The news came when I was asleep on my couch next to the window facing the crescent moon, feeling the soft spring breeze of a clear, starless night in the coast of Veracruz, Mexico. It was 4:30 am and the phone rang loudly like an alarm. With droopy eyes and still dreaming, I answered it on its last ring and a woman screamed, “Your brother is sick!” I did not think much of it, since the day before we had spent time together as usual and he was all right. At the time I did not worry about anything, my life was great. I was ten years old. I lived close to the beach, I was athletic, great student, and I had a healthy and flourishing family. I did not have any problems. Since my parents were always at work, I had not noticed that they were not at home two days after the phone call. In their constant absence, I learned through my oldest brother guidance, to be self-sufficient: going to the store to buy food, cooking it, taking care of the house chores and getting around by myself. It is much the same way I am adapting to my new life in college and in the United States. Coming to the United States without my parents has forced me to put in practice my brother’s teachings and my survival skills to understand the importance of life choices. Despite of all the challenges in my life, I will use every bit of learning in my old and new world to forgive, reflect, grow and love not only my goal but also the people who are helping me accomplish my goal, by giving back to my community while and after achieving a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations at San Francisco State and Medicine in Cuba that I will be pursuing right after.

My brother, Juan Carlos I. Barrera Esteva, my role model, mother and father when my parents were gone to seek and keep their social status at the expense of their children’s growth, taught me how to work, to be a salesman, to cook, to be a good citizen, but most importantly to survive in the solitude. That 4:30 am phone call was the news that my brother had died from a stroke –a blood vessel in his brain broke. I cried for three days straight. After my brother died my family and I went through a serious depression that went from caresses and smiles to broken plates and hate. My family fell apart. During those four years I suffered many changes: my grades fell, I quit sports, I stopped having friends and I stopped speaking. I was silent. I isolated myself.

A visiting uncle from San Francisco asked me if I wanted to go to the United States, and without hesitation I broke my usual silence, “Yes.” Then I found myself in Tijuana facing a border crossing like a game of life and death. If I survived the crossing, I would start new life from zero. At that movement I felt that I didn’t have anything to lose so I went without fear or hesitation. A day later, I was lost in the middle of nowhere. The coyote had abandoned me in the desert. The border patrol brought me back to Mexico after an interrogation. The Mexican immigration interrogated me, too, while the others were cruelly beaten up. Although we looked the same, because of the borders we weren’t all equals. Later on, I learn at PODER (People Organizing to Demand Environmental Rights), a local community based organization, that humans have to help each other in order to fix our problems. I’ve learned to receive help from people in my transition from life in Mexico to the United States. My ability to learn quickly, to adapt to have a positive view on life has allowed me to understand that I have much to contribute to the world.

After my first failed attempt to cross the border in Tijuana, a kind-hearted stranger, Leticia, saw that I had no money and was in need of crossing, so she took me to a house and arranged for me to cross by river. “I hope you can swim in dark waters.” She said. After an hour of swimming in my shorts with my wet bag and few belongings, a border patrol spotted me and with drawn guns they told me to come in peacefully. I stood still in the water, fearlessly–ready to die! At that moment, I could see a mechanical anger in his green eyes, which change into the compassion of human being. The border patrol agents let me go, when they could have taken me in. I survived.

A few years later, I’m applying my survival skills in Dolores Park, San Francisco in an Aztec Dance ceremony learning the traditional indigenous culture that exists outside of Mexico. Aztec Dance has taught me to work within a community of English and Spanish speakers, all of us working to reconcile the past through love and hard work. I have been developing my public speaking skills on environmental and social issues at PODER as a youth intern. My time there is helping me understand that Asian, Latino, White and African Americans all suffer universal problems, which is lack of health care, environmental and social injustices. At school I was one of the founding members of Latinos Unidos, which is a small group of undocumented students learning the rules around AB-540 legislation and educational opportunities. I plan to take the lessons from my brother’s teachings, from his death, from my transition to the United States into path, which is based around a higher education.

Life has given me many blessings and pains; I am proud to say that being humble has been one of my strongest characteristics. I have a strong community of support here, which allows me to have faith that with hard work, determination and support from them–anything is possible!

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