the passports, a bunch of passports, but they gave some money, they put money in each passport. I don’t know how much.

“Oh, yeah, everyhting is OK, good luck.” That trip is a little better that the first, because we, not many people, and because we are safe with that guy. But at the same time, we are very scary. We know the bad problems. There is prostitution, right? I said, “Is he going to the right direction? If he took us to some,” oh my God. I never sleep, I never, I just, looking around and then my sisters here. And the places where he said, “Oh, let’s go eat something because,” I never got  up, “No, I stay, that’s OK, no problem.” Oh, my God. That time is, I think, a bad time for us. But finally,  he left us at the basilica of Guadalupe. A lot of people, during the night, the people stay wait until then next day to open the basilica again. But when I arrived there, I think there was a mass. I don’t know. But it is nighttime, and I see the nuns. And I talk to one of the nuns. And I said, “I’m sorry. I just came from El Salvador, and these are my sisters,” and I just little little things, right. We arrived very late, to the nuns’s house. And the they say, “OK, sit in here, a very small place, and we slept until the next day.” Because from Guatemala to there we could not sleep. And we sleep very, we don’t see the night. A day after, the nun, the superior nun, she offered me to work in the daycare. I said, “Yes, I can work. That’s what I’m looking for!” And I said, “If I can stay here, if I have work and I have everything, I can stay, I don’t move. But if I need to move, I need to move.” And I asked my family too. But I worked there for three weeks. Yeah. For almost three weeks. They pay me. I remember the first time I got money, I sent them to my family, one of the churches where I know, and I said: “Please give this to my family.” Because the idea is that they need to know that we are still alive, and we are in Mexico. And my two sisters started school whenever I stop, because we don’t know tomorrow, but whenever I stop I try to put them is something, and they go to school at the convent, they put them in the school and I work those three weeks and after three weeks they tell us:“Why don’t you move al otro lado?” And I said, “Yeah, maybe, we don’t know exactly,” I don’t know what otro lado is. Because, I don’t know,

But when I hear Los Angeles, I say “Oh, yeah, Los Angeles, I don’t know,” inside of my conscience I don’t want to come back to here, to Los Angeles. I don’t want it, because the first experience was so bad for me. But at the same time, I have my cousin here.

MV: Where was he? Who was he staying with?

TR: He stayed with one friends, yeah, church friends. And they said: “Well if you go, he gonna stay, because you gonna come back, I know you are going to come back for your cousin.”

From Mexico City we moved to Tijuana by train, then I asked God to help us, we went to the church, that church sent us to other nuns. And those nun say: “Maybe you can cross to the United States? To Los Angeles,” they say. “Oh,” My sister says, “Yes? If they say that it is because it is good.” OK, we move, we try, no, not easy. First of all because money, they charged 500 dollars each, at that time, now is thousands. But five hundred dollars for each. How can I got 500 dollars for three times? And I said, Oh, my God, no, no, no. We are looking around, we talk. Impossible, impossible to cross. That’s why we move again to Arizona, in that direction. We don’t know exactly where, but people say: “If you cannot cross from Tijuana you can go to.” They gave us some options, I don’t know why but they give us some options. And we move to Arizona again. Nogales. And then we cross, we cross, again, from the hole, and we go. There is the border, the border, and there is a fence, alambre, and the people cut it, they cross to the other side. We cross to the other side, but the problem, well, not the problem but the this is that we cross and from this church they told us: “You can cross and there is another church, immediately there is a church, a Roman Catholic church.” This church in Nogales, Mexico, I think is Presbyterian, yes Presbyterian church here. And they tell us: “You run, and cross, and go to the church, and they are going to help you there.” OK, we do that. At about, 8pm maybe, I don’t know but at night, we crossing the border, we got to the church. And the day is, the second time was in March, when we cross. And I see the people start walking, and I see people with the cross. And I say: “Oh my God it’s Ashes Wednesday, let’s go.” I got to two girls, we go to [can’t understand], and when we go back to the pew, the immigration took us. One guy, he said: “OK, you are in detention.” They put the, the esposas? To me.

MV: The handcuffs?

