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Why would someone cross the border illegally? Hear one man's harrowing story.

When your first day in America means hiding from Border Patrol.

Why would someone cross the border illegally? Hear one man's harrowing story.

José Miguel Cáceres is a 20-year-old who left Guatemala earlier this year to seek asylum in the U.S.

Here's the story of his first 24 hours at the border, in his own words.


First we arrived there, Camargo. That's the Mexican border with the United States. We were there in a house for four days.

It was a normal house. There were children and their mom and her husband there. Like a normal family. There were six of us, only men. Three of us who were there were from Guatemala, one Nicaraguan and two Salvadorans. I'm 20 years old. The others were 20, 22, 25, all the way up to 40.

We were eating well and able to wash ourselves and everything during those four days. We had everything we needed. On the fourth day, they decided to get us to cross the river.

We left the house in Camargo at five in the afternoon. They picked us up in a white truck and it was only a five-minute ride to the river. We sat in the back and we were covered. We had to be covered because if the army had seen us, they might have killed us or handed us over to immigration.

Once we got to the riverbank, we got out and started to walk. That's when the famous immigration helicopter showed up, the one from the United States.

The helicopter went around in a circle and then lowered a little when it saw us. From there, we dove down on the ground where there were some hills, and we stayed down there a little while. There were lots of plants and thorns.

Illustrations by Kitty Curran/Upworthy

The people from immigration weren't able to see us. The helicopter rose back up, and then from there, it did another circle. That was when we got up and started to run. We ran toward the riverbank so that they wouldn't see where we were. I imagine that maybe they let us go because it's Mexican territory and they weren't able to come down and arrest us. And it was just six people.

When we were watching the helicopter, we were all nervous, all tense. A few of the guys I was with had already been in the U.S. They knew what would happen, how we would suffer if we were caught before we crossed. It's better that they catch you here in the United States than catch you in Mexico. Because throughout Mexico there's a lot of corruption and the police work together with the drug traffickers.

I was coming to the United States because the gangs were extorting me in my neighborhood in Guatemala.

A group of people wanted me to give them money. I was working at McDonald's and they would show up there and ask for money. They would also call my cell phone and home. There were times when they actually came to my neighborhood.

I paid them 3,000 quetzales once, which is about $400. I was a target because I was working and because my family lived in the United States. When they asked me to pay again, I refused. Then they threatened me. They told me they wanted money and if I didn't give it, they were going to kill me. So I spoke with my parents and they immediately sent to bring me here. This was the best option.

I was thinking a lot about my family, my friends, and my girlfriend and her family in Guatemala during the trip. I knew that wherever I was, they were always there with me and supporting me.

So we started running again after the helicopter left. We ran and then we found ourselves another little piece of a hill. Then from there, our guide explained what we were going to do. And he told us that we were going to walk for 15 minutes, to the right.

“OK, 15 minutes," we told ourselves. But 15 minutes became an hour and a half. We walked a good bit, maybe five miles along the river.

We had two guides. They were Mexican, normal people, young, just like us. There was one who had gotten caught maybe a month before. He had a visa or residency here in the United States. But when they caught him bringing people over, they took it away.

When we reached the point where we would cross the river to the United States, we started to inflate the raft.

We were going to inflate it with a pump they brought, but they lost a piece and they had to go back to look for it. We tried to blow it up ourselves, but it was too big. So better to go back and look for the missing piece.

We stayed there, hidden in the brush until one of them came back with the piece and they started to inflate it. "It's good," they told us.

There was just one raft for everyone, for eight people. We needed a raft because the river is very deep and the current is very strong. And the river has whirlpools inside it. That's why many people aren't able to cross. Because they try to swim, but it's too strong.

At that moment, what we were most afraid of was that someone might fall off the raft and into the river. I can't swim, but they gave us life vests.

On one hand, I felt calm because I was using a raft. But on the other hand, I was nervous because an immigration boat could come at any time. And they could arrest us or something.

The raft seemed safe, but it's not.

If the raft hits a wire or maybe a pointy tree branch, even just once, then it can break. Yes, it can break. Then it would send everyone down into the river. We would sink.

