This is the story of Carolina and her incredible journey, which has taken her from Puebla, Mexico to Durham, North Carolina.

Carolina was born in Puebla, Mexico, where she lived for most of her life, until she came to the United States. She currently lives in Durham, N.C. with her husband, however she left behind a family she loves and misses dearly. When prompted about her family, she speaks sincerely and hopefully about each and every one of her kids. She has three of her own children and has adopted two of her daughter’s kids as her own. Adopted, in her sense of the word, means that Carolina and her husband are supporting the children financially. Although these children are in fact Carolina’s grandkids, they regard her and her husband with an endearing “madre” and “padre”.  This captures the sincerity and complete selflessness of not only Carolina, but also of so many immigrant women here in the United States today.

Much of Carolina’s life in Mexico consisted of caring for her family, while her husband worked. He did agricultural labor for a while, but he and Carolina started a little company based out of their home, making backpacks. Each of them had their own sewing machines and hand made every backpack. Eventually though, when work became increasingly difficult to find, her husband was left with no choice but to travel to the United States in hopes of finding a job to provide for his family. He left Carolina and his family behind 15 years ago; Carolina was left to provide for her family, which she did by housecleaning in Mexico. When her situation toughened and she struggled to support her family, because her husband stopped sending money, she was left hopeless and defeated. She says, no hay oportunidades en Mexico como aquí, that there are no opportunities in Mexico like there are here [United States]. Ideas about leaving to the United States began to take hold of her life; soon, those ideas materialized and she made the executive decision to cross the border to the land of opportunity, or so they call it. Carolina decided to leave Mexico four years after her husband had fled, and she made the decision independently of him. After all her husband and her had not spoken for that time and Carolina was basically a single mother.

Carolina left her home and family behind in Mexico in October of 2007 and didn’t arrive in the United States until the middle of December. She spent her first Christmas in the US in Chicago, Illinois, where she worked for a year to collect enough money to repay the woman who paid for her to cross the border. But as joyous as Christmas may be, her journey was quite the opposite; a journey filled of trauma that no joyous Christmas ballad or gift could cure. It took Carolina about two months in total to cross the border. The stories associated with her border crossing are grim and plenty; much of what she described is doloroso or painful. She attempted to cross the border plenty of times, only to be faced with immigration officials. After multiple attempts in multiple border cities, she was ready to head back to Mexico, feeling hopeless and defeated. Luckily, a woman in her group convinced Carolina to persevere and continue her journey. At this point, Carolina was out of money, so the woman offered to pay for her journey and the coyote. In Carolina’s original group of 20, only 5 ended up in the United States. Carolina was ultimately successful in her attempt to cross, when the coyote brought the group into the mountains, where they walked for two straight nights. During the day, Carolina says they hid out in dirt mounds, where they stayed in silence, not allowed to eat, drink or use the restroom for fear that they would get caught.

Immediately when prompted about her journey, Carolina broke into tears pointing to her head and saying this story was “muy muy doloroso”. The story was brief, but immensely rich in emotion, that there was no difficulty understanding the pain she experienced. She witnessed a woman get shot in the head by a bracero. Although she didn’t know the woman very well, they had shared enough grief attempting to cross the border, that they were connected in some way. She commented that although this woman was not family, it was unfair that anything so terrible could happen to a human being. Another story is a bit more characteristic of what you may think when you hear of people crossing the border. However, having such a wonderful woman tell you her own story about physically climbing the border wall is far more heart-wrenching than imagining just anyone cross the border. She told a very brief story about how she climbed a dauntingly high wall in order to make progress in her journey. She clenched on for her dear life, closed her eyes, and made the fall onto the other side. She fell onto a cluster of cacti and found herself covered head to toe in thorns. She tried to explain the magnitude of pain she felt walking with these thorns embedded in her flesh to their next stop, but it is unfathomable and unimaginable to most. While Carolina struggled so much on her journey, she also encountered hope in all of the misery.

After three failed attempts of crossing the border, Carolina was detained at the border. After encountering many terrible people on her journey, she said she met one good man. Surprisingly, he was a border patrolman. She pleaded with him to let her through, claiming that all she wanted to do in the United States was work to support her family. He told her he understood and wanted to let her cross, but that he was doing his job and couldn’t allow her to cross. He said he had a good feeling that if she tried one more time to cross that she would succeed. On her fourth attempt, through the mountains, she was successful, gracias a dios. It’s difficult to understand the hope and sense of accomplishment that Carolina felt when she succeeded, but through her smile and wide eyes, I began to understand the emotion accompanied with her journey and the struggles she had and continues to have.

Carolina has been in the United States now for seven years; she has found a comfortable niche in Durham, where she feels stable and successful. After one year oh working in Chicago, she was reconnected with her husband, which drew her to Durham, NC. She works for a cleaning company, where she is placed in a group of three other housecleaners. As a team, the four women clean about five to six houses a day- keep in mind that these are full service cleanings, meaning that all rooms, including bathrooms are vacuumed, dusted, and mopped, as well as organized. Although the team is under the direction of a powerful company, these amazing women still manage to fully clean each of the houses in 2-3 hours. Carolina is the leader of her house cleaning group and make $10.50, while the rest of the women make $8.50. These wages are nowhere near a living wage, and yet somehow Carolina and many other immigrant women are fully supporting themselves and their families in Latin America. Carolina and her husband make great sacrifices to support their family in Mexico.  In light of all of these sacrifices, Carolina finds a light of the end of the tunnel in all situations. Although she says she would ultimately like to not clean houses at all, she showed me her optimism when she easily laughed at some of the worst things she has seen cleaning houses. One of the foulest houses she had to deal with was a house she claimed had never been cleaned before. She said her team stepped into the house and could not see the bottom of the carpet in the house. The animal hair and dust had built up to such high levels that the ground below was invisible. She laughed it off and smiled, saying that the owner of the house was so satisfied and “very very happy”. It is little stories and smiles from Carolina that display her optimism, hard work and selflessness. She works 6 days a week and in her free time she makes food so that when her husband comes home from work, he has a warm homemade meal. It takes patience, determination, and a strong will to do what Carolina does. She is an incredible human that deserves to have her story told over and over again. Carolina is the ideal luchadora.

— Emilie Sohl