As she asked him what he was doing, he could only think one thing: Wow, that was fun!
Soon, other household appliances ended up in pieces. He wanted to take things apart and see how they worked.
When he turned five, he declared, "I want to build robots!"
Nobody in the family was surprised about this—or knew how to help him. His school, in a poor neighborhood in Mexicali, Mexico, was built of wooden shipping pallets. His parents hadn't finished elementary school and had little interest in computers and other machines.
One day, Cristian's father left his job at a vegetable-packing factory and crossed the border to find work in Arizona. The money was better, but he missed his family. Cristian missed his dad, too. While he was gone, he busied himself by building things out of lumber scraps and rusted nails—from helicopters that wouldn't fly to race cars that barely rolled. His father was pretty sure that in Mexicali, Cristian wasn't going to get to learn to build robots. In the United States, he might have a chance.
At five years old, Cristian was driven across the border. He slept through most of the mysterious journey. When he woke up, he was in Yuma, Arizona. His family explained nothing about the illegal crossing. They just kept driving another two hours east until they reached the small town of Stanfield, Arizona, fifty miles south of Phoenix.
With only six hundred people, Stanfield might have seemed like a ghost town. Tumbleweeds blew through vacant lots. There were few homes, and many of them were boarded up. Everything was brown except for the little patches of green farmland in the middle of the wide, empty Sonoran Desert.
Cristian's father and another family had rented an old house with torn-up shutters and holes in the walls. The roof was full of holes, too, but luckily it didn't rain much. There wasn't enough space for both families, and so they all crammed together in three dusty rooms.
Cristian started school that December at Stanfield Elementary. A sign out in front of the brick buildings had a picture of a roadrunner, the school's mascot. It seemed like a welcoming place, but Cristian couldn't speak any English. On his first day, he was seated at a desk among the other students. His teacher chattered away, but Cristian didn't understand a word she said. When the teacher passed out a worksheet, he couldn't make sense of the English instructions. He looked over at a girl sitting beside him, but she said something mean and covered up her work.
At the end of the day, he was supposed to take the school bus home. But when he walked out to find it, he saw a long row of yellow buses. Which one had his mother told him to take? He saw a girl he recognized—he had seen her playing at a neighbor's house—so he followed her onto a bus.
The bus drove and drove. Nothing looked familiar. When the girl got off, Cristian didn't see his house anywhere, so he didn't move. Finally, he fell asleep.
"Kid, wake up," a voice said. Cristian opened his eyes and saw the driver leaning over him. He was the only student left on the bus. It was dark out. He had been on the bus for a long time.
"Where do you live?" the driver asked.
Cristian showed him a slip of paper. His mother had written out the address. The man laughed and said something. Cristian got the gist: "You're on the wrong bus, kid."
Luckily, the man went out of his way to drive him home.
Oscar Vazquez woke up one winter morning to the smell of burning pine and oak. He got out of bed to see a huge fire in the backyard. A big pot of water was boiling up clouds of steam into the early- morning air. He knew this meant his father was going to butcher one of the pigs. In addition to four cows, two horses, a colt, and a mule, the family had three pigs. The sacrifice of one of them meant something big was happening—like a party! Oscar was thrilled.
He was nine years old and lived in Temósachic, Chihuahua, in northern Mexico. It was a town of about a thousand people and two cars. The roads were dirt and the people poor, but they knew how to throw a party. He was sure there would be lots of kids, games, and carnitas tacos, Oscar's favorite.
He went outside just as his father was leading the pig from its pen. He handed the tether to Oscar. "Jala, mijo," his father told him.
Oscar pulled as hard as he could. He'd seen animals killed before, but he'd never been part of it. "Am I going to help butcher it so we can make carnitas?"
"Carnitas? No, mijo, we are going to sell the meat."
"What about the party?" Oscar asked.
"Party? No, there will be none of that, mijo." His father explained that he was going across the border to the United States in search of a better job. Selling the pig to the local butcher would help pay for his journey.