We climbed into the raft. There was a person who was rowing and he started to row. It took maybe five minutes to cross and we arrived on the other side. When we finished crossing, it was already dark.

On the other side of the river, the American side, there were woods.

There were plants, trees, and roots all over. We started to climb up a little hill and then they told us to wait a moment.

We waited for five minutes or so and then they gave us instructions for what to do. They told us, "Look, we're going to walk for 15 minutes, that's it. And then someone will show up who will get us in a pickup. The pickup will be there already, waiting. Just a little further."

The walk wasn't hard because there was a dirt road. I think it was for agricultural workers. There are a lot of agricultural companies there, all sorts of companies. Pickup trucks go by there.

When we started to walk, it was around 9 p.m., so there wasn't any light. The sun was down.

Everyone was silent. The one person who said anything was the guide.

He told us what we had to do. He told us first that he wanted us to stay quiet, that we should walk in a line, and that the last one in the back was going to look to make sure no one was coming from behind. If the last person sees someone coming, then warn him.

He said that if we got in a row and went quickly that everything was going to be OK. And that we were going to be with our families soon. They were almost like professionals. I think they cross two groups each day, one in the morning and the other one in the afternoon. They weren't with us for the whole trip. They just cross people over, that's it.

We walked the 15 minutes. Then a guide told us there was a light, and we threw ourselves down in the woods out of fear.

We were worried that someone would be able to see us and was going to arrest us or something like that. There were more thorns on the ground, but when you're in this situation, you don't remember that there are thorns on the ground. We just threw ourselves down.

But then the light passed and they told us, "No, no. It's gone." We continued walking and we arrived at the place where the pickup was supposed to be. But the pickup still hadn't arrived and the guides were worried. They were afraid, too, because if immigration came, the agents would go for them, too.

After all we had gone through, there was a moment of tension because the pickup wasn't where it should have been. So the guides started to call and call and call. We thought about going back.

We were there for 10 minutes, not a long time. But in 10 minutes, you can think about a lot of things. Then suddenly the pickup arrived. "You need to go to the pickup," he said, "but you should go running." The truck was a red GMC and it already had the doors open for us.

We went running to the pickup and since it was night, no one saw us.

We all got in. From there, the driver turned around and we went to a city called Rio Grande.

The last time I had eaten was in the afternoon, but I wasn't hungry. When this is happening, you don't remember if you're hungry or thirsty. All you want is to get out of the situation.

Luckily, we weren't wet. We only got our feet wet, since when we put the raft in the water, we had to climb up. And it was March, so the weather was good. It was a nice day, not too cold, not too hot. I remember the day, it was March 9.

I wore a black sweatshirt, with jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers. That's it, they wouldn't let you carry more clothes. I wore them for the whole trip, 10 days.

When we arrived in Rio Grande, we were in a house for about 15 minutes.

It was a nice house and there was a family there. They were good people and they asked us if we wanted something to drink, a soda or a beer. They gave us crackers, something small. They asked if we wanted water, purified water.

The house was pretty big. It had more than one level and maybe five or six rooms, with three trucks parked outside. There was a man, his wife, and a little girl. The man was very nice. They spoke English and they barely spoke Spanish. But two of the guys I was with spoke a little English.

And from there, another young man arrived in a truck and told us, "OK, we're going to McAllen." And then he got us from the house and we got in the truck, a Honda CRV.

We traveled to McAllen and he told us that no matter what — even if the police stop us — we should say we don't know him, that we were just hitchhiking.

There were a lot of police on the highway. We passed 10 patrol cars at one point. We thought they were going to stop us, but they had stopped another person. They had just found a shipment of marijuana and we saw the packages. That's probably what made it so easy for us to pass by at that moment.

The driver was relaxed, though. He was from the United States, but he spoke Spanish. He was 29 or 30 and was wearing boots and a big hat.

It was about 20 minutes from where we were to McAllen. He was playing music and everything. He played Spanish rock music. Maná.

From there, they took us to an auto mechanic shop, where there they told us that two of us would go to an apartment with one guy and the other four would go with another guy. So this is where the group separated.

