Interviewed by Israel Salas-Rodriguez / Read by Jasmine Toledo / Edited by Leah Shaw

Living in the Shadows

When Carlos, an undocumented immigrant, crossed the Mexican border the first time, he was robbed by men with guns and knives. But he kept on. He wanted a better life for himself here in the U.S.

Carlos grew up in a small village in southwest Mexico. Home to less than 500 people, the community is filled with dirty, cracked streets, and surrounded by mountains. A family’s income is limited to either farming a 12-hour shift for less than $10 a day or receiving money sent by relatives living in the U.S.

His parents were in the U.S. and he was raised by his grandmother, along with his four sisters. “Having a piece of bread in the house was a blessing. Bread was for the wealthy so my grandmother would always give me more than my sisters because she said that men had to eat more to stay strong,” he told Israel Salas-Rodriquez.

He imagined what New York was like: “heaven, the place where there was food, money, where there was everything you can think of,” he said.

Crossing the border was frightening and dangerous. “We bumped into some cholos with guns and knives in their hands,” he said. “They took all of our money and they made us take off all our clothes so they can get everything from us. It was a very bad experience for a kid.”

In New York he was reunited with his parents and two sisters. He wanted to work and make money. He got a job as a dishwasher, working 14 hours a day for $9 an hour. That’s when the picture he had of the U.S. completely shattered.

His first 13 years in New York didn’t bring him the happiness that he hoped for. Once his parents decided to go back to Mexico and one of his sisters moved out, he decided he wanted to be back home again. Negativity and isolation took over his life. “I did things that perhaps drowned me more into depression,” he said. “I went to the movie theaters alone, I went out to eat by myself, I exercised alone. I used to enjoy walking in the rain, crying in the process without feeling the warmth of my tears.”

He decided to return to Mexico to visit his family.

Seeing his parents and grandmother, the memories of his childhood came rushing back through his mind. He stayed there for over a year. When he finally returned to New York he had the worst experience of his life while crossing the border.

The encounter came en route from Monterrey to Piedras Negras, in Mexico. Two men stopped the bus he was in and began asking for everyone’s identification. They approached Carlos and asked him if he was Mexican. When they asked him for his ID, he asked if they were police officers. They pulled out knives. The memory of that day is still in the back of his mind, “I could still feel the tip of the knife on my throat today.”

Carlos currently works in a small restaurant in Manhattan, where he is a line cook. He has dreams of attending culinary school. “I remember checking out a school on the Internet and they asked for my social security number. That’s when the dream crumbles,” he said. “Who doesn’t dream about having a house they call home, having a family, but I think my primary focus is to become legal, without having to live in the shadows.”

The voice in the podcast is not Carlos’s. Rather than exposing him to being rounded-up by ICE, Jasmine Toledo read his words.


Carlos grew up in a small village in the state of Guerrero in southwest Mexico. Most people there subsist on farming or on money sent by relatives in the U.S. Due to lack of employment and poverty, the largest number of migrants from any Mexican state make their way from Guerrero to the U.S.