Angel was 12 when his mother hired a coyote to bring the family across the Mexico-U.S. border in 1999. They settled in Florida and planned to stay only briefly—to work, save, and then go back to Mexico for a better life. Today, Angel juggles several part-time jobs while attending law school in San Francisco. He has been active in the gay and lesbian rights movement since coming out in high school.
My name is Angel. People here say it in English with the ‘g’, but my name is really pronounced “Ahn-hell.” I was born and raised in Mexico in the town of Hidalgo — it’s only about two hours from Mexico City, but it remains traditional, conservative and isolated. Very Catholic. I’m the only son in my family; I have three older sisters. My parents were trying to have a boy. Everybody in Mexico wants a boy.
A lot of crazy stuff happened that led my mom to move to the United States. When I was around 11 years old, my parents finally settled on a divorce. My dad won the house and my mom left the country. She went to the United States for the first time in 1998 with my oldest sister, and left me and my other sisters with my father. She planned to come back when she made enough money to make a better life for us in Mexico. She went to the U.S. illegally — she didn’t even bother to apply for a visitor’s visa. To do that, you need to prove you have a job, a house to come back to and money to spend while you’re in the U.S. After the divorce, she didn’t meet any of those requirements. There was no way she could enter legally.
With a vibrant farm economy and a need for low-wage workers to harvest citrus and vegetable crops, Florida was a magnet for undocumented immigrants throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Florida was home to about 300,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers in 1997-98. In 1997, 52 percent of U.S. farmworkers lacked a government work authorization, according to the National Agricultural Workers Survey. Sixty-one percent of all farmworkers, and half of those with three to five family members, had “below-poverty” incomes at the time.
My mother started out in Bradenton, Florida. She worked in the fields picking tomatoes and green peppers. Ten months later she came to take us back with her. Crossing was dangerous. My mom’s greatest fear was that we’d be lost in the desert. We had a long bus ride from our home to a border town and a two-day walk over lots of hills. I remember when someone said, “Do you see that blinking light? That light is America.” It was comforting, a big radio tower that looked so close, but it started to seem like we would never get to it. We were swimming across rivers, running through the desert for many days, sleeping in garbage dumps. There were scorpions and rattlesnakes. Once we were in America, we had to ride on the floor of a hot van for four more days like sardines. It was a very hard experience.