I went with my friend, the other Guatemalan. They were worried that immigration might check on one of the apartments. This way, if they found one group, they wouldn't get all six of us.

They took us to the apartment, my friend and me.

The apartment wasn't so big. It just had two rooms. One was where the person who was coordinating everything lived. The boss of the operation. In the other room, that was for three of us: me, the other Guatemalan, and a Honduran.

When we arrived at the apartment, it was like 11 p.m. The the Honduran gave us clothes to change into because we were dirty. He told us that the next day we could go to the laundromat.

The room had a television with cable, but no decorations. Just a mattress for him, a mattress for us, a television, and nothing else. That was the room. Oh, and a microwave.

He asked if we were hungry. "Yes, of course," we told him. Then he went to get us food from a restaurant.

We had tacos with beans, a different type than in Mexico. But at that point, anything would have been good. We were really hungry. We stuffed ourselves.

He came and he pulled out a mattress that he had there. He pulled it out and said, "You can sleep here." Then he gave us two sheets. We ate and talked awhile about the experience we had just had. We spoke about the helicopter and all that, about the walking, because we walked a lot. And we thanked God for getting us across uneventfully.

The Honduran guy had already been here six months. He had been living in the apartment, waiting for the right moment to try to pass through the Border Patrol checkpoint on the way to Houston. They were waiting for a rainy day because immigration doesn't go out much when it rains.

After an hour, at maybe 12 a.m., we said, “OK, we're going to sleep because it's time to rest. We've had a rough day."

The Honduran had his own bed and we had a mattress for the two of us. I laid down on the mattress and gave thanks to God for getting us across safely.

I was thankful because there are many people who don't cross the river.

Many people get left behind in the desert. And there are many people who are caught crossing the river. We were lucky to have gotten this far. And we had already gotten through the hardest part.

And from there, we went to sleep. We slept until 9 a.m. the next day and then had breakfast. After a little while, he told us, "Let's go to the shop." The mechanic's shop was only a few blocks away. They didn't want us to stay there alone in the room with nothing to do.

So we walked to the shop to get a change of scenery.

In the shop, we found ways to pass the time. We got to check on some cars and take a few things apart. I don't normally work on cars, but I was watching. There were three mechanics, so we could go with any of those three. If we had any questions about cars, we could ask them. It helped us pass the time more quickly.

A selfie José Miguel took of himself during his time in McAllen. Photo by José Miguel Cáceres, used with permission.

The boss of the operation — who was supposed to help get us to Houston — he was the head of the shop. He had other people who were going to take us to Houston. The shop was big, but he didn't have his own house, just the apartment. He was American, but his mother and father were Honduran and he was born here.

We stayed there until 4 p.m., more or less. When we walked home, the neighborhood was calm. There wasn't traffic and there weren't any people walking around. The street was nice and quiet and there weren't any problems.

Editor's note

I spoke with José Miguel in July at his family's apartment in Arlington, Virginia, where he told me about his first day in the U.S., as well as what came afterward.

He spent five days at the safe house in McAllen while smugglers waited for the right moment to circumvent a Border Patrol checkpoint on the road to Houston. The attempt failed, however, and he was apprehended with 10 other migrants.

He was detained by federal immigration authorities for nearly four months, with most of the time spent at a detention center in Louisiana, far from his family. He was released on bond in mid-July and currently hopes to receive asylum in the U.S.

This is just one story. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, from Oct. 1, 2014, to July 31, 2015, Border Patrol agents made 270,818 apprehensions on the Southwest border — numbers that are lower than last year, but still significant. Many of these people were fleeing violence, poverty, and persecution. Others hoped to reunite with relatives on the other side.

Share this story and help more people understand the reality at the border.

*This text has been edited for narrative flow, grammar, and clarity.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Cipolla's graph with the benefits and losses that an individual causes to him or herself and causes to others.

Have you ever known someone who was educated, well-spoken and curious, but had a real knack for making terrible decisions and bringing others down with them? These people are perplexing because we're trained to see them as intelligent, but their lives are a total mess.

On the other hand, have you ever met someone who may not have a formal education or be the best with words, but they live wisely and their actions uplift themselves and others?

