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

Saturday, September 29, 2007

"I no longer feel good about this country." - UPDATED

Today I sent a very angry email to Kyle, over at Immigration Orange. I was irate, sputtering curses through the tears that had run down onto my lips as I punched letters to form words that I hoped would arouse a similar rage in him.

It wasn't my intent to ruin anyone's day, just as my father didn't mean to turn me into a hopping-mad, stuttering, sobbing wreck, just by trying to make conversation about something he knew would interest me. It's just that I know people like Pedro Zapeta. And it makes me sick to see years of hard work and sacrifice taken away from him just because he didn't know about, and therefore failed to fill out, a form.

I watch them work long hours for little money, pay much of that money just to cover their meager living expenses here, and send the rest home via Western Union at $11.99 a pop. Pedro Zapeta, however, did not send money home. He saved it up to present it to his family all at once. I can only imagine what he was thinking as he headed to the airport to finally go home: how happy his mother would be to see him, what a hero he was going to be to his sisters once they saw the money that would give them the life they had dreamed of.

Pedro was on his way home, after 11 years of working as a dishwasher here in the U.S., to finally reunite with his family, buy some land, build a house, and live comfortably for a while on the $59,000 he had saved. The $59,000 that was in his duffel bag, which he was about to carry onto a plane that would fly him back to Guatemala. As he went through security, the money caught the attention of an agent, who called customs. But rather than say, "Sir, in order to transport that amount of money, you need to fill out a form," they seized his money. Then, later, after he made a fuss, federal prosecutors told him he could take $10,000 of HIS MONEY, and donations totaling $9,000 made by supporters, if he would shut up and leave already. He opted to hire lawyers and fight instead.

Now, after 2 years now of fighting to get his money returned to him, he has been given a deadline of this coming January, about 3 months from now, to leave this country. Without his money. To return to Guatemala where there are no jobs, and now, no hope for Pedro and his family. When asked what he would do if he didn't get his money back, he replied, "Me voy a matar" (quote from "Lay Off the Guest Worker We Want" by Dan Moffett, Palm Beach Post blog, Nov. 12,2006).

Here's the CNN article:

Read the UPDATE, here!

Monday, September 10, 2007

"The poorest people in the world"

As I sat working this morning, a coworker came over to me and said, "I just found out about the poorest people in the world." He paused, and in an attempt to guess who he was referring to, my mind scanned the world, resting on Central America and Africa.
The seventy year old retiree continued. "My daughter does mission work in Guatemala." This time, my mind envisioned children in the Guatemala City garbage dump, the Maya in the mountains, the poor ladinos in the oriente.

"They live in huts of saplings woven together, with thatched roofs. If they're really well-off, their houses are adobe. They don't have plumbing, they have communal restrooms. They cook on rocks, do their laundry on rocks."
It was clear that he was amazed that people still live this way in our hemisphere.

I told him about being in the laundromat last week with mi amor. There were some friends there, including a woman who's also from Jaime's hometown in Chiquimula. She sat back and laughed at how easy, "qué fácil," it is to wash her clothes in a laundromat. That made me think about how Jaime's mother cried when she received a washing machine from him for her birthday in June.

The shaky home video showed Doña Tina's birthday fiesta, the frail little 55 year old woman (the same age as my 55 year-young mom!) surrounded by her three grown daughters and two of her six sons, weeping as the washer, complete with a huge pink satin bow, was lifted by her equally-frail husband and another man also in a straw cowboy hat, off the pickup truck and onto her porch, accompanied by snapping firecrackers set off in the dusty street. As she held one hand to her heart and with the other, dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief, she thanked her boys working in the U.S.; I heard her say Jaime's name over and over. Her youngest child, he contributed overwhelmingly the most money toward the purchase of the washer, a gift he was sure his mother would love.

To me, the irony of the gift was startling. After a life spent washing her family's laundry by hand in a stone basin, what would she do now with all that spare time? Now that so many of her children are gone, she has far less laundry to wash than she did when they were little, before they left. Were her tears bittersweet? Was she thinking about the awful trade-offs in having luxuries she never imagined possible, at the cost spending each passing year growing older without her sons and grandchildren by her side?

And I could tell, she would give anything, she would trade that new washing machine in a heartbeat, just to have her boys home again.