The sun is shining, we hear the sounds of cars and buses inching forward, conversations in Spanglish become more frequent. Holding the soft young hand of my mother we come to a stop.
My three-year-old sister and I look around. In front of us, a modern world. The land of the free, the home of the brave. Behind us, our modest home. Warm, loving, full of music, life and culture. Beneath us, an almost dry Rio Grande.
Border Patrol is stationed at different points along the Juarez-El Paso border.
Our 26-year-old mother pulls us with the line. A few more steps and we are on American ground.
We made this trip often. Living on the border, it is customary to cross over to the neighboring country on the weekends to shop, visit friends, or for work.
However, today was different. We were going to visit dad, who lived and worked in America. My sister and I hugged and kissed our abuelos, tios, and primos before we left. "Take care. Nos vemos!" we told them. In our minds, we'd be back.
Of course we would. We always came back.
We made a long trip. We celebrated my sister's fourth birthday on the road and the next night we were greeted with a huge fireworks show in Charleston, S.C., clueless about what Fourth of July was. Today, we celebrate our freedom along with the birth of these United States of America.
In the weeks, months, and years since, my parents worked hard everyday to make sure we had a good education and most importantly that we were safe.
After we left Ciudad Juarez, the War on Drugs began to intensify — a war heavily influenced by the U.S., a war that has been a failure and left nothing but death and instability.
With no English, we found a way to make this our home. While our parents worked, my sister and I took care of one another. We worked hard in school to learn English and assimilate.
Being in the South has not been easy. I've watched my parents and my community getting taken advantage of by employers, police officers, and some U.S. citizens.
Still, we keep focus of our American Dream. Thousands of miles from our family, we might be, but at least we are safe and have food on the table.
Our family eventually grew by two. My sister and I mastered the English language and earned scholarships to private schools. I went on to get a college education at a Jesuit school in Mobile, Ala.
For us, the American Dream has never died. But, it has never been more at risk than it is now.
We've done nothing but contribute to American society. Yet, the Trump administration wants you to believe that we have done everything wrong. That we have stolen your jobs. That we've committed crimes. I've heard the president label us rapists and call us low-life individuals.
That could not be further from the truth. I contribute hundreds of dollars in taxes every month and get zero in return. I don't have health insurance. I could not apply for federal aid to pursue my higher education. Yet, I'm college educated, work harder to afford medical treatment when needed, and try to help my local community at any opportunity I can.
Now, more than ever, I wonder if I should just give up. I ask myself if it is even worth it to continue to fight for the American Dream.
The answer is always yes.
We've made so many sacrifices over the years to give up now. We made those sacrifices because we believe in America. This administration is creating obstacles, painful obstacles — but we have been through so much, that we can overcome this one too.
What this administration is trying to do is kill the American Dream, for everyone. They are trying to make you believe that you can't achieve yours because we, people of color, are in the way.
But if we, an immigrant family who was forced to flee its home because of U.S. intervention, can make it this far without the government, then you can too.
You need us as much as we need you during this crisis. We are being tempted to turn on each other. I ask you to keep focus. Reach deep down in your heart and focus on what you want your American Dream to be. Don't let this president tell you, you can't.
This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Let's be brave together, so that together we can be free. For the love of our children, for the love of America, for the love of humanity.
As a seven-year-old never did I think we were fleeing danger. Never did I think that I needed those hugs to be extra tight and those kisses a second longer.
Seventeen years later, I still hope that one day I can return to lay flowers on the tombs of my loved ones.
Fernando Soto is a Charleston journalist who runs the Spanish-language local news website RecursosEstatales.com.