After finishing the book Crossing Over by Ruben Martínez, there was one story that I couldn’t get out of my head. The nonfiction book follows the journeys of many immigrant families as they embark on their trek from their small hometown in the south of Mexico to different destinations across the United States. While many of the stories were heartbreaking and tragic, the story of Rosa Chavez stood out in my memory.
Rosa experiences extreme hardship in her hometown of Cherán, Mexico, including death, poverty and an unhealthy marriage. When her husband, Wense, decides to make the journey north without bringing Rosa and their young daughter, Rosa is determined to save enough money to cross the border herself in order to reunite her family and start a new chapter in her life.
Her courage is inspiring, not only prior to her journey, but during and after it as well. She collects enough money to finally pay a “coyote” (a person who smuggles migrants across the border), despite her husband’s protests. While carrying her toddler and the few possessions she is able to manage, Rosa attempts to cross the border at least fifteen times, and is repeatedly detained, questioned and sent back by the Border Control. Finally, she succeeds in crossing. From there, she trudges through the desert and carries her daughter across rivers, wearing her down physically and emotionally, until she is finally reunited with her husband in St. Louis.
Though Rosa’s trek was extremely difficult, she was lucky. Her three brothers also attempted to cross, and all three were killed in a Border Patrol chase, devastating not only Rosa but their entire close-knit community. Martínez goes on to describe the struggle of traveling in groups through unfriendly deserts. He tells of the extreme hunger, thirst and exhaustion migrants feel as they try to reach their destinations as quickly and safely as possible. He vividly portrays the underground tunnels used by migrants as places to travel and rest. He reveals the horrors faced by those forced to wade across the Rio Grande while carrying all of their possessions. He expresses the painful reality of families getting separated during the journey with no way to contact one another. And, of course, he makes clear the dreadful fear migrants have of the Border Patrol.
In addition to broadening my awareness of the incredible feat of crossing the border, the book has also altered my entire sentiment toward the border itself. Throughout Crossing Over, Martínez notes that the United States-Mexico border “is more an idea than a reality” (7-8); that it “cannot, does not, exist in nature” (218); and that, when flying overhead at 30,000 feet, “There is no border; the line is an idea” (325). In many ways, I think he is right. The border is so permeable to many things, such as money, goods and ideas. Likewise, the border is by no means a cultural-diffusing mechanism; there exist elements of Mexican culture in the U.S. and vice versa.
For many people of privilege, especially Americans, the border is nothing but an imaginary line. It does not feel real to them because they have the luxury of traveling freely back and forth without even knowing the exact moment that they cross. And yet, I think that for immigrants, the border is one of the realest things they have ever known. It splits up families and can lead to the deaths of loved ones.
Until recently, I never thought much about this immigrant journey, instead focusing on the lives of immigrants once they settle in the U.S. Crossing Over has made migration such a tangible idea for me by taking all of the statistics and policies and transforming them back into people who are trying to improve their lives. As lawmakers continue to debate immigration policy, they should remember the incredible risk and sacrifice so many immigrants made to be in America. Shouldn’t we allow them the chance to fully contribute to our country?