TR: hm-mm, to me, not to them, to the girls. And I said: “Put them on the girls too!” Because they are, you know, and he said: “Oh yes” But what he did he put this with her and the other, because I told him “Put these things to them too”

MV: Because you wanted to be sure to stay together?

TR: Yeah. And the church is very full, and nobody said anything. Nothing. Well, I didn’t hear nothing. And I start crying, crying, and crying. But they put the, how do you call these?

MV: Handcuffs?

TR: Esposas we say esposas in espanol. And then they put us in the car, they put us in the car, and we appear in one of the detention center, in this side, not on that side, this side. They have a small room, very very small room. They open the door for us, they put us in there. And the girls, oh my God, the girls crying and saying, “That is your fault, remember I told you we need to go back to El Salvador. We had a little money now we don’t have nothing.” Oh my God, a lot of things. And I took them both here and I said: “We need to pray, I know God is here, and he knows, he knows we are here, but we need to be together, we need to be together.” The younger one said, Ines is her name, “I’m thirsty, and I’m thirsty.” There is no water, but there is a sink, toilet, no, no washer, just the toilet. And I said: “There is no water.” “Yeah but I’m thirsty.” “Yeah, I know that but there is no water.” And she knocked at the door but nobody answered. The next day: “I’m thirsty.” And I said, “You know what? There is the water. Do you want to die? Die, but if you don’t want to die we need to drink water from there. I can take the water with my hands” “How can I drink the water from there?” “I’m sorry, there is no more water.” And cried again. After three days, she drank that water. I got the water and I said: “We need to drink the water,” just a little bit, just like that, we don’t want to die. But after two days, three days, not he third day, one of the ‘guardias’, a black lady, she appears to the door. She opens the, a big big, how do you say ‘el candado’? Lock, but the lock, the thing

MV: On the door?

TR: Hm-mmm, there is a big big

MV: A lock?

TR: Locker right?

MV: Locker yeah

TR: And we hear when they put. But in el Salvador, if you are in jail, if someone do that, it’s because they are  going to put you out to kill, or they kill in the same place.

MV: If you hear the noise of the people opening,

TR: Yeah.

MV: Opening the,

TR: The door.

MV: Opening the door,

TR: They are gonna kill you now, this is the time to kill you. And I heard it, and I, I just fell down, and then my sister, “What happened?” And then the lady, she opened the door and she put in the floor burrito, but we don’t know, it is the first time we hear burrito, burro. She put it and wrapped in a paper right? She put it in there and said: “That’s your lunch,” with the foot she threw it there to there. “This is your lunch,” like in that moment I see the foot, she three the lunch. And then my younger sister she is more, she says: “Maybe it is veleno.” Veleno?

MV: Poison?

TR: Yes, poison. And I said “Maybe.” I’m thinking in El Salvador, I’m not thinking here because I don’t know here. But I think in El Salvador, it is possible, they want to kill us like this because a lot of people, I don’t know! Because we don’t know where we are. Maybe they don’t want to kill us, because we are three but they kill us with veleno. It is possible. But three days there, the same place, do nothing, we want to explore [laughs].

MV: The veleno.

TR: Yes! We tried the water, there is no choice, we want to explore the veleno. And I negotiate with the girls. I said: “Well, they sent this to us. It is possible that there is veleno there, but one of the three will need to try it. If she dies, then it is veleno, if don’t die, is food. What do you think?” They my younger sister said: “I wanna die first.” And I said: “No, that is not the case, that is not about you want to die first or second or third, but somebody needs to taste it. I can taste it” “Yeah, if you die, how can we?” “It’s the same, OK?” And then my other sister said,

