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Juan Lopez: His Parents Crossed With A Coyote, His Mom Walked To L.A. in High Heels

Each week, we ask an Angeleno, "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles?"

This week, we hear from Juan Lopez, a UCLA student:

"My parents Maria and Juan Jose Lopez moved for good to this country on January 22, 1984, the day they got married.

"My parents came from Fresnillo, in Zacatecas, Mexico. This used to be a quiet and a people-filled town, but unfortunately now it is simply a town that is completely occupied by the drug cartels, where people fear for their lives, every day.

"Going back to 1984, my father had already been in the United States once before. He came to East Los Angeles in 1982, when he was eighteen-years-old, to work with his father in the theater business -- not as an actor but as an usher and a person who cleaned the theater after each show.

"My father spent two years here before he went back to Mexico. He came to this country so that he could raise money to go back to Mexico and get married with my mother and then later bring her too to the United States.

"Well that's what happened, after my father found a wallet with $2,000. In one of his daily routines of cleaning up after everyone left the theater after finishing the movie, he stumbled upon something more than just popcorn and candy rappers. He stumbled a wallet that carried $2,000.

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"At that time, that was a lot of money, so he used this money and that of which he had earned from the theater and embarked on a journey back to Mexico to get married with my mom. She was sixteen-years-old when he had left, and she was eighteen when he returned.

"After they got married, they took the first plane to Tijuana, Mexico, where they hired a coyote to take them across the border. They weren't alone on this trip though. They were planning on crossing with a couple that they were friends with.

"The trip was harsh, and at a point after crossing the border of Tijuana, the coyote arrived with my parents and the other couple at a house with barely any light.

"There the coyote had a partner who took the couple another way, separating them from my parents. My parents never saw that couple again. Even to this day, we still don't know what happened to them. Since my parents came from a town where the majority of people knew of everyone, my parents asked around for this couple, but no one ever knew anything about them. It was as if they vanished out of the face of the earth.

"As for my parent's journey: My mother tells me that she remembers that immense blackness of the night as they walked all the way to Los Angeles. She mentions that at a point, my dad was so thirsty he kneeled down to a pond, or so they thought it was a pond, and drank water from there.

"There was no light, so it could have been a muddy water or worse, but his thirst was so strong he didn't care. They continued. The coyote that had crossed them across the border had only taken them to a certain point. The rest, they had to walk on their own.

"My parents didn't get lost because my father had already been here once. So my mother felt assured in that sense. She mentions one particular detail that to this day I feel is pretty cool on my mother's part.

Juan Lopez, proud to be a UCLA Bruin. Self-portrait photo courtesy Juan Lopez

"She mentions that in Mexico, all she wore were high heels. So she came to this country and made it all the way to Los Angeles walking on shoes that you wouldn't normally wear to walk a lot.

"Of course during that time she didn't have as big of high heels as there are now fashionable in this country. But nonetheless, she still came to this country and this city while wearing high heels!

"My mother mentions that she still has nightmares sometimes, of that experience of coming to the United States. My parents arrived in East Los Angeles. It was here after they had settled with my father's family that they decided to form a family.

"My sister, Veronica Lopez, was born nine months later after their arrival in the United States. My mother tells me she remembers going up and down the streets of East Los Angeles, taking my sister to White Memorial Hospital, where she was born, for her check-ups.

"A year later my parents and his family decided to move to South Los Angeles. There my dad's family paid for a house to live in -- and they are still there to this day.

"My father and my mother now had a family, so they wanted their own place to live, and thus moved to an apartment complex, a minute walking distance from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

"It was during this time when I born. I was delivered in White Memorial Hospital in East Los Angeles, just like my sister. The year was 1991, six-and-a-half years later after my sister.

"About two years before I was born, my mother applied for residency in this country. Because during this time the immigration policy was very lenient, she was able to get it without a problem. My father then proceeded with applying. He was also granted residency and for over ten years, both of my parents maintained that status.

"In 1998, my mother applied for citizenship. She studied really hard and passed the test. I remember being in elementary school and going to the Immigrations office in Monterey Park for her interview. I also remember spending the entire day and seeing her happy face as she came out of the interview room because she had been granted citizenship in this country.

"My father followed a year later. He didn't pass his interview the first time, but the second time he did. Both my parents were now United States citizens of this country, and I couldn't have been prouder.

"That is how I got to this country, by my parents crossing the border illegally, like millions and millions of immigrants cross the Mexican-United States border everyday.

"I am the son of immigrants from Zacatecas, Mexico. I am the son of residents of the United States. I am the son of United States citizens. But most importantly, I am Mexican American, and even though I was born in this country, I was raised with a very strong Mexican culture, one of which I am very proud of.

"And even though I am Mexican American, I always say that I am Mexican, because while I was born in this country, I feel that all of my roots come from Mexico, not from the United States. Yes, it is a blessing to have been born here, but it is because of these things and more that I identify as a Mexican; in my cultural, physical and mental way of thinking and living."

-Juan Lopez
(as emailed to and edited by Jeremy Rosenberg)

**This post's headline has been updated

Top photo: Juan Lopez's father and mother, when they first arrived in East Los Angeles, prior to their move to South Los Angeles. Photo courtesy Juan Lopez

Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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