Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez Rodriguez: the fisherman who dreamed of Texas

The Texas Story Project.

How hard is it to cross into the U.S. as an illegal immigrant? That's the question asked by thousands if not millions of illegal immigrants from all over the world looking for a much better job, financial stability and an all-around improvement in life by risking everything and coming the U.S.

This country has long been the hotspot where people from all over the world come to find new opportunities and a much better life. Texas is the door to the land of opportunities but crossing that door is not a pleasant walk on the beach. It’s a journey of hundreds of miles with the promise of finding something that may never come or that gets taken away right in front of you. This is the journey Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez made in 1986 to escape the brutal reality taking place in El Salvador during the civil war which made the country completely collapse. Manuel de Jesus Rodriguez decided to take the risk of abandoning everything he knew and head to Texas. His plan was to cross the border and head for Houston where family members were waiting for his arrival. But things do not always go as planned.

It all started in La Paz, El Salvador where Manuel or as my family has called him for around 30 years, Nelo, prepared for the unknown and a very long journey ahead. What came first was a very long bus trip which took him from the Pacific coast town in El Salvador to the Guatemalan border with Mexico. Up til then, the journey had been easy with two border crossings and some bus rides, but upon entering Mexico, the journey started to get harder and harder. Once inside Mexico there were no more busses. So he took a train that took him all the way from Tenosique to Coatzacoalcos, the route he chose. Although it was riskier and even more dangerous, it was the shortest and closest to Houston, Nelo’s final destination.

The train rides that Manuel took were appalling and soul-crushing, traveling on rooves of moving trains and having to fight with the constant dangers of police, armed robbers and other travelers is an exhausting task, but luckily there are some people who help immigrants like Manuel. They are called Las Patronas. Las Patronas is a group of women that every day for more than 20 years have been feeding undocumented immigrants from the south of Mexico all the way to the north. They distribute plastic bags filled with rice, beans and bread which save countless lives. Manuel encountered them twice in his voyage, once between Tampico and Veracruz and one more time days later around the Victoria area. The food offered by The Patronas is not meant to be delicious but to be a source of light in a dark voyage, to give the immigrants a moment to forget about everything and simply eat which to their hungry mouths will be one of the best meals they will ever have. It also provides anyone who receives the food the nourishment to carry on with their journey. For Manuel it did exactly that, nourish his mind and body to gain strength because he was going to need it. After a couple of uneventful day following the train route through the Mexican east coast the worst happened—the Zetas raided. Zetas belong to a band of drug dealers and kidnappers who, according to the CNDH, Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, kidnap an average of twenty thousand people each year. Manuel had listened about them on the news and from other people who had previously tried to find new hope in America, but as, always stories never compare to finding yourself face-to-face one of the most blood-thirsty cartels in all of Mexico’s history.

It was pitch black aboard the train that had been taking him the north towards the border with the U.S. Abruptly the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. Screams and gunshots sounded up ahead. What do you do? GO! This was exactly the situation Manuel was in and for a moment he froze. He didn’t know what to do but firmly decided not to let this be his last day. Being a fisherman, Manuel is used to thinking quick on his feet so he discreetly came off the train’s roof and started running towards the back of the train trying to open every door on its way until one door gave. When the door opened it made a sound so hard that everybody on the train instantly noticed, so after getting inside the train for the first time, he locked the door from inside with a large piece of wood he found on the floor and hid behind several boxes and started praying for his life. Moments later he heard the ruthless Zetas trying to open the door but couldn't. He was safe. Since that day Manuel has faced police, gangs, sharks and horrible seas but if you ask him, that is the most scared he has been in his life. After the moment passed, Manuel checked the boxes he was hiding behind and read Houston, TX. After realizing that staying hidden behind those boxes was his best bet to reach his ultimate objective in Texas safely, he arranged the boxes to create a bed and shortly fell asleep for the first time in days. This was the first time he was confident he was going to make it, but Manuel’s luck was about to run out.

After sleeping for almost an entire day, Manuel did not know he reached Texas—McAllen to be precise. He woke up to a group of Border Patrol officers asking him for his papers which he did not have. Unfortunately, his dream was crushed. After taking so many risks, he had to go back to El Salvador. Ever since, Manuel or as I call him “Nelo,’’ has been working with my family for almost forty years now and is an incredible human being, businessman and fisherman.

Diego Safie is a sophomore from El Salvador at St Mary’s University studying Business Management with Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He is looking forward to building his own business in the future.

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