“How about if you eat it at the same time and we die at the same time?” [laughing] And I said: “No, that is not necessary, only one can die, or the three of us we can live, but we need to taste it.” “Yeah, Ok, who’s going to die, who’s going to taste first?” And then the little one says: “I want to taste it” “Why? Because you wanna die?” “No, no, no, but I don’t want you to die I don’t want you to die. If I die I die.” And I said: “Let me taste it.” “No, because if you die where can I go?” “Yeah but maybe it is my fault, remember what you said, you wanted to go back but I said no because we need to be together, to move ahead, maybe it is my fault. I need to die.” But I just make for reflection, because it is only “Die, die, die,” no! “We need to die for something,” oh my God, and then the burrito on the floor [laughing], a big burrito, like this, for the three, and I said oh my God. At the meantime we prayed, we prayed, we prayed, very firm, remember lot of texts when from dad, my family read. And then I got the burrito. We don’t know what is inside, but it is food, OK? Then we open it, and we are praying, we are praying, we are praying, and then I see frijoles and rice, rice and beans. We know rice and beans, yes they can put veleno in there but, at the same time, frijoles! Arroz! [laughs] That is the first time we see the tortilla arina, the flour from tortilla, we didn’t know. “Oh and they wrapped it in this, OK, but frijoles, I know frijoles I know rice. Now we can taste it!” “Yes, we taste it!” “Let me see,” and I got one frijole. “It’s frijol” “Yes but sometimes – the thirteen, Isabel – yeah but sometime you eat it but the next day you die.” “No, maybe not,” Oh my God, a lot of things with the burro. Finally, the three of us, not eating everything, but just a little bit. “Do you have a stomach ache?” “No” “OK” “There is the bathroom” “No it is OK.” Finally, now to sleep. “If I sleep and then I die?” “No, no, it is not going to happen”. But you know the light, all the time is light, you don’t know if it is day or night, or whatever, and my sister, the younger sister said: “But when we know when is day and night here?” “When you have sueno, when you are tired you sleep, and then, that’s night,” “OK” [laughs]. We never slept because we scared. “If you sleep and you die” “Oh no no no no”. We never sleep. Oh my God, the three of us with the big negro because we don’t want to sleep. And then the next day, another burro. Like this, again. We don’t know the time, night or morning or whatever. “OK, we not die with the first one. OK, it is going to be the same.” The little one, she is always like this. “How about, if it is not?” Again! Arguing again. Finally we eat a little bit again.

We stay there for fifteen days, after fifteen days in the same place, fourteens days, with the day they take us. Fourteen days, start people coming people to talk us, pastors, priests, I don’t know, they introduce us, but I don’t believe nobody, nobody. Even if God came, I don’t believe it at that time [laughing]. But one of the guys said: “You know what? We try to help you, we try to help you, we try to put you out,” blah blah blah. Never happened! Everyday the same. But after fourteen days the guy said: “You have fourteen days now.” “Fourteen days?” “Three years or five years here, we feel like, like that” We are very weak, we don’t eat we don’t drink, nothing. “Yeah, you have been fourteen days here and I think that tomorrow they are going to put you out. We tried to do it!” Blah blah blah. How? This people, why they say they gonna? Why? But finally, on fourteen days, the same lady we saw the first time, black lady, she opened again the door. Because to throw the burro, she cannot open the door, there is a something down to put the burro like this, but the first time she opened the door, that is why I feel they are going to kill us, or take us to kill outside. But on the fourteenth day she opened the door. I said Oh my god, OK. Fourteen days maybe it is too much for them. So now, they are going to kill us. We took together and then prayed and prayed and prayed. And the lady said: “OK girls, need to go out.” Oh my God. And they put us the thing again, the same.

