In my own family History, in 1846 my great great grandfather Alma Helaman Hale was 10 years old when he lost his parents as they lived on the Missouri river near Council Bluffs, Iowa. Alma then joined the Mormon pioneers and with his three siblings traveled from their home to the Salt Lake Valley to settle with Brigham Young as he declared, “This is the Place!” One biography states “At this point we can only conclude that Alma became a man at the tender age of ten. There could be no idleness. The full effort of every person was needed just to keep alive.” In Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey she describes the immigrants as “facing north, toward a new land, a never-ending exodus.” (70) For many, this is a religious journey towards a land of new promise. Nazario describes some that bring “a tiny drawing of San Cristóbal, the patron saint of travelers, or of San Judas Tadeo, the patron saint of desperate situations” (70).
The stories of crossing borders to the U.S. are often stories of faith. Faith in a Supreme Being, as well as faith in the destination, in the place that will provide an improved life for those that journey here. In Enrique's Journey, the protagonist's pilgrimage ends in the Eastern United States where he established a new life as a low-paid laborer in North Carolina and Florida with his Mother Lourdes and eventually his partner Maria Isabel. His strength in crossing Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and half of the continental United States is reminiscent of pioneers and pilgrims that helped to establish our nation.
The High Plains is also a place that many immigrants now call home. In a recent ethnographic project, Hispanic students from West Texas A&M University interviewed immigrant family members from our region and these are some of the responses to the question “Why did you come?”: “Venimos para trabajar y salir adelante” (“We came to work and to progress in life”).
Mi familia vino a los EE.UU. en busca de una mejor vida. Había muchas oportunidades de trabajos con mejores sueldos. (“My family came to the U.S. in search of a better life. There were more work opportunities here with better pay.”)
“Venimos simplemente para que toda mi familia estuviera junta” (“We simply came so that our family could be together”.)
The pilgrimage across the border for Hispanic immigrants shares a common bond with stories such as Seymour Rechziet, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who arrived in 1920 as an 8 year old child because, as he says in his own words, “there would be more opportunities [here] for me”. The vision of America as land for human potential is shared across pioneer stories for those that have come throughout this country's history, as well as those who strive to be here today.