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Episode 9: La maleta azul

By Duolingo on Thu 28 Jun 2018

A mother and her young daughter leave Mexico, escaping violence in search of a better life. It’s a trip with a few unexpected turns that ends up taking longer than planned. But their constant companion was there for them whenever they needed to escape: an old blue suitcase.

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Martina: When Yazmin Chavira thinks back on how she ended up where she is today, there are two central characters to her story. One is her mom, Irene Garcia.

Yazmin: Mi mamá y yo vivimos muchos momentos difíciles juntas.

Martina: Yazmin can remember specific moments — of sadness, fear, and danger — where, if it weren’t for her mom, she wouldn’t have survived. The second character in her story facilitated their many escapes —

Yazmin: Una maleta azul.

Martina: A blue suitcase.

Martina: Welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast — I’m your host, Martina Castro. Each episode we bring you fascinating first-person stories from Spanish speakers across the world. The storytellers will be using intermediate Spanish and I will be chiming in for context, in English. But these are not language lessons, they're real life lessons through language.

Martina: When she was six years old, Yazmin and her family lived in the city of Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico.

Yazmin: Mi papá trabajaba en un pueblo lejos de casa. Solo volvía a casa cada dos semanas, con dinero para pagar la comida y la renta. A veces era suficiente para nuestras necesidades básicas. Pero otras veces, mi papá gastaba todo su dinero en “su vicio”.

Martina: His vicio, or vice, was alcohol. He would drink into the night, listening to the same rancheras, that were variations on the same theme — to drink away your sorrows and bad luck in life. It was starting to destroy the family.

Yazmin: Mi papá me quería mucho, y yo también lo quería mucho a él. Pero me ponía triste y furiosa cuando lo veía beber alcohol.

Martina: Yazmin had learned the hard way that, whenever her dad got drunk, he would get into fights with her mom. It would fill her with fear.

Yazmin: Un día, cuando yo tenía seis años, mi mamá fue a visitar a mi tía.

Martina: Yazmin and her mom would routinely visit her aunt when they didn’t have enough to eat but only when Yazmin’s dad wasn’t around. He didn’t like Irene coming and going from the house as she pleased. One evening, he got home early. When he didn’t see Yazmin or Irene, he became furious.

Yazmin: Inmediatamente fue a buscarnos.

Martina: There, in front of everyone, Yazmin’s dad starting yelling at Irene.

Yazmin: Luego, mi papá tomó mi mano y nos llevó a casa. Mis padres discutieron toda la noche. Yo los escuchaba desde debajo de la mesa, llorando. Tenía mucho miedo ¿y qué si mi papá le hacía daño a mi mamá? A la mañana siguiente, mi mamá me levantó temprano. Dijo que teníamos que salir de casa inmediatamente.

Martina: This was not the first time Yazmin and her mom had to escape her dad. She has fuzzy memories of earlier fights. Like when they fled the house after he threw a beer bottle at Irene. Or after he accused Irene of sleeping with his brother and slapped her across the face. And then, they fled after he threatened Irene with a knife.

Yazmin: Cada vez, mi papá nos buscaba y le pedía perdón a mi mamá.

Martina: He would even take them to church, get on his knees, and promise before God that he would never treat them that way again.

Yazmin: Los días después de las peleas, mi mamá me cantaba canciones para calmar mis nervios. Cada noche, antes de dormir, mi mamá me decía “te quiero, te adoro, y eres mi tesoro”.

Martina: Tesoro means treasure. Whenever Yazmin's parents got into a fight, she would hide from the chaos, and at times she calmed herself down by praying and repeating this mantra.

Yazmin: Después, cuando mi papá finalmente se iba a dormir, mi mamá venía a mi habitación en silencio y me decía que todo iba a estar bien. Si a la mañana me despertaba con la maleta azul al lado de la cama, sabía por qué.

Martina: The blue suitcase. It was time to flee again.

Yazmin: Como siempre, fuimos a la casa de mis abuelos en Tamaulipas. Viajamos por tres horas en autobús. Mi abuela abrió la puerta en silencio y entramos a la casa rápidamente. Teníamos miedo. No sabíamos si mi papá iba a venir.

Martina: Yazmin's grandparents sat them down at the dining room table. Everyone was scared. They were worried that, next time, he could do something worse. You can’t stay here, they said. Instead, they told Irene they should go to Houston, Texas where they had a few cousins and where he couldn’t find them.

Yazmin: Esa noche, salimos otra vez con la maleta azul. No teníamos suficiente dinero para llegar a los Estados Unidos. Pero, poco a poco, viajamos hacia el norte, donde mi mamá sabía que había más oportunidades.

Martina: Irene would stop where she had friends or distant family members and leave Yazmin there with them. Then, she would go on to the next city and find a job. She would save up money until she had enough to go get Yazmin and keep moving north. This situation helped them avoid being tracked down by Yazmin’s dad and also allowed Irene to work housekeeping jobs, where she couldn’t have Yazmin with her. But Yazmin and Irene would often go months without seeing each other.

Yazmin: Con mi mamá, yo me sentía invencible. Con ella todo era posible. Pero cuando trabajaba en otra ciudad, yo estaba sola y vulnerable. No podía salir de casa o ir a la escuela, porque teníamos miedo de mi papá. Yo estaba triste, porque quería estudiar como mis primos.