MV: Handcuffs

TR: Hm-mm. And they said: “You need to go out. We are going to move you guys, to different place.” Who is going to believe that? And I say, I just think I don’t tell the girls, but the girls know too. They put in the car and she didn’t say nothing, just: “We are gonna move to a different place.” Turn on the car, they put these things, and we go to the office, they give the papers and everything and they put it in the car. About midnight, I don’t know, I don’t know which direction and I don’t know where, but the car has a, she is going in front right? And we are in the back. We call perrera, perrera for the dogs, because the dog does not bite the person right? They have something here, well we are in there the three if us. Well around midnight, she says: “Well girls, we are going to get up a little bit for a few minutes, if you want to go pee or whatever,” but I said, “I don’t want to go outside,” because I know, when they put people in the car and they say, “OK you are free, they sh sh sh,” [sounds of shots] and in El Salvador you see that, especially when you go in the bus. They tell us, “Just go. Pah Pah,” [sounds of shots] and everybody dies. They don’t kill like this right. And I said: “No I don’t want to get out,” and then my sister “But I want to pee,” “OK do pee here, it is OK if you do pee here you do pee here” “ No no no” And then the lady says, “Don’t be afraid,” half in Spanish, just a little bit. “OK OK Get out, no afraid of me OK? No afraid of me.” She was a big big big lady like this with those guns here, you see and you feel die, you feel die. And then, finally we get up from the car. “Straight straight, because there is two more hours.” OK, we go. “Thanks God we are still alive, let’s go again.” Finally we arrive, about four o’clock in the morning, three o’clock, I don’t know, you see the time mas o menos. And it is houses in the desert. It is the desert, there is no houses in there, but there is a big house there, and I said “Oh my God, what are they going to do with us?” But these houses, there is a place here, it is an office, a big lock, she opened and she talked to somebody and there’s people there. “There is two more.” When we go in, a lot of people, but just women and children. No men, women, and children. But some of them have no foot, no hands, or no hair. “Oh God! What happened here?” People who crossing in La Bestia, yeah, people crossing in La Bestia. They find them and they put them in there. Oh my God, I see people, “Oh my goodness what do I need to do?” But I worked there. Yes, I tried to help the nurses to clean, I don’t know if they were nurses, but people coming from outside. And I clean them, I help to, you know, because in El Salvador I worked with the nuns, they had a clinic, and I helped whatever they needed me. And I told the lady, I worked in a clinic in El Salvador and I can help you,” “OK.” And I put to water or whatever. I worked there, that’s on the fourteenth and fifteenth. On the 24th, March 24, one man came, on the 23rd, one man came and said: “Toña Gamero, Isabel Gamero, Ines Gamero,” from the megafono, they called us. “Come to the front.” We know there, we are sleeping on the street but with mattresses, and there is a lot of children, crying. My goodness, I try to make a circle to talk to them and laughing. My two sisters they worked a lot with the children, oh my God, and they don’t like children. But that day, on the 23rd, they say “Toña Gamero come to the front”. Oh my God, again. “Because you helped a lot here in this place, you have a day with somebody.” Somebody? What’s that? They give us special food, because we are working there. They say. But here is the house, and far away you see another house, same, more home, far away, and I said: “They are gonna kill us, it is time to kill us. Yeah.” But I say: “The three of us right?” They say: “Yes.” And no, no

MV: No handcuffs.

TR: Yes, no handcuffs, and I say, why? “Well, we are going with you guys” those two guardias, “We are going with you.” But no no, no esposas. I said: “OK.” Oh my God, they were going to kill us, they are going to say “Run and then [gesture of shooting],” I feel like in a movie, but the movie is in my head. So, OK God, it is time, OK. You know, always like that. No, we went to that house, far away, they had a lot of food on the table. A lot. One long table, a lot of food. Green salad, and, a lot of food. Oh my God, And I think, well, maybe they are going to feed us and then they are going to kill us, that is why we are going to eat. But I try to be positive with the girls and say: “Wow. See? Because we helped.” And then two ladies appear: “Oh, welcome!” Only English, and we zero English. “Welcome.” I don’t forget when my sister said. She said, “You want lemonade?” or blah blah blah, I forgot. And my sister: “Lemonade!” Because she thinks it is a limón. “Lemonade!” And they were give us a very good lunch, we eating whatever we wanted, the people are eating with us too, not the guardias but the people from that place, they gave us a lot of food.

And nothing happened. And then they call the guardias, and they came to take us to go to the house again. But on the 24th, one of the men that we saw in the jail before, they visit us, to take us, and blah blah blah, he came to that house, far away from, we saw them. Said: “Toña Rios and” blah blah blah, and I said “Yes” “You off, you off today.” And I said: “What do you mean you off?” “Yes, yes, no more jail for you guys. You are off today.” He tried to say it in Spanish but he couldn’t say it, a little bit of Spanish. And I said, “Are you sure?” “Yes, you know what day is today?” I said, “No,” “Today it’s the 24th. You know what is the 24th of March?” “Yes” “What is the 24 of March?” “Monsignor Romero! They killed Monsignor Romero that day” [laughing]. He said, “Yes, Monsignor Romero, they killed him, Monsignor Romero, that day, but he resurrected, you know that right?” And I said: “Yes!” But in my mind, oh, they are gonna kill us the same day [laughing]. No, they went to the office, they made their papers, everything, I don’t know what they do. Finally, he says, “Look look overthere,” and I go like this. There is a church. There, far away, there is a church, and a big big big sign of Monsignor Romero, a picture of Monsignor Romero, and the picture moves because of the weather, the air right? And goes like this, and I said: “Monsignor Romero! Monsignor Romero! And they call us.” And then the girls cry and scream: “Thanks Monsignor Romero!” Oh my God, that is the end of the calvary.

