The day that I was to attempt my trip to Chicago arrived. It was Saturday, April 26th. I got up
very early. My uncle and his wife departed to work, they would take me to the
airport upon their return in the afternoon. In the house, alone, I fought with
my anguish. I thought that I was better off dead than brought deported to Santo
Domingo. I felt that everything I had gotten, to that moment, was worth nothing
if I could not get to the United States. I imagined the same thing that had been
disturbing my sleep every night: I was back in Santo Domingo, with no resource at all, without a job and again facing my mother's
My optimistic thoughts became soured when met with the pessimistic
ones. My mind was the entaglet field of a battle never seen before. While the hours went by, they got from me hopes, things to remember and sorrows: -"I'm going to make it, I will go through that airport. I'm
strong and I understand the problem. I'll face anything and will emerge victorious. I deserve to go through there after all the suffering I endured to get here. Besides, this is not my home; my uncle loves me, but still I'm leaning on him here...-
Oh, if everything would go okay and I could get through! Yesterday they showed
on the television a group of thirty illegal Dominicans that were deported. If
they caught me, they'd take me with handcuffs, just like they did to them. They
would put me in jail. But if my brother Gilberto hurries up and brings some money
he could deal with the police so I would be set free that same day. But what
if my brother does not show up? or if he can't get the money? Money: what a shame!
There, corruption prevails. You must pay them off if you want to get out of jail,
to obtained a drivers license even knowing how to drive; to get a birth certificate, a passport or even to get a personal
identification card. If one is not in position to pay, thousands of obstacles
are encountered for everything. Luis will burst out in laughing when he sees
me. I'll shut him up. I'll blush
when everyone who knows I got here sees me there again. But I'll be forced to
get used to all of that. It has been interesting to be in Puerto Rico. I'll be able to speak about this island; others have never been here...
But, no! What is the use of having gotten here? I can not allow the worst
to happen to me. Nothing can be worse than to return to Santo Domingo deported. I love my country but I would hate to continue to be one of its seven million people
who are already half-way accustomed to not having lights or water, walking through destroyed streets, not able to find even
a thread to sew up a wounded patient in a public hospital...- but I have to see this picture on the other side as well. I must make dollars, travel, buy books, listen to people speaking in English. Chicago must be a beautiful city. The
snow is white and I have never felt it. If I returned defeated to Santo Domingo
I am going to feel very sorry for myself. If they catch me in the airport I should
die right on the spot".-
Later, my optimistic thoughts were wining the battle. Fortified by them, I experienced a great peace.
When we got to Luis Muñoz Marin Airport, on Isla Verde, I had a serenity that astonished me. But I did not want to think too much about it. I was afraid
that it would disappear in the transcendental moments in which, at last, I would attempt to get to the United States. My uncle drove me to the airport accompanied by Nereida and Jahaira. Nereida because of nervousness, preferred to wait in the car. My
uncle, carrying his two year old daughter, went with me as far as the place where I had to check my ticket. When I was waiting in line, my uncle stood by my side. I was
sure that he was experiencing more anguish than I. I noticed it, because he held
on tightly to Jahaira and because he was looking in all directions with impatient gestures.
I handed my ticket to the agent at the counter. A young woman waited on
me. She asked:
---Where is your luggage, sir?
---I only brought this knapsack and I want to keep it with
to that main exit right there. Then, go through to gate A-35. And hurry! Your flight is about to take off.
In order not to make myself nervous, I went to the main exit
without taking another look at my uncle. There were about ten passengers before
me. Each person placed his hand luggage on the rotating belt, went through the
metal detector and picked up their luggage on the other side. While still in line, I took a discrete look at the hallway past the security devices. At twelve meters
from them, there was a man that no doubt worked for the Immigration Service. He
looked with great attention at each passenger. I was still calm because I had
influenced myself with positive thoughts. They allowed me to believe that I was
not going to be stopped to be asked even one question. But I doubted this when
I saw that the immigration agent, after detaining a young man, also stopped a fifty year old woman. Both of them had to show their documents. In a very short
time, there was only one small family from the United States in front of me. I
knew their nationality because of their blond skin, their yellow-golden hair and because of the language they spoke. When they went through the man did not stop them.