In 1976, Italian economist Carlo Cipolla wrote a tongue-in-cheek essay called "The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity" that provides a great framework for judging someone's real intelligence. Now, the term "stupid" isn't the most artful way of describing someone who lives unwisely, but in his essay Cipolla uses it in a lighthearted way.

Cipolla explains his theory of intelligence through five basic laws and a matrix that he believes applies to everyone.

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Images courtesy of Mark Storhaug & Kaiya Bates

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The experiences we have at school tend to stay with us throughout our lives. It's an impactful time where small acts of kindness, encouragement, and inspiration go a long way.

Schools, classrooms, and teachers that are welcoming and inclusive support students' development and help set them up for a positive and engaging path in life.

Here are three of our favorite everyday actions that are spreading kindness on campus in a big way:

Image courtesy of Mark Storhaug

1. Pickleball to Get Fifth Graders Moving

Mark Storhaug is a 5th grade teacher at Kingsley Elementary in Los Angeles, who wants to use pickleball to get his students "moving on the playground again after 15 months of being Zombies learning at home."

Pickleball is a paddle ball sport that mixes elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis, where two or four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball over a net. It's as simple as that.

Kingsley Elementary is in a low-income neighborhood where outdoor spaces where kids can move around are minimal. Mark's goal is to get two or three pickleball courts set up in the schoolyard and have kids join in on what's quickly becoming a national craze. Mark hopes that pickleball will promote movement and teamwork for all his students. He aims to take advantage of the 20-minute physical education time allotted each day to introduce the game to his students.

Help Mark get his students outside, exercising, learning to cooperate, and having fun by donating to his GoFundMe.

Image courtesy of Kaiya Bates

2. Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids

According to the WHO around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. In the US, 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness and 1 in 20 experience severe mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Kaiya Bates, who was recently crowned Miss Tri-Cities Outstanding Teen for 2022, is one of those people, and has endured severe anxiety, depression, and selective mutism for most of her life.

Through her GoFundMe, Kaiya aims to use her "knowledge to inspire and help others through their mental health journey and to spread positive and factual awareness."

She's put together regulation kits (that she's used herself) for teachers to use with students who are experiencing stress and anxiety. Each "CALM-ing" kit includes a two-minute timer, fidget toolboxes, storage crates, breathing spheres, art supplies and more.

Kaiya's GoFundMe goal is to send a kit to every teacher in every school in the Pasco School District in Washington where she lives.

To help Kaiya achieve her goal, visit Staying C.A.L.M: Regulation Kits for Kids.

Image courtesy of Julie Tarman

3. Library for a high school heritage Spanish class

Julie Tarman is a high school Spanish teacher in Sacramento, California, who hopes to raise enough money to create a Spanish language class library.

The school is in a low-income area, and although her students come from Spanish-speaking homes, they need help building their fluency, confidence, and vocabulary through reading Spanish language books that will actually interest them.

Julie believes that creating a library that affirms her students' cultural heritage will allow them to discover the joy of reading, learn new things about the world, and be supported in their academic futures.

To support Julie's GoFundMe, visit Library for a high school heritage Spanish class.

Do YOU have an idea for a fundraiser that could make a difference? Upworthy and GoFundMe are celebrating ideas that make the world a better, kinder place. Visit upworthy.com/kindness to join the largest collaboration for human kindness in history and start your own GoFundMe.

'Tis the season to do weird things with pumpkins.

A few years ago, the midwives of the Royal Oldham hospital in England decided to illustrate the horrors of childbirth using the whimsy of Halloween pumpkin art. The maternity ward became a zone of terror, as the "dilation pumpkins" were lined up in ascendant order, matching how the cervix dilates during labor, from a harmless 1cm to a terrifying 10cm.

The first pumpkin looks adorably surprised. Nothing too scary about that, right? Kind of like it just had an unexpected visit from a cute puppy.

Then take a look at that last pumpkin, apparently at the optimum dilation for giving birth, mouth fully agape, with an expression that can't help but convey "OUCH!" No amount of fun googly eyes are gonna make that image less frightening. Yikes.

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Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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