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Teachers, dishwashers, engineers: Others like Gaspar Marcos who moved to the U.S. without their parents

In the past five years, more than 100,000 children and teens have crossed the border between the United States and Mexico without their parents.

Gaspar Marcos, an 18-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, is one of them. A recent story about how he works until 3 a.m. and gets to school by 8 a.m. generated a tremendous response.

Of the more than 12,000 comments shared, dozens of readers told stories of how they moved to the United States without their parents.

Monier Ouabira of Morocco remembers being abandoned at the airport and spending his first few days in the U.S. sleeping there. Edilsa Lopez of Guatemala, who traversed the desert at 13, was kidnapped and separated from her family. Giorgio Kyle of Azerbaijan said he worked for five months straight for $150 a week without taking one day off. Here are their stories:


It's hard, but I'm proud that I'm making it by myself.

— Henry Garca

Garca in school holding a sign that says
Garca in school holding a sign that says "Together We Dream."

Henry García

Country: Guatemala

Age of entry: 15

I learned basic English in less than two years, and I'm a cook now. I started as a dishwasher. I’m still going to school.

When I came to the U.S. at 15, I lived with my uncle. But he got a DUI, and then he was deported. I lived alone, and I paid for my rent, my bills and my food. I still send money to my parents. It’s hard, but if you want to do it, you can do it.


I did homework after work, and it used to take me a long time because I didn't speak English.

— Sandra Martinez

Martinez from the year she graduated high school in 1996.
Martinez from the year she graduated high school in 1996.

Sandra Martinez

Country: Mexico

Age of entry: 16

I immigrated to the U.S. without my parents when I was 16 years old. I went to high school from 8:00 a.m. to 2:05 p.m. and worked from 4:00 p.m. to midnight. I did homework after work, and it used to take me a long time because I didn't speak English. I graduated from high school with a 3.8 GPA and went on to college and became a high school teacher.


It was freaking hard as hell.

— Monier Madison Ouabira

Ouabira with his wife.
Ouabira with his wife.

Monier Madison Ouabira

Country: Morocco

Age of entry: 14

I came from Morocco when I was 14.

 

I came legally. The person that was supposed to wait for me at the airport never showed up, so from the start I spent a couple of days at the airport. I was like Tom Hanks in the "Terminal" movie.

 

It was freaking hard as hell. As an immigrant, I had to work twice as hard to get the same results as natural-born citizens. My first day in college was amazing. I looked around, and there I was sitting in classrooms with students who spent their past learning English, while English is my fourth language.

 

Soon after, I was tutoring students in math and physics. The rest is history. My advice to any immigrant who wants to achieve their dreams: Don't let your surroundings dictate your ambition.

 

Currently, I work for MIT as an engineering manager, and I’m really proud of being an American Muslim.


I am enjoying the ride.

— Angelia Bunardi

Bunardi at her college graduation.
Bunardi at her college graduation.

Angelia Bunardi

Country: Indonesia

Age of entry: 18

I left my home country six years ago when I was 18 in search of a better life. I knew that I was going to do whatever I possibly could to survive. Language has always been the biggest obstacle that I have wanted to improve. I've worked in a restaurant and school to help me pay for college.

I've always taken school seriously. I was a valedictorian at my community college. Now, I’ve almost graduated from a four-year university, and I aspire to become a CPA. I am grateful for the opportunity that this country has to offer to those who work hard. I am enjoying the ride.


I cannot forget the little road that leads back home, where I don't belong anymore because of violence and suffering.

— Melody Klingenfuss Arteaga

Arteaga as a little girl wearing traditional Guatemalan cultural clothing.
Arteaga as a little girl wearing traditional Guatemalan cultural clothing.

Melody Klingenfuss Arteaga

Country: Guatemala

Age of entry: 9

I traveled from San Cristobal Frontera, Jutiapa, Guatemala, at the age of 9. I'm undocumented and arrived in the United States without my parents … . I cannot forget the little road that leads back home, where I don't belong anymore because of violence and suffering ... I was fortunate to be reunited with my mother. Through busting myself every day in school, I now attend USC Price School as a graduate student. I have a bachelor's degree under my wings, but it is worth nothing if I didn’t have DACA.


I’m looking to become an immigration attorney in the near future.

— Elvis Saldias

Saldias juggled a full-time job and college.
Saldias juggled a full-time job and college.

