The first time I saw Antonio was by the yellow glow of my Maglite, as he and the others darted up the riverbank into the shadows of Anzalduas Park, eyes wild, soaked to the bone. “¡La Migra!” they yelled, “¡La Migra!” It was total chaos, teenagers hurdling picnic benches, men hiding behind garbage barrels and stage-whispering commands in Nahuatl or Maya, young madres pulling up the rear, their little ones wailing. There must’ve been forty or fifty of them. Not six months ago, that was a fair-sized group, though these days it was on the small side. It’d been like this every night for weeks. Everybody knew we didn’t have the manpower or facilities to deal with this kind of influx, but what choice did we have?
Still, we had them rounded up in nothing flat. They didn’t put up much of a fight—though I kept hearing this strange, rhythmic snapping. Where was it coming from? Besides that, it was all pretty textbook. Of course, Junior had to prod a mother and her two kids out of the snake-infested marsh at gunpoint, but it was for their own good. He was shouting in Spanish so Texas-twangy, nobody could understand it, not even the other agents. I couldn’t make out his face, but I was sure his eyes were bright. He really loved this job.
We corralled them in the amber glow of the parking lot lights, zip-tied their hands behind them (though the snapping persisted), then took their names and ages, one by one. It was always an arduous process. Most of them wouldn’t look you in the eye. Some of them spoke almost no Spanish, while others faked it. It was hard to blame them, given the sacrifices they’d probably made, but we had a job to do.
Antonio was different. When I asked him his name and date of birth, he looked me square in the eye, gave me a dashing smile, and said:
“Antonio Hernandez Rosás. Sixteen years of age. Call me Tony.”
His English was perfect, with almost no trace of an accent.
“When were you born, Antonio?”
“I will gladly tell you,” he said, “but first, please enlighten me. With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”
“Agent Gonzalez, United State Border Patrol,” I said. “Date of birth, please.”
“Gonzalez, Gonzalez.” He pretended to ponder, oblivious to the flashlight I was shining in his eyes. “You have family in Monterrey, México, ¿verdad?”
Chief Gonzalez (also known as José, my big brother) must’ve pricked up his ears. “Quit jawing, María, and get his information.”
Antonio gave me that practiced, debonair smile again. “So your name is María,” he said. “Encantado, señora.”
“Señorita,” I hissed.
“Forgive me, María.”
“No,” I said, “right here. Mission, Texas, born and bred.”
“I’m sure we’re cousins.”
“Doubtful,” I said. “Now tell me, Antonio Hernandez Rosás: When were you born?”
“El 4 de agosto de 1998.”
I ran the flashlight over his chiseled jaw, studied the way his wet Houston Astros t-shirt clung to his shoulders and pecs. “If you say so,” I said, then scribbled the date down in my notebook.
We tallied and tallied again, then loaded them up. Apparently, Antonio was in the van I was driving because the whole way back to the station I could hear him singing:
María! I just met a girl named María!
And suddenly that name
will never be the same