I Called My Mom

Posted Apr 30, 2012 by 5 Comments

We’re the same age, Olga and I—24 years old. It’s hard to think of her that way after listening to her story. It’s hard to look a young woman in the eye who has just risked everything to gain opportunities I was born with.

Olga lives with her two young children and husband in Tijuana. Her husband drove a taxi for many years, but he was recently in an auto accident and is responsible for paying damages to the other driver.

With her husband out of work, and with meager employment options in Tijuana, Olga made the difficult decision to cross into the U.S. to earn money and pay off the debt. She’d heard it was dangerous, but she was determined to help her struggling family.

“Will you try again?” I asked her across the aisle of the Migrant Resource Center. She looked at me with a burdened gaze.

“We walked for 11 days,” she said. “We broke open cactuses to find water.”

She showed me the marks on her arms from the spines. Olga folded her arms, looked back at her feet and chewed her bottom lip, reflecting on an experience that happened right here in this desert, but a world away from me.

Many migrants take the time to rest and recuperate from their journey in the Migrant Resource Center

I may have grown up in this desert, but I’ve never been stranded, trying to survive on cacti alone.

“No. I’m going home. I thought this would work, but,” her voice broke, and she paused in silence to regain her composure, “but no. I’ll go home. We’ll figure something out.”

Olga seemed to be trying to convince herself with these words. The reason she left Tijuana in the first place—left her home, left her daughters—was because she felt she had no viable options for earning the money she owed, and the opportunity to fix all of this waited just a few miles away on the other side of the border.

Would I have done differently? The U.S. wage rate for “unskilled” labor (like a factory worker) is on average 8 to 15 times higher than that offered in Mexico. Olga knew the risks before she ventured out into the desert, and it took a near death experience to convince her she should pursue a different path—at least for now.

I also thought about more than 10 million people living in the U.S. without documentation, many of which walked across the desert like Olga because of economic hardship.

What’s wrong with this picture? Undocumented immigrants fill millions of jobs across the U.S., quite an incentive for someone in Olga’s position. But the most viable option for reaching these jobs is by making a deadly passage through the desert, and history has shown that as long as the jobs exist, people will seek them.

Like I said, Olga knew the risks. I know she’s not alone, and I’m saddened to know more are following that same path as I write this because the opportunity exists, and they have no legal option to reach it.

For many who come, their priority is connecting with a loved one on the Migrant Center’s phone

I’ve met far too many Olgas, and I know of far too many men, women and children who perish on U.S. soil while doing nothing more than seeking a better life.

“I’m happy you’re safe, Olga,” I said, wishing there was something more reassuring to offer her at such a moment. She raised her chin and gave me a tired smile.

“You know what I did first when I came here today?” she asked me, looking around the center. “I called my mom. She just cried. After so long, she thought I was dead. She just cried.”

Olga’s smile spread slowly at this newer memory, pushing some of the pain and exhaustion from her mind. I looked back at the line of people waiting to make phone calls, grateful that in a moment of so much frustration, hopelessness and confusion they at least would feel the relief of unburdening their loved ones of worry.

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About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.

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  1. Vic said... 


    April 30th, 2012 at 11:13 am  

    You have me in tears again. What is interesting is before immigration was a hot button political issue…many American based company’s would actually ADVERTISE jobs in many of the border towns without any offer to help them legally cross the border or help with any sort of Visa. They played on these desperate feelings of many people who live in third world countries for a “better tomorrow.” And that just breaks my heart! It was done based on greed knowing they could offer these desperate people meager wages and poor living cobditions. Thank you for the raw writing and accurate account. Will continue to pray for Olga and many others like her.

  2. Laura Stump said... 


    April 30th, 2012 at 12:49 pm  

    Thank you for sharing, Vic. That’s such a strange dynamic in this whole issue. I’ve heard rumors that this type of recruitment is still happening, but people have to be a little more covert about it.

    You mention another complication in this besides the risks people face to get these jobs: once they have the job, some immigrants are victims of exploitation.

    Just another reason that we should try to know our neighbors and advocate on their behalf.

  3. JimM said... 


    May 5th, 2012 at 10:22 pm  

    It is refreshing to see this without the lens of the traditional media.

    • Laura Stump said... 


      May 7th, 2012 at 11:21 am  

      Thanks, Jim. I sometimes have trouble reconciling what I hear or read about immigration with the people I meet caught in the middle. Just a reminder of how important these relationships can be to us as decision makers!

  4. Tasha Simons said... 


    May 10th, 2012 at 5:50 pm  

    Thanks for sharing Olga’s story. It helps me understand why people risk their lives to cross the border. I’m glad she’s safe. I hope she’s able to provide for her family.

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