“A Beautiful Country”

This page is being made available exclusively to readers of UMCNewAlbany’s newsletter. Names have been changed to protect the identity of the person interviewed. Even so, please don’t share this link with others.

To look at her, you would never know what Arecelia has been through. But looks are often deceiving. 

Arecelia is the quiet one, soft-spoken and reserved, with hair pulled back in a tight bun, revealing a beautiful round face with neat-as-a-pin makeup. She is the best cook in a community with awesome cooks. Her pozole and empanadas are to die for. She is also known as a leader in our church. If the church doors are open for any reason, odds are, she is there: working, cooking, leading, and inspiring. 

Leaving Home

Arecelia’s journey to the U.S. began in 2009. She was twenty-two when her parents decided to escape poverty and pursue a new life. “There was no work and no future for me or my brothers. My mother was the driving force pushing us towards America.”

The family gave up everything to secure the services of a “coyote” – smugglers who bring people across the border into the U.S. The cost for Arecelia’s family? Four thousand dollars per head (or twenty thousand dollars) – everything that Arecelia’s family had and then some. “But our coyote was a good man. He only charged us for the first attempt, never the second, third, or fourth. He took good care of us.”

A Frightening Journey

The family spent countless hours crossing the barren desert on foot. On the first three attempts, they were detained along the New Mexico border. “Each time we made it across [the border], we were caught by the border patrol.” Each border detention was more harrowing than the crossing itself. “We were treated very badly. They separate families. We were separated. It was heartbreaking to see all the other people from other countries who had been detained, were scared, and separated from their families.

“The border patrol detains people for three days after they are caught. We never knew if it was night or day. They only give you one gallon of water, a bag of beans, and apple juice. Everyone has to share with everyone else so that you can have enough to eat and drink.”

Begging for Food

After their second deportation, she and her family, hungry and malnourished, had no possessions other than their clothes. “People would wait outside of the detention center and sell food to those being released. We didn’t have any money and had to beg for food. My brother was given spoiled food to eat, which made him very sick. People looked at us like we were dirty … like we were nothing.”

On their third attempt to cross over, a border patrol helicopter spotted them. “All of us except one of my brothers and the coyote were caught. The border patrol officers told my parents that if my brother didn’t surrender, we would never see him again. So they took us back to where we were caught and made my parents call for my brother. He was still hiding, but when he heard Mother’s voice, he came forward and turned himself in.” Once again, the family was returned to the poor conditions of the detention center for three days of separation. 

On the fourth and final attempt, the coyote they previously used reconnected with them. Instead of crossing into Albuquerque, New Mexico, this last attempt was through Ciudad Juàrez, the notorious hot spot of cartel activity (and the infamous “murder capital of the world”). “We crawled through a long drain pipe to get into the U.S.” 

“Value What You Have”

After many more long miles and cartel checkpoints, the family settled in Denver, Colorado, before migrating to New Albany, MS, where other family roots were already established. 

When asked how her experiences have shaped her faith, Arecelia said: “My faith is strengthened. All of my family have made it here. They are safe. I now have children of my own. We are all blessed!” Arecelia’s brothers own a successful concrete business in New Albany.

When asked what she hopes others will learn from her story, Arecelia said: “Value what you have. You shouldn’t complain about the little things. So many other people have greater troubles. This country is beautiful! And we should not forget where we come from.”