La Mariposa en la Pared

The everyday experiences of latino immigrants through the eyes of an outsider. Las vidas típicas de unos inmigrantes latinos a través de los ojos de una forastera.

My Photo
Location: Upstate NY, United States

"To me it’s always interesting when you get accepted somewhere you don’t really belong. It’s interesting when people open up and let you in their world." - Gilles Mingasson

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pistolas y Lagrimas

One night, I drank with a Mexican. We sat at the kitchen table, which was not in the kitchen but in the foyer of an apartment inhabited by his favorite waiter, the waiter's two brothers, one nephew, and a friend. All five guatemaltecos came from the same little town to work in three different restaurants. The Mexican owns one of those restaurants.

The boom box on the table trembled with the sometimes sorrowful, sometimes celebratory, always heartrending gritos of Grupo Montez de Durango. An echoing "Ah ha jai!" from a Guatemalan in the kitchen sent chills up my arms and down my legs. Spent wedges of lime and gritty salt stuck to my elbows as I leaned forward, alternately tipping my Corona and nodding my head sympathetically to the story the Mexican was telling of his recent journey to and from his patria.

He made the 36 hour drive to Degollado, Jalisco, in his big new white truck. It was only a few days after Christmas, and his wife and four year old son were waiting. The trip was an emotional one for him, because his wife and son would be returning to the United States with him this time, and it was hard telling when they would see Jalisco again.

He leaned his chair back on two legs, gazed at the bare light bulb above the table, and spoke of his homecoming with misty eyes. The best part of his story was the way he ended it: After so many hours behind the wheel, he could finally see his hometown shimmering ahead in the dusty, ochre light of early evening. Tears streamed down his face as he pushed the Ram a little faster. He reached into the glovebox, pulled out his thirty-eight, and fired it out the window into the sky as he drove into town - blazing gun, plume of dust, salty tears, and gritos straight from his panza and corazón.

"Mexican men..." he smiled into his beer as he shook his head. He was reading my mind.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Mission Statement

My plan for this blog is to encourage understanding and compassion for the newly arrived latinos among us, whether they came here as fully documented guests of the United States, or secreted across a border, or two or three borders, to live as unobtrusively as possible and work for a better life for themselves and their families.

I don't intend for this blog to be a forum for the discussion of the political aspects of immigration, although I expect there will be people who want to comment regarding illegal immigration. While I welcome all thoughtful comments whether or not they agree with my point of view, I encourage anyone interested in this issue to visit one of the blogs listed in my Links. My intent is not so much to put forth my opinions on the subject as to simply offer the stories of a few individuals and allow you, the reader, to form your own opinions.

My goal is to submit one or two posts a week that simply reflect the daily lives of a group of immigrants I have the priviledge of knowing. I am partly an observer, and partly a participant, in their lives. I hope that by bringing their stories to light, and bringing the huge and often overwhelming issue of immigration down to a personal level, I may encourage greater understanding of this rapidly growing segment of our population.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dinner and a Movie

Last night I took a Guatemalan to dinner. Actually, we went to see a movie, and afterward ate at a Greek diner. The new Tarantino flick was partially in English, partially in Thai with English subtitles. I had decided on that particular film for my friend and me to see because it contained a lot of action, so it would be exciting, and because the storyline seemed like it would be easy to understand, even if the viewer understood little English. The added bonus was that it was by Tarantino, creator of my favorite, and my least favorite, movies of all time.

When we walked into the cinema, his jaw dropped. We were nearly the only people there on a Tuesday night, and our hushed voices echoed throughout the two-story lobby, surrounded by blinking arcade games and pinball machines. As he always does when we go places, he hung back, as I bought our tickets and made chatty small talk with the woman behind the cash register. His crossed arms, held tightly against his chest, belied his self consciousness.

Inside the theater, we had our choice of seats as there were only three other people there. We sat in the center, about a third of the way back. He smiled and remarked ironically on the small size of the enormous screen. I asked if he had been to this cinema before, and he answered no. In fact, this was the first time he had ever been to a movie theater at all. Before the movie had even started, he asked when we could go to the theater again. He enjoyed the movie, and asked when it would be available on DVD.

After the movie, we were both hungry, and I knew of a 24-hour diner nearby, so we went. The place is opulent in a way that reminds me of visiting old people - white leather-like vinyl upholstery, gold gilt and chandeliers. Sparkly lights. The place was totally empty with the exception of the owner, a waitress, and whoever was working in the kitchen. I mentioned to my friend that I had met a guatemalteco at a dance who works here in the kitchen. My friend also works in a kitchen, and after our meal of chicken livers and fried fish, he tidied up the table, carefully stacking the plates and wiping off the table with a napkin. He is considerate in ways only one who has worked in resturants can be.

My friend seldom eats in restaurants, besides the Mexican resturant in which he works. Most places are closed by the time he gets out of work at 10 pm. He has worked in a diner, so he's familiar with diner menus, although he still shyly asks me if I will order for him because he is self-conscious speaking his fledgling English. He is becoming acquainted with American food; I keep my eye on him and gently stop him before he pours tartar sauce on his salad. It looks just like ranch dressing. He sniffs the plastic cup of Italian dressing intended for his salad and raising his eyebrows, takes a guess: "Caldo de pollo?" "No, it's for your salad," I smile back. He shakes his head and lowers his black eyes, "Que vergüenza."

I take for granted all the little tasks involved in going places and doing things in a society I´ve grown up in. He is eager to learn English, but embarrassed to practice it. He wants to experience the United States, but has no idea where to begin. There is always the possibility that he will draw too much attention to himself, get into trouble and get deported.

I love taking him places and watching his confidence grow. One of the first places we ever went was to an outdoor ice cream stand. I had somehow mispronounced "helado," so he didn´t know what to expect until we arrived. He didn´t want to get out of the car and join the line of people. He did finally get out of the car, and we huddled and discussed the myriad flavors in hushed Spanish until I placed our order in bold English.

"Vergüenza" is a word he uses often; it means shame or embarrassment. But every time we go to the mall, to a restaurant or to a park, his arms relax a little more, and he utters the word a little less often.