I kept badgering her, Armando said of his mother. She told me, Shut up. . . . They took him.
Immigration agents had arrived that morning after Armando had left for school. They asked for another man, but they had a warrant and decided to look around. They found Armandos father asleep upstairs. They woke him and asked whether he could prove that he lived in the country legally.
Months later, Armandos mother moved back to Mexico, voluntarily, taking the other six kids with her.
In Mexico, the family lives in a converted garage, the kitchen separated from the carport by a blue tarp. Its a big change from the three-bedroom duplex they had rented in Charlotte near Eastland Mall. The girls sleep together on bunk beds. Little Juan sleeps with his father, while his mother works the night shift caring for an older woman.
Eating pizza one recent night, as rain poured in through a large hole in the ceiling, the children spoke nostalgically about Charlotte, especially Concord Mills mall, where theyd often spent weekends going to movies they havent seen any since they moved to Mexico meeting friends in the food court or just looking at the stores.
I liked Claires. They have bracelets, Leslie said, looking at the purple bands around her wrist.
Everything is different, Maria Elena said. She missed her friends. She missed the schools.
I miss hearing the teachers talking English, she said. I miss people talking English with me. Because here you can barely talk with someone because all of them are Mexican.
I dont want to be in Mexico, she said. I want to be in North Carolina. But thats how life is. Harsh.
In North Carolina, Armando lives with an immigration advocate, sheltered and cared for but alone in many ways.
His mother, Maria Teresa Cruz, remembers how Armando called her a year ago, crying, on the night he graduated from East Mecklenburg High.
I want you to be here, he said. I want to be there.
She told her son how proud she was. How she missed him every day.
Mijo, we cant be there, she recalled. Its impossible. He was crying. Mommy, I miss you. We miss you. Were so proud of you.
Armandos graduation should have been a special moment for the family. His parents wanted him to get the education they didnt. It was a dream for him to graduate from high school and then go to college. They shouldnt have had to share it over the phone, he said.
I think about the things that they told me, he said. And the things I wish I could have told them. Its been three years. Ive missed out on a lot of I love yous, hugs and talks with them. I miss them a lot. I miss them so much. There are days when I try to remember their faces, and sometimes I cant.
Queens University in Charlotte gave Armando a Presidential Scholarship, the schools top merit scholarship. He got straight As this past semester.
His calls home are not typical of an excelling student and his proud parents, however.
They revolve around money, though not for him. Its his mom and dad struggling to make ends meet, who sometimes must choose between putting food on the table or buying shoes for one of the kids.