We move move move, and went to the church, a lot of people here. There is this sanctuary movement, yeah, there is a lawyer, some people are coming there, and they say are going buy clothes for us, and they ask us, we want to go to Los Angeles, because we don’t know where we are but, we want to go to Los Angeles or you have family in Tucson, or Houston, or whatever? “No, I don’t have family here,” just my cousin “but he is in Los Angeles.” “Where in Los Angeles?” Oh, my little cousin. “How old is your little cousin?” “He is only eleven-year-old.” At that time, yes eleven, almost twelve. And I tried to figure out how, and they said: “Oh my God, OK, you wanna to go there?” “Yes, I wanna go there.” But at that time I didn’t know where my cousin was. Because my friend from the church she moved to Chino, Chino is that way, and we are that way. We don’t know, we don’t know nothing in Los Angeles, but I know she went to Chino, from the church told me, “Yes, she moved to Chino.” “And then? My cousin???” “She took him, because you left the boy with her.” The same day, the night, she bring my cousin. 

That’s why I, I went to the church, Immaculate Conception, and I start be together, I try to find people from same country, to talk about what the situation is here, how can we incorporate our life in here. Oh my God. The priest in Immaculate Conception

MV: The church in downtown Los Angeles?

TR: Hm-mm, he is is from Mexico, well, I don’t know where he is now, but at that time Padre Miguel, he is from Mexico, he is a little bit better than other priests I know around and he tells us: “Would you be part of the group, the youth group?” Because the first time when I came, I asked for help at one in the morning and they put our names in the books, and whatever there, with my cousin. But this second time I go there and I don’t see people, the same that I’m looking for. But finally Padre Miguel tells us about being part of the groups and staying around and blah blah blah, blah, blah, blah. Yes, that helps us a lot.

