Metal forks clinked against plates and children screamed for attention, but Nancy Cruz handled them expertly, holding the phone to her ear with one hand and dishing out treats with another.
“I want ice cream,” screamed Gabby, 4, her oldest daughter.
“I know Mami,” Cruz said and walked to the freezer.
“Share with your sisters,” she said, nodding toward her other daughters Isis, 2, and Auburn, 1. The girls continued to shrill with excitement and Cruz went back to dishing about her new promotion. She started her job at Wal Mart around two years ago, moving back and forth between various positions. First she was a cashier, then she worked maintenance, then she worked in the deli. Now she is training to be pharmacy technician.
“Let me tell you, these crack heads are always coming over there [to the pharmacy] and trying to get Sudafed or Lortabs with somebody else’s prescription,” she said, laughing. “I ask them to see their I.D. and then they’re all like ‘oh, I don’t have mine with me, I’ll come back.’ They never do.”
Her new promotion comes with a 40 cents raise, but it won’t start until next month. For now, she is still bringing in $8.35 an hour, working about 35 hours each week.
“Every day I go to sleep, I wake up the next day, feed [the children], take them to daycare, then I go to work,” she said. “I don’t get to spend a lot of time with them in the morning. It’ll get rough.”
A few years a back, Cruz was able to receive a Visa to work after a boyfriend attacked her. Not long after, she moved from Foley, Alabama to Pensacola, Florida.
“I was trying to stay away from everybody,” she said. “I was trying to get away from my exes and it was easier for me to live down here. The stores are closer, you don’t have to pay taxes on food. When I moved here I wasn’t working so I got $300 a month in cash assistance, I got $600 a month in food stamps, and the kids had full Medicaid. Then I started working and they took all that away.”
Now she spends most of her time working. She gets paid every two weeks, usually a little over $500. Somehow, she finds a way to make it work. She has no other choice. She spends so much time scheming, trying to find little ways to save money, that recently her doctor gave her a prescription for Seroquel. She said she is bipolar and suffers mood swings. Now her biggest worry is keeping her car running.
“My car is oooooold,” she said, giggling. “It’s a little Chevy Cavalier, it’s a 2001. It doesn’t even have mirrors. Before I got it fixed it was rough because I had to walk an hour and a half to work. It’s rough because you have to leave at like 11:30 in the morning to get all the way to your job and then you have to turn around and walk all the way back when you get off,” she said.
Until last month Auburn’s father, Phillip, lived with her in the small two bedroom apartment. Unlike her exes, Phillip wasn’t afraid of a job. He worked, he cleaned the house, and he looked after each of the children. Cruz thought he was a good man, until he tried to hit her.
“When I was a little girl like [my daughters] my daddy and my momma used to fight a lot,” Cruz said. “So my daddy left Mexico and he came down here to the United States when I was seven and then my mom when I turned eleven my mom decided she wanted to take us to go find him.”
Cruz was not in the United States for a full day before her mother rushed her to the hospital.
Along with her brothers and a team of smugglers, Cruz’s family made the trek from the city of Queretaro near Mexico City to the U.S. in three days. Her feet were so bruised and cut up from the journey that they felt numb, but she was too ashamed to complain to her mother. After all, they were all suffering.
Her mother, Maria Chavez, paid $4,200 to the smugglers for each of her children and another $3,000 for herself. She spent so much to pay for the guides that she could not buy enough food. They ran out of supplies after the first day. One of the guides taught them a trick to keep their mouth from getting dry. They each held rocks in their mouths to keep their saliva glands active. Cruz pretended the rocks were little pieces of candy.
“People on the border, they will leave little things there for immigrants to find and eat,” she said. “We would find things in little coolers and maybe the ice had melted but it was still good for us to eat.Mama kept telling us we were finally going to see our daddy, so that was our motivation because we didn’t see him for a long time.”
With swollen feet, they carried on through the nights, walking past cows and other animals. Sometimes they lucked out and found more discarded coolers, but mostly they drank from rivers, using their clothes to filter the water. Cruz remembers being so thirsty that she did not even mind the gritty taste of the dirty water. Finally, they made it to a large farm. Their guide indicated that he knew the place. He knocked and a tall man came to the door. The big man scolded him for bringing children on such a dangerous trip.
He smiled at Cruz and her brothers and led the family to a shed behind his house. She doesn’t remember much about the man now, except that she was hungry and his property was full of apples.
“They were like the biggest, juiciest apples I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said.
Cruz devoured the apples, biting off huge chunks and savoring the juices that flowed over her tongue. For just a little while, she forgot about her throbbing feet and the uncertainty of what lay ahead. Exhausted, she fell asleep on a pile of hay.
She had only slept for three hours before her mother shook her awake.
“I remember my feet were bleeding,” she said. “I wasn’t used to the walking. The next day we started walking and after that we crossed this metal fence. We had to run for like ten or fifteen minutes because we were by the road and I guess the police had switched shifts, so when a truck picked us up, they were the people we paid to cross over the border, they was all together, so it was three people, the guy that walked with us then the guy at the farm and the guy in the truck.”
Soon, they made their way to an apartment owned by an elderly woman who gave them clothes and food. The woman suggested they take showers and it was then that Cruz’s mother finally noticed her feet.
Though she was frightened at the sight of her daughter’s feet, Cruz’s mother was equally terrified of what might happen to her and her daughter if they went to a hospital.
“Don’t worry, it’s safe for her to go,” the elderly woman assured Cruz. They can’t take Nancy away because she is a child, so I will take her to the hospital.”
Cruz was hospitalized for two days, but it took about three weeks for her feet to heal. Still, her family continued their journey, shuttling back and forth between Alabama and Texas in search of Cruz’s father. Their search was further complicated by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and they spent another six months searching for Cruz’s father.
When they finally found him, Nancy told her mother that she no longer recognized him.

About The Author

Judah Martin is a senior studying journalism at the University of Alabama.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.