by Ruben Banuelos

“El Gordo y la Flaca” is on the television. I feel the breeze of the ceiling fan on its max setting. I can smell the food cooking from the kitchen. Sitting on the couch are two parents, both coming back from one long day of work. Sitting on the right side of the living room couch is my mother, Lourdes Banuelos, and on the left my father, Ruben Banuelos. I can feel the love that they have for each other. It’s a great energy that spreads through the room. 


As the show ends, they both head toward the kitchen. My father sets the table, and my mother prepares the food. On the menu tonight are red enchiladas topped with lettuce and avocado. They look delicious, rich with color. 


This famous enchilada recipe has been in our family for a very long time. My mother learned it from her mother, and her mother learned it from her mother. They both sit down at their wooden kitchen table and start to eat. As they eat, they share stories from each other’s workday. 


Both are laughing and enjoying each other’s presence, having a great time. These are my parents. Although their lives might sound simple, they probably would have never had this quality of life had they stayed in Mexico, where life was much more difficult.


In a world where it’s eat or be eaten, a lot of families begin from times of struggle. Either they make the effort to change their situation, or they sit and just deal with the challenge that comes with the struggle. 


The United States of America is the greatest country on the planet with many options to pursue a dream. Emigrants migrate from their home countries seeking a new start, a chance for a new life and a chance to achieve that dream. 


Before my parents were my parents, they were Ruben Banuelos Sr. and Lourdes Pinedo, who were both born in Mexico. Actually, they were from the same village: Huilacaticlan, or Huila for short. They lived across the street from each other. Yet although my mother had known my father her whole life, they were nothing more than acquaintances. 

According to my father, his was the poorest family in Huila. 


“Growing up, my father wasn’t around that much. It was just me, my mother, my older sister and my younger brother,” my father said. “So having no father around was a struggle because he wasn’t there to help my mom out financially most of the times, and having three young children was hard to manage alone. I mean, my father would pop into the picture sometimes, coming back from wherever he was, and would help the family out with supplies to survive. But it was never enough.”

My father struggled early in life, not having enough food and money. Every day was a fight to survive into the next day. Some days he would go to bed starving as there wasn’t enough food to share among the family of four.


But things turned when he hit age 15. He decided to change his fortune and attempt crossing the border into America. 


“It was a very hard decision to make,” he said. “It was hard to say goodbye to my family at such a young age, especially saying goodbye to my mother. But I had to do this for myself and no one else.”


My father was traveling to a whole new world by himself, with no idea what challenges were going to come. Nevertheless he prepared himself to meet them head-on, all for a better shot at life. 


“My grandpa helped my father to get a connection to a ‘coyote,’” he said. This is a term used for people who sneak immigrants into America illegally.


“I went through so much hell crossing lands and lakes. The weather wasn’t doing us any favors either, as it was around 90 degrees. I was drenched in so much sweat. 


“But the worst part was driving miles and miles in a van that had 36 other people in it, as they were also trying to find a better life,” he said.


Withstanding conditions like dehydration, elbow-to-elbow to strangers, with a strong chance they’ll get caught and sent back was almost unbearable. The journey took approximately five days to make, but after the hellish journey, my father arrived to the land of the free. 


Thankfully he did. Months later he was able to get citizenship. On Nov. 6, 1986, then-president Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to around 3 million illegal immigrants with the signing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). My father was one of them, and he now had a new life as a United States citizen.

After a few years, my mother also decided to come to the United States. She knew deep down that she wasn’t going to do anything with her life as long as she stayed in Mexico. 


She came to the United States when she was 15, the same age that my father did. Though her path wasn’t as troubling as my father’s, she still had her own struggles and obstacles to overcome.


“‘El coyote’ found me a visa of someone that looked just like me,” my mother said. “I remember looking at this visa that has someone else’s name and birthday. But yet, the woman who was in the picture looked very much like I do.” 


Seeing a stranger’s visa in her hands, she wondered how ‘el coyote’ was able to find a passport of someone that looked just like her in only a couple of days. She never found an answer to this question, but regardless, thanks to him, she had a chance. 


“I was terrified as I was getting near it. I was in a car with family and others, but they had visas,” she said. As she neared the border, she was shaking in fear once they reached customs. “I remember the look the man gave me as he checked the visa and giving us the pass to go.” Finally, they made it through to the United States, the land of opportunity.

Before my parents got married, it was like destiny lined them up for each other.  


Coincidentally, they met again in the Bay Area. He was working with his uncle, and she was looking for a home.


After months of dating, my father went back to Mexico to ask her father for her hand in marriage. The marriage helped my mother to get her papers. It took a lot of effort but, ultimately, both became U.S. citizens.


Just like a lot of other families who have started a new life in the United States, if not for the struggle and difficulty, they would never have needed to come. 


If it weren’t for my parents coming to this country, I wouldn’t be sitting at this kitchen table eating enchiladas, going to school or living life as I know it. 


“Coming to America was the best decision we ever made for ourselves,” my father said. “America gave us something that Mexico could have never given us: Hope.”