She has such a beautiful smile; it’s one of those smiles that make her whole face beam happiness when it appears. It’s never forced and she wears it well. We all know people like this; the smile is just a natural part of their appearance. That’s why when I saw her sitting at the table talking with our local Sacerdote (priest), hands cradling her forehead as she looked down speaking softly, it was sorrowful to see. A face that was always a source of an infectious smile was now desperate and worried a source of instant concern. You see, her father has left the family in order to better their lives.
She’s the middle daughter who’s around 16, her older sister is 17 or 18 and the youngest daughter is 13. The family is headed by 2 hardworking, loving and caring parents. They run a local tienda and they farm a Manzana (about ¾ of an acre) of land they use for Maiz, Maisillo y frijoles (corn, livestock feed and beans). They also maintain a productive yard of a few banana trees, a mango tree and a large flock of chickens. This is not a family that sits still waiting for life to get better or get worse; they make way the best they can. The family also attends our local church and the daughters regularly attend bible study with us. They regularly participate as lectors.
The older daughter works as a nanny for a family that live outside of our community, she leaves before 8AM and doesn’t get home till after 5:30PM. The two younger daughters run the store. Their tienda (store) will always hold a special place for me and Dianne because it’s the 1st place we made our presence known in the community outside the church. We’d go there to buy a bag of rice, beans or zanahorias (carrots, no lie, that’s the word for carrots) but it was the process that was fun. Why you ask? Well, we had to try out our espanol on the 2 younger daughters. In my best espanol I’d say, como estan ustedes, quieres arroz y frijoles, puedo tengo un libra de ambos? How are you, do you have rice and beans, may I have a pound of both. That’s when they’d look back at me with a look of utter bewilderment. My Massachusetts accent and terrible pronunciation made my espanol sound like a rare form of Klingon used in only the remotest part of our universe. They would giggle and respond back and we would give them our bewildered look because we didn’t understand a word of what they said and these two gringos now fully understood what immersion in another language meant. The whole communication process broke down into finger pointing, head nods, with interjections of my espanol, their giggles and them finally counting out my money for me because of course I couldn’t understand what sietenta y cinco was (.75 cents). That’s not all either; Dianne and I would now take the walk of shame. As we left the store to walk home we’d hear both girls talking, giggling and full-fledged laughing. I’d look at Dianne and say, “you know that’s about us” and she’d respond “you think” and we’d have our laughing moment. It wasn’t discouraging it was actually lots of fun communicating with these young girls, that I looked forward to (I think they did too) and now it’s no big deal at all. On a final note it wouldn’t have been so much fun if they weren’t so kind and compassionate to Dianne and I as strangers that they didn’t know. They helped us learn the language but we also learned from them the relief of receiving the love of God, the kindness and compassion in a helpless situation that Jesus calls us to give all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Their dad was one of my working campaneros. He was a tireless worker who wielded his corbo (machete) with ease on any task whether we were cutting grass or framing the new greenhouse. He also showed me how to properly clean and sharpen it. At first he didn’t talk much to me but as he saw me using my terrible espanol to talk with the other workers, he soon was looking at me smiling and shaking his head in amusement. I considered that progress. Then it finally happened, he started telling me how to use the corbo with better technique and that this was how you cared for it. I barely understood what he said because he talked with machine gun speed and others had to translate my enspanol to him but we were friends now. He respected my work ethic and he was one of my mentors that I depended on in the campos. He’s also the caring dad who walks his daughters down to the bus when they must go shopping and stays with them till the bus comes, so he knows that part of their trip is safe. When they return he goes down and walks them home. Not all that different from us protective dads in the U.S. It’s touching to see.