I noticed that he just made waving gestures of greeting. I was the next
to go through. I had already gone through the metal detector and was waiting for my knapsack.
I took another look at the man. I discovered that he had his eyes fixed
on me. I took my luggage and I intended to pass by him. But he stopped in front of me like a dog that obstructs your path.
He must have been sure that I was a Dominican.
I had left my uncle's house certain that everything was going
to turn out O.K. sure that I would get to the United States and that with my honest work I would make my way. A few days before I had said to my uncle:
-"I'll make it to Chicago.
I'll work and study, legalize my immigration status and I will return
here to continue to know with more detail this beautiful island. I will also
return to Santo Domingo from where I would not have left except with the hope of a better life."-
I knew that my future was at risk in those seconds. My being tall, dark--skinned,
and black haired were factors that communicated my nationality. I knew this. But I did not loose my poise. I had been
repeating to myself with determination:
--"I'm going through this airport even shouting and threatening. I will go through; I'm an American citizen and no one has a right to arrest me."-
The man from immigration, who had no use the same promptness
with the two people he detained before me, blockaded my way, anxious. I
had to stop and he, just to hear my voice and to confirm his intuition, said with a smile:
---Buenas tardes, señor! ¿Cuál es su nacionalidad?
afternoon, sir! What is your nationality?)
I let a few a good three seconds pass by before I answered. I showed myself to be surprised and disturbed, for my intention was to pretend that
I had not understood him completely. When I thought I had communicated this,
I answered with a smile and with a questioning face. In my best English, I told
----Good afternoon sir!
---Nothing wrong, sir!
Have a nice trip! ---he answered as he got out of my way promptly.
I walked away. the
man continued his work with those behind me. I did not look back. I increased my speed to catch up to the American family. They
informed me where my plane was.
A little while after I entered, the plane door was closed. It was a very big plane, almost completely full.
I took my seat: -"I made it, I'm already here, there are so many people here; I'm just one more of them. Nobody is going to take me out of here."- In a few moments,
the plane was moving to the taxi way. A few minutes later, it took off. This was my first flight in a plane. So much joy saturated my entire being. My happiness was immense. It had started as soon as the man
allowed me to go through, it increased when I occupied my seat in the aircraft and it went higher still when, after announcing
the departure, the plane started its majestic flight.
In the air, I could not contain my immense happiness. The window was the witness of all the tears I dropped.
I had a burning desire to stand up and shout out how glad I was. But I
did not say anything. I ordered a beer, another and another. I celebrated by myself the triumph that I was approaching a whole wonderful and wide new world. Absorbed by the illusion, I thought: -"I'm going to get to the United States, to the North, my dream since
I was a boy, the main reason why I studied English. Soon I'll be in the United
From my seat, through the window, I could see the white clouds
and how we flew above them; they seemed suspended and motionless above the ocean of an intense blue. At my side, an American couple that was going to Chicago gave me details of the city.
We had a stop of over one hour in Atlanta, Georgia. I remained in the plane the entire time. I was afraid I could
get myself into trouble outside. The plain soared again. A few hours later, I would be at O'Hare airport in Chicago. My
beloved and old friend Carlos would be waiting for me there. At eight o'clock
the plane flew over Downtown Chicago. It was a clear night and I could see down
below a cemetery of colored lights and huge buildings that impressed me greatly.
I got off the plane with great satisfaction. I was amazed by the modernization that I noticed at each step in everything: the computerized signs, electric
escalators... I was fascinated by the width of the place with its endless hallways
full of people coming and going speaking English naturally. But I could not find
my friend. Twenty minutes after my arrival, I had not found him yet and I was
starting to despair. I went to a public phone.
