"When you live, there is hope."
This is Mark’s outlook on life.
This interview follows Mark’s long and dangerous migration from his home country in Africa to the United States. For his own safety, his real name and country will not be used. Mark has suffered through the harsh reality of having to leave his home and the people he loves for a better life. He journeyed through several countries, including Ecuador and, of course, Mexico in order to cross the border into the United States, all during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why did you choose to come to the US specifically?
Mark decided to come to the United States because he felt he could find freedom there. "You know, leaving my country, we experienced a lot of things that sometimes don’t make you feel like a human being, in the sense that you can’t express yourself." Before coming to the U.S., Mark lived in Ecuador for over a year and four months. He wanted a second chance at life and opportunities. Unfortunately, he was unable to obtain this due to the language barrier and the treatment he received from the people there: "To them, blacks are thieves. I remember when I was moving in the street and this white lady would see me and she would change to the other side of the street." Along with the racism he experienced, Mark also could not afford much because he did not have a source of financial support. Finally, he decided that the U.S. was the best option for him. He had to walk because he did not have access to a car or any other means of transportation.
The US has strict laws on immigration. How did you prepare for the process of entering and what steps did you go through?
Mark was unable to prepare for the process of entering the U.S. He needed medical attention after walking six months from Ecuador. Along the way, in Colombia, all of his money was stolen as well. "It is why I, in Mexico, first of all, I went to a hospital, and they all told me that they are not doctors, and I saw my situation was getting bad because six months walking, not receiving any medical attention… It took something in me." Mark turned himself in when he “crossed the wall." He was put in a detention center and questioned. Then, they took his blood pressure. Shortly after, he was released. Mark had a feeling that his blood pressure actually played a role in his entrance into the country. "I think my blood pressure spoke on my behalf, like there was something wrong with me, so I think that is why they freed me, because the people who ended up with me were there over two months."
What was it like to travel alone?
While Mark experienced horrific things during his six month journey, he was not completely alone. He met people who were making the same difficult journey, people from all over the world. He met some from Haiti, Brazil, and even Africa. There were families traveling, some with babies. Mark remembers a painful experience where he had to bury a child by the side of the road as he traveled. He was grateful that he was not alone: "I was always with people. Actually, if not for those people I would have been dead."
How did you come into contact with Holy Trinity Church?
Mark was introduced to Holy Trinity Church through his girlfriend. They met while praying together: "…she told me that we're gonna pray about their conditions and I’d contact some churches and luckily, no, with the grace of God, we got into contact with Holy Trinity Church." This was when everything started to change for Mark. Holy Trinity Church is now providing him with many types of support. "It is very important to acknowledge those who do you well, those who do you good. I would like, in a special way, to say thank you to the whole church, especially those who started me with that program, because if I am where I am, it’s thanks to them. Of course, they are walking with the grace of God…who wanted me to be where I am…that same God will keep on blessing them so that they should help as many people as they can."
How has COVID-19 affected your migration process?
COVID-19 played a large part in Mark’s journey. He was infected by the virus two separate times and it was one of the reasons he left Ecuador. That, along with many other challenges, made it almost impossible to live: "I wanted to commit suicide because it was too hard. I was alone in the world…I would go sometimes three, four days without eating."That was when he decided to leave for the United States. "If I die on the way, at least I will [die] fighting," he said.
Were you able to bring aspects from your life back in your home country into your life here?
"Here I have no one with me. I’m on my own and so I do meet some people from [my home country], but they have their families. They have their homes. I’m just trying to adapt and I can’t say I brought something from home."But Mark knows he will definitely bring some of his culture into his home in the future. He loves to sing and to teach and he hopes in time to be able to do these things again once he is more settled in because "that is also my history, my story, where I am coming from."
Is there anything you would want people who are going through the same or similar experiences you went through to know?
Mark emphasized the dangers that came from crossing the road from Ecuador to Mexico. The deaths of some of the people he traveled with are still, and will forever be, with him. "Every life is sacred," he says. Mark hopes, in time, to write a book about his experiences. His final advice was to say, "no matter how difficult things can be, if you believe in God, things are going to work for you because in this battle we are just passing and there is a God fighting for us."
Interviewed by: Sophia Drobnick