Elvis Saldias

Country: Bolivia

Age of entry: 9

I was born in Bolivia and entered the United States legally at the age of 9. My tourist visa promptly expired a few months later, and I then became undocumented. After high school, I began juggling a full-time job and college — which was tough but necessary.

Thankfully, DACA came along and made things a bit smoother and allowed me to have better access to jobs and higher education. I recently completed my undergraduate degree, and I’m looking to become an immigration attorney in the near future. ¡Si se puede!


After a week left in the desert, I was picked up by ICE.

— Edilsa Lopez

Lopez recently graduated from UT Austin with two majors.
Lopez recently graduated from UT Austin with two majors.

Edilsa Lopez

Country: Guatemala

Age of entry: 13

At age 13, I started the journey to the U.S. from Guatemala with my mom and siblings. However, on our way, I was separated from the rest of my family and became an unaccompanied minor. ​After a week left in the desert, I was picked up by ICE. ICE took me to a detention center. Days later, I was deported to Mexico. Upon my arrival to the border of Mexico and the U.S., I did not have anyone to go and immediately became a victim of kidnapping.

After many months of captivity in Mexico and the U.S., I escaped and found myself in McAllen, Texas, where a lady whose door I knocked on for help drove me to Houston.

That is how I came to the U.S. at 13 years old.

I also worked countless hours while in high school, and was placed into a girls’ home. I eventually graduated high school and got accepted to the University of Texas at Austin while being undocumented. I just graduated from UT Austin with two majors.

I currently work two jobs to help my siblings (who currently live in Guatemala and who I have not seen for 10 years). I also support my mom and myself.


Dreams come true!

— Javier Ocampo

Ocampo was the oldest of five and later brought his family to the U.S.
Ocampo was the oldest of five and later brought his family to the U.S.

Javier Ocampo

Country: Mexico

Age of entry: 16

I'm from Mexico City, and I crossed the border illegally when I was 16. I lived in different locations here in Los Angeles, from renting a closet to sleep, to a room, to an apartment later on. I was paid minimum wage or less, being a janitor, working in clothing fabrics in downtown L.A., construction, passing flyers, etc.

 

I’m the oldest of all; that’s why I decided to come to the U.S. to help my siblings and mom. Eight years later, I brought them all to the U.S.

Now, 18 years later, I'm married with a beautiful wife, who motivates me and helps me not be shy about speaking and learning the language. I have three kids, and I am a Journeyman Mechanical/ HVAC engineer. Dreams come true!


I had to work 15-16 hours per day, every day ...

— Giorgio Kyle

Kyle traveled to the U.S. 3 years ago.
Kyle traveled to the U.S. 3 years ago.

Giorgio Kyle

Country: Azerbaijan

Age of entry: 17

I came to the U.S. by myself three years ago when I was 17. When I just arrived, I had to work 15-16 hours per day, every day, without a day off for five months straight, earning $150 per week. God gives you strength as long as you ask for it and work hard for your future. I pray for every one of us to stay strong and have the best in our life so we can help other people. Everything will go well if you keep believing! I am grateful for this country. God bless America. I am glad I have an opportunity to live and have my future here.


I will not give up just because the childhood I had was not a childhood.

— Dina Gonzalez

Gonzalez would work at night and attend high school in the morning.
Gonzalez would work at night and attend high school in the morning.

Dina Gonzalez

Country: El Salvador

Age of entry: 12

I immigrated when I was 12 years old from San Salvador. I was working at night and going to high school in the morning in Wilmington, Calif. I never stopped after graduating, and I attended college and had two jobs to pay my own tuition.

I kept on going and fighting in life to continue. It’s not easy, but I am so glad that at end of the tunnel, I saw a light. Now I am still working and going for my PhD. I will not give up just because the childhood I had was not a childhood. I’ve been working since I was 5 years old to support my family.


My only dream was to see my mama one more time.

— Glendi Argumedo

Argumedo at 16 years old when she traveled to the U.S.
Argumedo at 16 years old when she traveled to the U.S.

Glendi Argumedo

Country: El Salvador

Age of entry: 16

I came to the U.S. by myself back in 1995. I was 16 years old, with no family. On the way, I met good people and bad people. It took me two months to get to California, and my only dream was to see my mama one more time.

I went to school and worked full-time, and I learned how to speak English in a year. I graduated in 1999, I got married, and now I have two beautiful kids. Now, I'm a homeowner, and I went back to college. It's so hard, but you guys can do it too!

Submissions were lightly edited for length and clarity


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