Mom vs. the Coyotes

I recently took a trip to Phoenix, Ariz., with my mother, to get my cousin from the coyotes -- bandit-minded dudes who act as hired guides for "illegals" trying to cross the dangerous U.S.-Mexican border.

My cousin had traveled from Colombia, our home country, to Mexico in a hard, three-year journey. In Mexico he got caught and was put in a makeshift jail, but he broke free. He continued across the border with the help of coyotes.

Coyotes are known to be malicious and have jacked people in different ways -- collecting additional crossing fees, leaving people lost in the desert, holding people for ransom, even raping and killing them. We didn't know what to expect.

Once we reached Arizona, we were surrounded by sharply cut hills and mountains. Thinly spread Saguaro cactus trees looked like tall people dancing with their arms flared out.

In Phoenix, my mom called the coyote to set up a meeting place. She knew it had to be at a place with plenty of foot-traffic. Burger King wasn't going to cut it, so we kept driving until we found a Mexican supermarket. We felt comfortable because it looked and felt like my neighborhood in Eastside San Jose.

My mom made the call, and a half-hour passed before two rough-looking Mexicans who claimed to be the coyotes pulled up. The driver was light-skinned, face full of acne and ugly. His sidekick had darker, more indigenous features. My mom walked up to the driver-side window when the ugly one told her to follow them to some unknown destination. She calmly rejected the plan.

The driver said something about the destination not being far, and the car not having a valid license plate. But Mom was going to play this game on her terms, and that supermarket parking lot was the best she could do.

The coyotes made frustrated faces and sped off.

My mom said to me in Spanish -- we talk to each other only in Spanish -- "You see mijo, I told you they would try to make us go with them, and now they're making us wait. They want to take us where no one can see -- to their lair, so they can put fear into us. That's how they work. I know that coyotes are dangerous, and that I should be nervous or afraid, but I'm not." I could see the truth in her face as she raised her hands to show that nothing was wrong. I felt strong through her, and knew we would be ready when the coyote's returned.

They came back shortly and parked in reverse, so that they were facing us. We walked to them. The driver asked my mom if she recognized the guy getting out from the back. It was my cousin. His clothes were wrinkled, but he looked OK. We learned later that he had been held for three days with many others, cooped up in a small hotel room. They all had been warned not to run. In the car on the way to the parking lot, in addition to the two original coyotes, my cousin had one man on each side of him, in case he tried to jump out.

They were essentially holding him for ransom and were demanding $2,000. My mom handed the driver some cash wrapped in white paper and told me and my cousin to go back to our car. She slowly distanced herself from the coyotes. A second passed, and the coyotes quickly pulled up next us, the two of them hanging out the doors in a menacing manner, their faces saying, "We're gonna get you."

The same ugly-driver said loudly, "This is only $1,500, I told you $2,000!"

My mother became a woman warrior. "It costs $2,000 to take him to San Jose, not Phoenix," she said. "I drove 12 hours and I'm giving you $1,500." The coyote snapped back, "But he knows its $2,000!"

With a tongue-lash she proclaimed, "I'm not giving you any more!"

Half-defeated, the coyote took a last snap. "We'll write down your license plate number." They were still hanging out the car doors, sneering.

Delivering the final blow, my mother said, "Go ahead and write it down. What can you do? I'm not giving you any more money!" The coyotes ran away, looking back with empty threats in their eyes.

In a Latino-Machismo world, my mother led me, a young man, to Phoenix, where she tamed four bad coyotes -- so-called men -- and saved my cousin, another young man.

Miguel Gonzalez, 24, writes for Silicon Valley De-Bug (


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