SACRAMENTO -- Venustiano Lara vividly recalls the moonless night nearly half a century ago when he and six others plunged into a frigid canal near Mexicali as they made their way illegally across the United States border.
"I was scared," said Lara, who was 19 and a poor swimmer. "I barely made it across."
One of the men cried out for help and then disappeared beneath the deep, fast-flowing water. The rest were pushed along by their smuggler and then, soaked and shivering after clearing the canal, ordered into a car.
They sped off into the Sonoran desert for the 500-mile trip to a farm near Fresno, where they would pick cotton or tomatoes for $1.75 an hour and live in sweltering shacks.
Having borrowed $300 from relatives to pay the smuggler, Lara had just a quarter in his pocket.
Forty-six years later, he stood in the state Assembly, tears shining in his eyes. His son, Ricardo, was being sworn in as a lawmaker by the chief justice of the California Supreme Court.
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