When Manuel Mederos crossed the Mexican border into the US, he watched his sister being picked up by border patrol and spent the next day wondering if he would see her again. Mederos recently spoke to student reporter Jacob Solis for NPR’s Next Generation Radio Program about his first days in America. Let's take a listen.
Manuel Mederos was 11 when it happened. He was told to run, and run fast. He was confused and afraid, but the smuggler, the coyote, was very clear: don’t look back.
He, along with his family, was crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It was a crossing made on hope of economic salvation, and it was a crossing that was successful at first — at least until the border patrol arrived. Even then, things hadn’t necessarily gone wrong. Hiding in the desert brush of Southern California, the family — part of a larger group making the border crossing — almost went undetected.
That was until Manuel’s sister was caught. Looking down from the crest of a nearby hill, a border patrol agent had seen her and called her out.
“My sister, Claudia, was actually the brave one here because when the officer called her out of the bush, she was the one that went up and — nobody [else] moved,” Manuel said. “And I think the officer sort of felt, to a certain degree, he kind of felt fulfilled, if you can use that word. In terms of, 'I got one, everyone else can, you know.’”
Claudia, just 17 at the time, was whisked away by the border patrol and quickly released back into nearby Tijuana, but in 1991 — a time when cell phones and the internet were only in their infancies — Manuel and his father, Ricardo, were left only with the fact that Claudia was gone.
“There was a lot of fear, among all of us,” Manuel said. “There was this sense of, 'Where's she gonna go? Who does she go with? How are we going to see her again? Are we gonna see her again?'”
While Manuel and Ricardo waited in a safe San Diego home, Claudia enlisted the help of an uncle and the services of the same smugglers that had led the Mederos clan across the border in the first place. Finally, she was reunited with her father and brothers.
All told, she was gone for a little over a day.
“[My dad] had high blood pressure back in those days, so that combined with his fear of losing one of his daughters made him uneasy about the whole entire circumstance,” Manuel said. “But after she returned, he felt much better and felt at ease. Now, she's back in our arms.”
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This story was produced during the NPR Next Generation Radio program, in partnership with the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR and Reno Public Radio.