Martina: This went on for a year… Until they finally reached Matamoros, a city on the U.S. border. There they reached the most challenging part of their journey: crossing the Rio Grande to get to Brownsville, Texas.

Yazmin: Para ir a los Estados Unidos sin documentos, le pagamos 500 dólares al coyote.

Martina: Un coyote is a person who smuggles migrants across the US border for a fee.

Yazmin: Las instrucciones del coyote eran simples: correr rápido, en silencio, y no perderse.

Martina: The coyote seemed like a good man to Yazmin; someone who wanted to help them. He even offered to carry Yazmin on his shoulders as they walked across the river.

Yazmin: Yo no quería caminar por el río. Tenía miedo a las serpientes.

Martina: Around the afternoon, in broad daylight, they entered the water and started walking. The water went up to the coyote’s waist, but it didn’t reach Yazmin.

Yazmin: Cuando llegamos al otro lado, teníamos que caminar por un campo abierto, sin árboles. Todo estaba en silencio. Pensábamos que todo estaba bien, pero de repente...

Martina: Suddenly, the coyote saw a border agent approaching in the distance. There was nowhere to hide. Irene started to cry.

Yazmin: Mi madre y yo no sabíamos qué hacer ni adónde ir.

Martina: The agent put them all in a van to take them back across the border.

Yazmin: Estábamos muy nerviosas. Mi mamá le preguntó al coyote si íbamos a ir a prisión.

Martina: But the coyote comforted Irene. He told them, “The first time, they let you go. My son will cross you again in an hour.” After getting dropped back off in Matamoros, they regrouped. Yazmin imagined the coyote’s son would be tall and strong like his dad….

Yazmin: Pero el hijo del coyote era bajo y flaco como yo. Él tenía solo 9 años.

Martina: Yazmin’s heart sank. She’d have to walk through the water on her own. This time, they went to a different point on the river. She was terrified as they got ready to cross.

Yazmin: Pero el niño era muy rápido. El río no era muy profundo. Cruzamos en dos minutos, corriendo. Yo sentía que podía volar. Era un nuevo camino en mi vida.

Martina: Yazmin felt as if the river’s water cleansed her from all the bad things she’d ever experienced. All of that stayed behind her now, in Mexico. As Yazmin ran through the water, her mom, Irene, was right beside her, with their blue suitcase in her hand. When they reached the other side, they found a place to hide on the road. The coyote’s son told them to be quiet, because the Border Patrol agents were going to return.

Yazmin: Vimos a los agentes pasar. Contamos 3, 2, 1 y corrimos con el niño. Llegamos a una casa en el campo, donde una mujer nos dio agua. Le pagamos al hijo del coyote.

Martina: They were safe. Both of them, in the United States, with their blue suitcase. It had been a year since they had escaped from Yazmin’s dad.

Yazmin: Después, mi mamá y yo fuimos a la casa de una prima que vivía cerca. Ella encontró el primer trabajo de mi mamá en nuestro nuevo país.

Martina: That’s how Yazmin and Irene ended up working for Rebecca, a woman who hired them to take care of her baby and clean her house. Mother and daughter would work together and earn 35 dollars a week.

Yazmin: Esto era una aventura increíble para mí. Quería ir a la escuela, como una niña normal. Pero estaba feliz de estar con mi mamá. Aprendí a hablar inglés de a poco con la televisión y practicaba con mis primos.

Martina: Five or six months passed. Little by little, they saved up money to keep traveling toward their final destination: Houston, Texas. There, Irene’s cousins were waiting for them.

Yazmin: Finalmente llegamos a Houston. Allí, mi mamá encontró un trabajo limpiando casas. También encontró amor: Marvin, mi nuevo papá. Él era estricto, pero me motivaba a explorar el mundo y hacer nuevas amigas.

Martina: Marvin bought Yazmin her first bike. She remembers how he would encourage her to go out for a ride if she hadn’t used it in awhile. He also got along really well with Irene and didn’t try to control her.

Yazmin: Pocos años después, mi mamá y Marvin tuvieron a Evelyn, mi hermana pequeña. Ella es rebelde e independiente como mi mamá.

Martina: Since the moment Yazmin fled her father’s violence, she remembers feeling uncertain about her future. What would life be like in the U.S.? What if immigration authorities found her and deported her? Would she miss her dad? Over the years, she had heard stories about him back in Mexico. Mostly sad ones.

Yazmin: Una prima me dijo que a veces ve a mi papá en el banco donde ella trabaja. Me dijo que él nunca le pregunta por mí. A veces, considero viajar a México para ir a visitarlo, pero no sé si es una buena idea.

Martina: Yazmin was 19 years old when she finally got residency in the United States. She was preparing to go to college, to strike out on her very own. She wanted to study so she could help other immigrants get the quality education that she had been lucky to receive when she got to Houston. But first, she was going to need a suitcase.

Yazmin: Mi mamá y yo recordamos la maleta azul. No la usamos por casi diez años. Parecía un objeto de otra dimensión. Decidimos mirar hacia adelante. Ese día, compramos una maleta nueva.


This episode includes recordings from Tomlija, Slanesh, Imjeax, ceberation, davilca and Benboncan under the CC Attribution License from