American Soldiers Meant Freedom to Me

Contributor: Twila Bird, TSOS
Photographer: Kristi Burton, TSOS

This is another installment from our partnership with Their Story is Our Story. Back by popular demand, it’s Marta! The more we get to know her, the more amazing her life story becomes...

Marta served for years overseas, including time in Iraq, fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming an American soldier.

Marta served for years overseas, including time in Iraq, fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming an American soldier.

Since I was a little girl in Honduras, I’ve always admired the U.S. military. Where I was born, there was a U.S. military base. We got hit a lot with hurricanes and natural disasters, and American soldiers were the first ones to respond with humanitarian aid. They were heroes to me. I would just stare at them and think, “Wow, what does it feel like to be part of the greatest army in the world?”

Then I got pregnant at the age of 13. And pregnant again at 17. And I was like, “This is not what I want.” I was always looking at the U.S.; for me it meant freedom. And I was like, “I’m leaving.” So, I grabbed my three-year-old daughter and with my six-month-pregnant belly we started for the U.S. My goal was Arizona. I had an older sister there who was a U.S. citizen. It took us about 10 days to get from Honduras to the American border by bus, lots of little buses.

When we came to the border in Nogales, there was a tunnel. They told me to just go in this tunnel, walk a little way, and there’s the U.S. It wasn’t a secret. There were some metal bars. That’s how people got in — they cut the metal bars. They told me I would see holes in the wall and on the third hole, that was the U.S. So, with my daughter, we went through the tunnel. It was really, really dark. I remember it was wet and filthy. Now that I think back, I believe it was like a drain.

When we got to the place where the U.S. was, my daughter climbed up and the man who was helping me pushed me from behind through the hole while I held onto my daughter above and because of my pregnant belly, I was stuck. [Laughing] I was like half in the U.S. and half in Mexico, but I finally made it through. I looked up and there was a MacDonald’s. And that’s when I was caught by border patrol. It was like, “Hello, I’m here!”

When they processed me in Tuscon, they asked me why I wanted to come here, and I said, “I came because I want to join the United States Army.” They thought it was a joke then, when they realized it wasn’t, they told me I’d have to get a green card first, which would take 15–20 years. And they were not kidding. It took many years. I arrived in 1992 and got my green card in July 2008. A month later, I was in basic training in the United States Army. I served for almost 10 years, part of that time in Iraq.

It all went back to my childhood experience. I wanted to be like the American soldiers I saw who arrived and saved the day and represented freedom. To me, Americans were so nice, so giving and compassionate; that’s the idea that I had. And that’s why today I help give humanitarian aid to other Central Americans who are trying to achieve what I have.