Different from Santo Domingo and Puerto Rico, ten cents were not enough to make my call. A recording repeated in slow English:
-"Please deposit twenty five cents."-
It seemed expensive to me.
But I did not loose my money since no one answered the phone. I continued
my search but without straying away from the area belonging to the airline that I had flown.
Every once in a while, I continued to call Carlos's house. In one of the
occasions that I used the phone, an unknown young man approached me. He spoke
to me in Spanish:
---Are you Raul? ---he asked quite timidly.
---Yes. I am! ---I answered filled with joy.
---I'm Angel, Carlo's friend.
We have being waiting for you down below.
---Yes. That's where the passengers pick up their luggage.
---I only brought this knapsack.
We went down stairs and among the people looking for their
luggage, we found Carlos. We greeted each other with a big hug and with so much
feeling that tears came to our eyes. Filled with joy, we took my friend's car. In twenty minutes we arrived at his apartment on Wabansia Avenue, ten minutes away
Shortly after I arrived, Angel left. Then Carlos and I started to talk about my crossing. I told
him all the details from my departure from Santo Domingo to my arrival in Chicago. I
was telling him all of this while he was showing me every corner of the apartment. In
the living room, the stereo seemed to me extraordinary. All its components were
separated and distributed in the simulated mahogany stand. This also held a 14--inch
remote control television. The telephone was on a side table. I liked everything:
the bathroom, the dining room...- A few steps after the dinning room, there was the kitchen.
We went in and Carlos said:
---I departed for the airport a little after I got off work. I did not have time to cook. I'll cook
in a moment. You must be hungry.
Having said this, he opened the refrigerator and asked:
---What would you like to eat?
I got closer and looked at the food. I contemplated them for one instant without answering. I was
fascinated to see how well stocked the refrigerator was. It had whole chickens,
red meat, cheese, pork chops, apples, grapes, orange juice and many other things that looked good but that I did not recognize. My friend thought that I was hesitating about what to eat. He cooked a whole chicken, rice and beans. He served me two
pieces that were exactly half the chicken. Everything looked delicious. I ate until I wanted no more. And I thought
about Santo Domingo: of my family, of the neighbors. Many of them must be hungry. You never eat like that over there; nothing is left and it's rare that one is able
to say that they want no more. But if one member of the family can eat no more
there is always another one disposed to eat up what the first one could not finish.
While thinking about these things, I told my friend:
---How different, life here seems compared to that of the barrios
of our country. Hunger is nothing if you have something that you can eat. Of all our calamities, people suffering hunger is the worst.
---I suffered all of those things more than you, Raul. In your house you had a -"fritura"-. At
least you had something to eat. But you know that all the income of my house
was the little money I could get sewing at Don Nelsido's tailor shop.
Laughing I protested:
---Come on Carlos! Remember
that my mother has always kept the fritura's provisions locked up. If she had
left the food within the reach of me and the rest, the business would have gone bankrupt on the third day.
Carlos and I talked delighted until late in the evening. The next day was Sunday and he did not have to work.
He used it to show me around the city. He also took me the Cook County
Hospital, for, he recommended that I should start treating my stomach problems immediately.
The first days went by and still I could not get used to the
idea that I was in Chicago. I could not believe it although I heard the name
on the radio and television stations. I saw it in all the signs. The city spread itself before me with all its houses and buildings, both old and modern, its streets full
of lights and the trees with no leaves because of the cold. I stayed alone at
home while my friend would go to work. I felt lucky for having arrived and for
having such a special friend. He answered all my questions about Chicago and
continued to give me interesting details. When he took me Downtown, it was obvious
that I was a new comer. I was amazed at the tall and sumptuous buildings, among
them, the Sears Tower, a hundred and ten stories high, it is the tallest building in the world. I marveled at Lake Michigan. The blue water of this lake brought
back to my mind things that I wanted to forget. I just wanted to enjoy the view
of its quiet water and of the hundreds of yachts and sailboats. These and other very distinctive experiences began to convince me, little by little, that I was at last in Chicago,
in "El Norte".