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.

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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

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Heading Home

A few weeks ago, Juan returned home to his family after 2 years working in the United States. He had worked as a day laborer out of a Home Depot parking lot in Arizona, and in restaurants in Tennessee and New York. He showed me pictures of his gorgeous Jaliscan wife, and his two sons all dressed up in matching cowboy boots and hats, both of them under the age of 8. He had come here with hopes of earning a better living, allowing him to better provide for his family. They weren't starving or suffering; he just wanted more for them.

The reason for leaving to finally reunite with his family was simple: "It just isn't worth it," he told me. "I only make a little more money working here than I did working for my family's monument business in Mexico. So I'm going home." He packed up the gifts he had bought - an X-Box 360 for the kids, perfume and jewelry and pretty clothes for his wife - and he left.

This is, of course, good news! This also shows the simple economics involved in either keeping men home where they can be with their families and earn a decent living, or forcing them to look for work in far away places when there is no work at home, or when the work available doesn't pay enough to compete with wages they can earn here. Unfortunately, Juan's situation isn't typical.

An example of the latter option: In Guatemala, twenty year old Julio made 38 Quetzales, or about $5, a day, working long hours outside doing construction. Here, he earns $10 an hour doing the same work for fewer hours, or $60 a day working in a kitchen during the wintertime. The choice for him was simple, because the amount he earns here is, in his mind, almost too good to be true. Mothers allow their sons to leave, fathers encourage their sons to go north and work, because this amount of money makes an enormous difference in their standard of living. The boys leave as heroes, with dreams of returning home in about 5 years driving nice trucks, with money in the bank and cash in their pockets to build a house and provide well for a future wife and children. This begs the question, however: what happens when that money they've earned up north runs out?

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