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Immigrant Roots- Fredy Cruz Martinez

My name is Fredy Cruz-Martinez and I came to the United States from Mexico fifteen years ago at age 19. Coming to the United States was never on my radar growing up; it was my stepfather who made the decision for me.

Growing up, I didn’t have the average childhood. I came from a broken home in Mexico. My stepfather struggled with alcoholism and that led to a lot of abuse in our household. We didn’t have much money so we all shared one room. My mother, stepfather, brother, sister and I all slept in the same area, which was also our living room and kitchen space. As a child, my stepfather made it difficult to be at home, he constantly invited friends over and the fridge was always filled with beer. We barely had any basic necessities, food was sparse, our clothes were dirty, and we didn’t have shoes. I would see other families happy, eating well, and wonder why it was different for us.

My relationship with my stepfather was a complicated one. He would treat me differently than my sister and brother. He was always hard on me, and did not give me any love or support. I have since then forgiven him. He did afterall put a roof over my head and did push me to make the move to the United States. When I was 16 years old, I couldn’t tolerate being at home anymore, so I left to find work.

Many teens my age were in high school but I chose to join the military. I was in the military for 2 and half years. While I was in the military, my stepfather introduced me to a family friend who was going to leave for the United States. I knew I wanted to have a better life but did not think about leaving Mexico. My stepfather wanted me to go to the United States to make money to send back to my family. People in Mexico have all sorts of assumptions about coming to the United States; they think that after one or two years of hard work you will be living a successful life. So my stepfather thought that if I went to the United States, I would be able to make a lot of money and my family would no longer have to worry about being poor. This didn’t give me much time to process what I wanted for myself. With a week’s notice from my stepfather, I was on my way to the U.S.

The journey to the U.S. was one I will never forget and would never wish on anyone. It first started with a bus ride from Oaxaca to Sonora, Mexico. After we arrived, we took three days to cross the border through the Arizona desert. Every mile we walked was another person we lost and many people making the journey were left behind. The coyotaje- the smugglers who were leading us- did not let us stop to help those who had fallen behind. The coyotaje always said, “Don’t worry, there is another group behind us who will get the ones left behind.” But I never knew if that was true. Until this day I always wonder what happened to the people we left in the desert.

After we made it across the border, we were put in vans. These vans were headed to Los Angeles. In order not to be detected, we were hidden in the vans one person on top of the other. Once we made it to Los Angeles, we were all given a plane ticket to New York. We still had our guides, but we were warned that if anything was to happen at the airport we were on our own. The journey took its toll on me mentally and physically. Once I arrived in New York, I just hoped for the best and tried to put it behind me.

I had family friends who lived in New York at the time, so I stayed with them until I could get on my feet. Soon I was able to afford my own place so I moved to Upper Manhattan. I was working all kinds of odd jobs to try to survive. I also was sending money to my family back in Mexico. I soon learned that the American Dream was something made up by those who didn’t want to tell us the truth. A while after being here, I got the news that my childhood friend was going make her way over the New York as well. I was very worried for her. I knew what the trip was like and I did not want her to go through it on her own, but her father insisted that she would live in the United States. I saved up enough money to pay the coyotajes for her and waited for her to arrive safely in the States. She stayed with me when she made it to New York. It’s been 15 years and now she is the mother of my beautiful two daughters. I never thought that my childhood friend would one day become my life partner.

Now, I work nights as a bartender so that I can help with my daughters in the morning. Growing up the way I did, I never felt like I had a voice and I know that many people feel the same way even when they make it to the U.S. But I now work to advocate for those who are scared to voice their opinions. I love the work that organizations such as LSA Family Health Service and the New York Immigration Coalition do to also stand up for those whose voices may not be heard. I always try my best to work alongside such organizations so that one day that American Dream everyone back home talked can truly become a reality.


The New York Immigration Coalition's weekly blog series "Immigrant ROOTS" features the many stories of New Yorkers impacted by immigration and migration. The project aims to explore the "roots" of individuals that make for so many diverse experiences that are a critical fabric of New York.

Every week, the NYIC will publish a different story from our "Immigrant ROOTS" series. And this will be ongoing!

Share your story! If you'd like to share your story and be a part of this project, please Thanu Yakupitiyage at tyaku@nyic.org or Tuqa Youssef at tyoussef@nyic.org to schedule an interview.



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