The Mom, well as all you Mom’s at home know, she is the glue that holds it all together. She works in the tienda, works in their field, washes the clothes and cooks. The daughters all help but as usual Mom is the anonymous presence that makes everything look easy because she goes from one labor intensive job to another because she loves her family and everything else suffers if she isn’t that tireless worker too. Plus Mom is the one who sometimes gives us extra Papusas’s when we occasionally buy them on Sundays. The girls got their smile from mom tambien (also)
Unbeknownst to that family they are a part of our life. That’s why when we recently returned from a weeklong stay in San Salvador we immediately noticed the father wasn’t around. We didn’t see him working, he wasn’t at the tienda, and his presence was noticeably missing. I finally asked a friend where he was, we were afraid he fell ill.
We found out that he had been thinking for quite some time about emigrating to the U.S. in order to earn substantially higher wages to help his family. In El Salvador as a laborer he can make $4 to $6 per day if he is lucky. He knew that in the United States a laborer with his skill set can make $6 to $10 per hour. I won’t insult you all by doing the math; the financial benefit of this decision is tremendous.
So what do you do when you decide to go to the U.S.? You contact a coyote and pay upwards of $6,000 for passage to the U.S. and you tell no one till you leave. You travel by different modes and if you are lucky you walk into the U.S. 8 days later. If you aren’t lucky it can take anywhere from 15 to 30 days. If things go badly you can be arrested and jailed wherever you are, you get arrested and deported, you injure yourself or get sick and you are abandoned to fend for yourself or you potentially die during the trip for various reasons including untreated injuries/sickness, exposure to the elements or murder. During all this time the immigrant cannot have any phone contact with anyone. The family never hears from the traveler till they reach the U.S. The family must wait and pray that a phone call comes and as I pointed out sometimes you never get the call and the family is left to wonder what happened. In regards to when the father will return home, no sabemos (we don’t know). Getting back is just as dangerous as getting in.
I’m sure some people think they know about this but you don’t know about it, you only know the stereotyped story that labels the immigrant as an illegal. The immigrant story most of you hear is in the sole context that they are a threat to our way of life in the U.S. (that statement screams entitlement of the privileged), they are criminals and a drain on our system (a statement that is very debatable when you look at independent studies of the financial pros and cons) or they are coming to solely live off our welfare system.
None of these apply to my friend and the argument can be made that they don’t apply to the vast majority of illegal immigrants. Our friend knows what he needs to do in order to help his family. He’s being courageous, willing to risk life and limb to get this done. What father presented with the same situation and limited options wouldn’t consider taking the same risks?
A wife is missing her husband, children are missing their doting father and a man must take risks that most of us know nothing about for his love of family. I’ve seen the daughter’s tears caused by the pain of missing their Papi (Daddy). People need to stop believing these lies about immigrants with descriptions that only breed, resentment, hate and fear of our fellow man. Its political rhetoric meant to garner support of some voters by filling them with fear and hate of complete strangers. It’s called scapegoating by creating a narrative about people that’s false but it’s effective because few people know the truth or many deny the truth so they can deny their responsibilities to their fellow man.
We have the same story about one of neighbors who lives behind us. She left her son, husband and mother to work in the U.S. We don't know if she arrived safely or not. It's more than sad to think people must make these sacrifices and take these risks to just improve their family’s lives from miserable poverty to livable poverty. Let me point out nobody is getting rich except for those who traffic our fellow brothers and sisters who are in desperate situations. These stories are quite common.
I had concerns about blogging on this because of it being a political hot button but in reality we are very close to a reasonable reform if our politicians who call themselves Christians remember "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28. If men of political power lived their faith instead of professing it to garner votes, many of our social problems could be reasonably resolved.
Put immigration on a personal level. Look at the families of your closest friends and neighbors and imagine them being torn apart like this. We didn’t imagine it we saw it and we knew what we had to do. We visited them with our Books of Common Prayer and together we all prayed for loved ones, for protection and for travelers. If Dianne and I have learned anything that we can share with you it is this. Don’t believe the narratives of the poor, the immigrants or any strangers that you’ve been fed all these years. These stereotypical descriptions tend to be steeped in hate and fear. Think of our faith and not the stereotypes next time.
1 John 2:9-11
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
Tom & Dianne