Last night's Super Bowl commercial on immigration reminded me of a change in perspective I experienced in Guatemala. I wrote an article that was published in a tiny magazine about my encounter with dozens of kids who’d been caught trying to cross the boarder into the United States. I’m reposting it here, in its unrevised glory, through the eyes of my 21-year-old self:
“Illegal immigration has been an important issue in the United States. It still is. I have my own sentiments about this issue and those sentiments were greatly influenced by an encounter I had with some unique people.
I attended a language school in Guatemala for three months in the beginning of 2007. While there, I made friends with a Guatemalan couple that had an interesting ministry to various places in Guatemala. One of the places they ministered is a house for deported teenagers.
One afternoon, Germon and Karla (my friends) invited me to visit this house with them. I accepted the invitation. On the way, Germon and Karla told me that the house was more like a jail. These kids, some as young as 12 years old, had tried to sneak into the United States. Their efforts failed when they were caught at the boarder or sent back because of child labor laws. When they returned to Guatemala, they were sent to the house. They will stay in the house until their families are able to claim them. Some of them are orphans. They will never be claimed.
We entered the house and were shown to a room full of teenagers seated in plastic chairs. Boys and girls with matted hair and dirty faces stared intently as Germon began to share his testimony.
Germon lived in the Latino community in San Francisco. He was in the States for 4 years, working at construction. He doesn't speak any English. The Latino communities band together so tightly that it makes it possible to live in the United States for many, many years, and never learn English.
You have a dream, Germon said to the kids. You tell your parents you are tired of eating eggs and beans for every meal. Things will be good in the United States. You will be able to make lots of money. You tell your parents to let you go.
I went to the United States, he continued. Things are not good. The conditions are bad. There was one house where lots of people lived. It was hot. They didn't have water, or electricity, or food. While I was there, one person died.
After Germon finished speaking, Karla read the story of the prodigal son from the Bible. I've always heard the prodigal son story applied to a spiritual journey. In the lives of these kids, the story is a reality. After she finished reading, Karla told them, When you go back to your parents you need to say, Mama and Papa, forgive me, forgive me.
Later, I learned that some of the parents of these teenagers went into debt in order to send their child to America. They placed their hope of a better life in the child being able to send money home. Things didn't turn out the way they planned. The child was going home to a family more impoverished than when he left.
I left the house with more questions. I had lived in Guatemala long enough to see that living conditions are hard, jobs are scarce, and progress is virtually unattainable (unless you are in the drug marketing business). What I didn't understand is why so many people seek to enter the US illegally.
In Guatemala, as well as in other countries, the government makes it exceedingly difficult to leave unless you have money. Travel papers are expensive, and require considerable amounts of waiting time before you receive one. So when a persons last hope is crossing the boarder, sometimes he is left with only one option: illegal immigration.
That day I received what Germon calls a vista nueva (a new perspective). Since then, I haven't been able to look at the Mexicans roofing the neighbors house, or the Guatemalans digging ditches, in the same way as before. I'll always wonder: what did they go through to get here? Is it everything they were dreaming it would be?
Would I have had the guts to do the same thing?”
Reposted from Wrecked for the Ordinary, March 2008