A perilous journey
Rodriguez was born in Torreon, Mexico, some 375 miles from the U.S. border in Texas, and lived there for the first five years of his life until his mother, Martha Aleman, decided to flee to Dalton with Mario, his two brothers, a cousin and her mother.
She had been separated from her children’s father, Martin Rodriguez, for three years, having left him after what she called mental abuse. But her husband wanted custody of the boys, she said, and ultimately threatened to kill her if she didn’t relinquish custody.
“He would go to the boys’ school,” Aleman said, “and the director from the school called me one day and told me if I didn’t take them and run, my husband was going to take the boys away, because he would come there every day.”
Aleman then decided to take what she knew would be a risky journey even before she reached the U.S., paying “coyotes” — smugglers who help people cross the border illegally — $2,000 for each person on their way to Dalton. The family was robbed along the way (Rodriguez recalled he and his cousin hiding behind a disposed refrigerator in an attempt to get away during the incident) and ultimately separated less than an hour from the border.
Stopped by Mexican authorities, most of the family was caught hiding in the back of a truck. But Rodriguez and his cousin were able to continue the trip because they had been riding in the cab of the truck, which was driven by U.S. citizens who were able to continue the route toward Dalton. The two spent two weeks with family already living in Dalton, with Aleman and the rest eventually crossing the border on foot before making their way to Georgia.
Rodriguez was approaching his sixth birthday at the time. His older brother, Hector, was 8. His younger brother, Martin, was 3. And Aleman believed uprooting her young sons was the only option for her safety and theirs.
She first found work sewing, then later in a factory. She now makes a living cleaning homes and offices, and her sons have often helped her get the work done — that, in fact, was what Mario had been doing the day he was pulled over and taken to jail, skipping school so that he could give his recently hospitalized mother an extra hand.
“He is a very good son,” Aleman said. “He’s smart. He’s responsible. He keeps busy all the time in sports since he was a little boy. When he is younger, sometimes he makes not good decisions. But ... I understand. He is a very, very good son.”