In the meantime the lawyer and the case in political asylum start doing their own, because we don’t know exactly what they are going to do. But finally, one day they say, “You told me you came one night in 1981 almost 1982 here. Did you do something here that people know about you here?” I said: “No no no no. Well, yes, the church, the Immaculate Conception.” “OK, let’s go see ,maybe they have your name in there, or they are going to give you a letter or whatever.” Yes, they found my name and my cousin’s names in there. Oh God, thanks God. And the lawyer told me, from CARECEN, “Oh yeah yeah this is enough, this is good.” The the sister Carmelita too, she wrote a letter for me, but she said: “You disappeared! You didn’t tell me when you goback” “Yeah, but my family!” Finally she wrote a letter and the church say, “I know, she came here in 1981, not in 1982.” OK, that helped, that helped. And then that lady put me on political asylum, but political asylum they denied it, they said “You didn’t qualify for political asylum.” I declared in front of the judge five times. And then, he says no. The last last last one, she said: “You didn’t qualify because you have your arms, you have your hands, you have your legs, you have your eyes” I said: “If I don’t have my legs I can come here?” “Yes a lot of people don’t have legs, and they qualify for political asylum.” And he says: “You know, you are complete. You don’t lose your father and your mother.” “Yes but I lost my uncle, and my brother” “Yes, but that it is something else.” Yeah, and he said there is no political asylum. I fighted, I fighted a lot, well, the lawyer but me too. But they say no. But the amnesty came, in 1982. If I came in 1982,  it’s not good for me but I arrived in 1981, because of midnight, right? More than midnight. But he put 1982 and didn’t put December 31, no, put 1982, December 1982. OK, that’s what the  church do. And then the sister Carmelita says, according to what the church says, she made the letter, in 1982, December 1982. They don’t say at midnight or the next day. And that’s what the lawyer discovered, everything, this. She told me: “You know what? The amnesty started in 1982 but it is for the people come in 1981. Yes! I’m gonna put you for the amnesty.” But we don’t cancel, at that time they didn’t cancel the political asylum, fighting and everything, and then she put me for another way, the amnesty. And then the amnesty resolved my problems [laughing]. Some people say: “Thanks Reagan,” and I say “No! Thanks God, not Reagan,” Reagan financed the war in El Salvador, this is good? No. That is why a lot of people has to leave, has to move around. The people lose family, lose their own identity, because a lot of people here, they say they’re from Mexico. A lot of people, they say they’re from Mexico. They don’t say they’re from El Salvador because they’re afraid. A lot of people, they lose their children, children appears in Europe, or, I don’t know, everywhere in the world. And nobody denounced that. And I said this, when I was in jail, when I was in detention the first day, the immigration, the man said, “Why are you coming here? Why are coming here?” “I don’t come here, I’m sorry but I don’t come here.” And he says, “But you are here” “Yes because you, you put me here.” But he didn’t want to say yes, right? “Yeah but why did you come our country, you said you love your country,” I said: “I love my country, but the United States took my country out, they put me out. They robbed,” I said even if I didn’t said it in English well but he understand. “They ruined my family, they robbed the land where I’m born. I don’t have nothing there. Nobody knows me in El Salvador because the war, because you financed the war in El Salvador”. And he said, “Yeah, but why do you come to the United States?” “I said I don’t come to the United States” “Oh, if I put you out, where are you going to go?” And I said: “I don’t know. But I don’t want to say here.” That’s why, when they put me out on the 24th, they gave me a work permit for six months. I said, “I don’t want this one,” because it is the same thing, they are going check me for six months, after six months they put me out, but they are gonna say, “Oh I gave her the six months permit.” And I asked the lawyer “I don’t want this.” And she says: “This is good for you!” And I said: “No.” “Why not?” “Well because they are going to do this for six months, and then they put me to work to pay taxes – I said that – to pay taxes, to pay everything, and after six months they put me out. I don’t want that.” Finally, yeah, the amnesty helped in that way.

At the end, I say, the people who are here, I know it’s a lot of guidance, guide people to help, but at the same time we don’t believe in nobody, we don’t believe in nobody. They don’t want us here. We know we are not welcomed here, we know that, right? They try to help but at the same we say: “This is nothing.” When you start relaxing here, to see the situation, you need to pay a high rent, you need to pay bills, you need to pay everything, and then, the job you have, because you don’t speak the language, you did not go to school, you are not educated in that position, what kind of job do you need to do? Whatever they have right? How much money you need to receive? But the same rent for others, the same amount, the same, the same everything. And we say: “How can I pay the high rent? I’m going to work double, or triple jobs. But I have children! OK, I’m going to put them in the good programs that the school has, 6 to 6. Think about, I put my children 6 to 6. And I work six to six in one job, and the second job, seven to one in the morning. And then the third job. I do that, I do that, three jobs because I have three kids to need to give something, my my two sisters at that time and my cousin, and I worked three jobs. Two different Pioneer Chicken, and one in Goldenman restaurant. Goldenman restaurant 3.25 an hour, I worked six to six, I punched my car at six in the morning and I lived in Crenshaw Blvd, it is almost more than an hour, it is three buses, I paid for three buses. I need to get up at four in the morning to stay there at six in the morning. I punch my car at six in the morning and I get up at 6 in the morning and I need to run to catch the next bus because I work at Pioneer Chicken in another place. I never have money to buy a car, I never have money to buy another pair of shoes, and I work I work I work I work, because the rent is too high, because the food is too expensive, because the necessities, we need to pay for everything. Do you know one gringo, one white people know that things to us? Nobody knows, especially the people who come from to the plane and they come to visit, or if they live here, they own. We don’t have nothing! I came when I nineteen years old, I’m 62 years old now, I never had nothing. I have faith, one day, it is going to change. I have faith. I know it is hard. I know it is very very very hard to think about that, but at the same time I think about in El Salvador when the war. When I save my family, to put my family here they are gonna kills them, because it is the same country. When I moved my sister, and said, “Please, we need to be together. It’ s hard. It’s hard.”