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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

The Fabens Bridge to America

He died several years ago. His bald head and bushy brown eyebrows, only slightly hidden by the thin frames of his reading glasses, masked what we would never discuss. He hated wearing them and only did so when he needed to. The spoonfuls of chicken noodle soup would leave drips on his chin as he talked. He carelessly folded the napkin between his fingers, holding it tightly as he wiped away cracker crumbs ever so swiftly. We rarely, if ever, talked about family back home. 

Born in New York, I grew up far from my biological border town roots of El Paso. After returning from the Vietnam War in the 1970s, he fled El Paso, searching for opportunity through education, work, and, ultimately, the unconnected nomadic life I live today. Taking one last spoonful of soup, he said, “You are part Aztec.” I somehow always knew I was a native. I have always been attracted to Kachina figurines, arrowhead necklaces, dreamcatchers, and Kokopelli art. Yet, I never knew I was Aztec. This was the last thing I remember him telling me. I did not understand this would be the last. My family is a mystery because I speak a language I do not talk about living in places I do not know.

During a trip to El Paso, I stumbled upon a piece of paper tucked away in my aunt's house. Little did I know, it held a glimpse into my mother's past—a past I've gradually become more acquainted with.


Jose de la Luz Olivas and Cruz Estrada migrated to Tornillo, Texas (USA) from Sausillo, Chihuahua (Mexico) during the Mexican Revolutionary War. Jose worked as a farmer, while Cruz dedicated herself to homemaking. According to their daughter, Mona, Jose was described as very strict, short in stature, and dark-skinned. At the same time, her mother, Cruz, was tall, attractive, light-skinned, and regarded as a saintly figure. Despite her physical resemblance to her father, Mona always felt a solid connection to her mother.

Mona's family included several siblings, among whom her eldest brother and his wife remained in Mexico and raised a family. One of their children entered a convent but later left to marry. Settling in Fabens, Texas, she had nine children, tragically losing one to electrocution during a storm and another who disappeared under mysterious circumstances during the Mexican Revolution while tending sheep in the mountains, believed to have been killed by soldiers. Mona vividly recalled witnessing the grim sight of a man's body hanging from a tree in the town center as she walked to school with her older brother. This experience eventually led her to cease attending school during her second-grade year due to safety concerns.

Tragedy struck again when a third brother perished in a car accident while the family was traveling in Fabens, leaving behind only his infant son as the sole survivor. This baby boy, born just a few months earlier, would eventually reunite the family through migration.


Mona's story is both gripping and intricate. Following their brothers' migration to the United States for farm work, Mona's father, Jose, decided to join them. He sold the family's farm animals to cover the moving expenses. He entrusted Mona, then just ten years old, with the money collected from the sales. Jose believed Mona would be less likely to be targeted by robbers if they encountered any during their journey. Traveling in a horse-drawn wagon, they crossed into the U.S. via the Fabens Bridge.

Armed with a letter of reference attesting to his work ethic and integrity, Jose secured a job. He settled in Tornillo, Texas, eventually rising to the position of farm supervisor. Despite the family's newfound stability in the U.S., tragedy struck again when Jess, a brother, was orphaned due to a car accident that claimed the lives of both his parents. Miraculously, Jess survived with only a broken limb, and Jose took him under his wing, raising him alongside Mona in America.

Approximately a decade later, after the passing of his wife, Cruz, from a fatal case of pneumonia at age 63, Jose made the difficult decision to return to Mexico. He brought Jess, leaving Mona and her remaining brothers in the United States. Sadly, news soon reached Mona that her father had passed away from a heart attack in Mexico. Her mother was laid to rest in an American cemetery. At the same time, her father found his final resting place in a Mexican cemetery. Tragically, Mona was unable to attend her father's funeral due to her lack of proper immigration documentation.

After Jose's passing, Jess felt displaced in Mexico and decided to return to the United States. At the age of sixteen, he relocated to Arizona. Still, he remained connected with Mona and their U.S. family, maintaining a solid bond until his demise.

Mona, on the other hand, married Pie. Pie, a tall man of around six feet, hailed from Villahumada, Mexico, where he endured early loss and familial upheaval. Raised by a niece after his mother's death, Pie faced transient circumstances until he ventured to the United States in search of opportunity.

Starting work at thirteen, Pie navigated various jobs between the United States and Mexico before realizing his future lay in America. One season, while laboring on a Fabens farm, he fell gravely ill, prompting the farm owners to provide care and nurse him back to health. On this farm, he encountered Mona, who operated a small restaurant catering to the farmhands. Amidst the trials of her failed marriage, Mona strove to support herself and her son, finding solace in her culinary venture.

Pie frequented Mona's eatery and, over time, developed a deep affection for her. Their love blossomed, culminating in marriage, with Pie assuming a paternal role in caring for Mona's son. Together, they welcomed three daughters into the world, eventually starting their own families.

Decades later, I entered the family narrative as the grandchild of resilient Mexican immigrants, their enduring love story a testament to the transformative power of perseverance and companionship amidst life's trials.

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