Like most of their neighbors, José and Maria Elena Monte Albán were migrant workers, who left their humble home in 1980 for the hope of a better future in the United States. They had no formal education but José and Maria Elena read their Bible with devotion. Between the two, they had read it hundreds of times over and could recite it by memory. The faithful couple traveled by bus from Guadalajara, Jalisco to Nogales, Mexico on a journey that was as long as it was treacherous, covering a distance of some 1700 kilometers. They paid for the bus-fare with what little they had, and took their few, precious possessions with them, knowing that they would never return to their home. They exchanged farewells with their family members and promised to write when they arrived.
The three day trip would span Mexico on the Pan American Highway. They had only ever dreamed of such a trip and now they were aboard a bus destined towards a new life. José called it their Canaan. At the end of the first day of travel, the bus stopped in a little town for the night. The driver needed his sleep. He assured everyone that they would make good time the next day. The passengers were more than happy to partake in the unexpected detour because the bus was hot, steamy, with no air-conditioner, or working bathroom. There had been moments when the occupants had wondered if the bus would even make it out of Guadalajara let alone reach the border, but José and Maria Elena’s prayers willed the overcrowded bus along the journey, flat-tire after flat-tire, frequent overheating pit-stops.
José and Maria Elena paid for a small room for the night at a small inn down the street from the bus station and went to sleep. They were hungry but since they did not know the town, they were a little weary of wandering off in the dark. They had been warned by all of their family and friends that the trip was dangerous and that there were bandidos in the roadways, who lurked for unsuspecting country-folk. After several hours of sleep, José was awoken by a crashing sound that came from out in the hallway. No sooner had he opened the door, than three men rushed into the room and knocked him unconscious. What followed was a horrific rape and beating for Maria Elena. The three men ravaged her repeatedly through the night. Sometimes taking turns and sometimes not, she endured the horror without a scream as they held a gun to her husband’s temple. She prayed that he would not wake up. Mercifully he did not.
The morning came and José regained his consciousness. The men disappeared into the night as quickly as they had come. Maria Elena managed to cover José’s head wounds with strips of a night gown that she had brought with her. The gown’s remnants, now covered in tacky, rusted blood, lay balled near the foot of the bed. He muttered her name and asked what had happened but she reminded him that their bus was going to leave soon. Her tears burned down the corner of her eyes as they salted her still fresh wounds. She told José everything that had happened how the men had knocked him down and beat him. How they had turned on her and demanded money. She had resisted and they beat her for it. Finally she had no choice but to give them the money. She was sorry that she had lost the money and that they would have to continue their trip without it. José cried but did not ask anything else.
The two boarded the bus, a bit disheveled, but still clinging to their Bible, as desperately as they clung to hope. “Dios esta con nosotros” they prayed from Psalm 23. Maria Elena looked around the bus and made fleeting eye contact with several women, kindred spirits, who’d endured the previous night’s suffering. She prayed that much harder. The couple arrived in Nogales the next day and prepared for the crossing. They sat with some of the other passengers in a vacant warehouse in the center of town. A day passed before their coyote, came to guide them through the next leg of their journey.
What followed was a two week, forty-mile trek through arduous, arid desert terrain where scorpions scurried underfoot, and where rattlers coiled tensely beneath underbrush waiting for a careless passerby. José and Maria Elena tried their best to keep up with their party but faltered due to their wounds. The couple was abandoned by their guide and their group soon gave up trying to encourage them. They were left behind, but not alone, for they knew that God was with them. Their faith carried their battered, crippled, dry bodies forward. They would reach the promise land, they knew it. After enduring several infernal days and bone chilling nights in the great vastness of the desert, they stumbled upon a ranch-house. The weary, wayworn, wandering pair fell on the front door steps of a rickety home barely able to muster the strength to knock.
The woman of the house helped them in and gave them food and water. She was an angel of God, Maria Elena assured her. The two were welcomed to stay until they were strong enough to continue their journey. A week went by and the widow confided in the couple that she was not long for this world and that she would be more than happy to make this her last good deed before she met her maker. She handed José the keys to her late husband’s pickup truck. It had been filled-up and tuned-up the year before, the day her husband passed. They thanked the saintly widow for her generosity and climbed aboard the pickup which started right up. Where would they go?
Maria Elena answered the question, “Dios dirá!”
She opened the glove compartment and found a map. California, Los Angeles. That is where God wanted them to go. José followed Maria Elena’s directions, which God had chosen for them, and the couple found their way through the desert, to the City of Angels. Eight and a half months later, Emmanuel was born. José knew that they had been blessed with their only child, a boy, to carry on his name. God was with them even through their darkest moment. José and Maria Elena would see this gift from God grow-up to be a brilliant young doctor, a scientist, a prince among men. So when he informed them that he wanted to study the origins of life, the two smiled at him and told him how he came into being.
“La vida no se entiende. Lo unico que uno puede hacer, es horar a Dios para que le de la sabiduria para hacer sus obras.” José and Maria Elena assured him that life was not to be understood. The only thing that a person could do was pray to God to give him the wisdom to do God’s work. Dr. Monte Albán would come to understand the lesson that his parents had learned so many years prior, that in his darkest hours, when all seemed lost, God had already worked a solution, a gift to the world.
© J. Manuel Writes