Friday, February 03, 2006

Heading North

Only 19 years old, Alex is most times a man of few words, sensitive yet stern, attentive and yet entirely oblivious. Around the ladies he grins and flirts, sometimes he even lets loose and throws his arm over their shoulders, wistfully prancing down the path, giddy. Then my guide returns to my side, concerned with how the altitude affects my breathing. He goes ahead and checks the buses to see if there are seats, and he always calls ahead to our destinations to make sure everything is ready. Yesterday in San Marcos at the banquet for the awards ceremony for the JEM, he came over to my table to talk about the lunch because they were going to be serving meat. He advised me to push the chicken aside and just eat the side dishes.

Alex hasn’t seen his brother in four years and his father in six. His little brother has never met his dad and his mother went through cancer and surgery while her husband took odd jobs up north. They—the brother and father—have encouraged Alex to come to North Carolina, saying that they’ll help him get the papers and pay for the passage. He was having trouble of some kind in school last year and was seriously considering leaving when the boys convinced him to stay and be my guide for the year.

Alex’s brother and father, two cousins of Waner, the mother of Angelica, the father of Ever, two uncles of Cristian, and on and on. It seems everyone has been there, is there now, or wants to go there. At the planning meeting in Conlaj, before talking about art they asked about English. Edger told me that it was essential for them to learn English since they all wanted to go north. One boy in the meeting spoke perfect English because he and his family lived in the U.S. for seven years. Ian met a rancher at church who had been there for six months. We both were sitting on a stoop in front of the studio of an artist when a big-bellied man with a coarse voice and perfect English struck up a conversation about his time in Carolina. A man with gold stars in his front teeth approached me in the plaza of Tacaná. He had spent 14 years working in McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken in Florida and Tennessee and in a few months plans on returning.

After hearing Don Feliciano, Cristian’s father, talk at the school assembly about those that go to the U.S. earning money but remaining ignorant, I knew that there was room to express my own thoughts. I nonchalantly expressed my feelings to Alex in regards to him going north and I naively tried to explain that the U.S. can’t solve all problems. He responded, Hay que cuidar a su familia. One must take care of his family. I then tried to steer him away from the idea of working the fields up north by talking about the dangers, mistreatment, and racism, and I told him that studying or trying to find a grant could get him a student visa. He looked at me with wide eyes and didn’t respond, absorbing what I had said and shrugging it off at the same time. I realized that I have no idea what I think. Perhaps my privileges do not allow me make judgments or give advice. The people here, like the decisions they are forced to make, are genuinely complicated, scraping at the door of a global economy that forgot Guatemala was on the map. Then again, they are straightforward and simple. Here there are no jobs, no infrastructure, no money, and hence, no options. Except to head north.


At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Survival is a strong emotion.

You don't have to have all the answers; noone does. As we learn sometimes our thinking changes. This is a good thing.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger gtoz said...

But maybe that is why Art Corp sent you there! If you can help them develop natural native art skills maybe a few will find work at home and not feel like they must flee north to "cuidar a su familia".

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when i get asked about all the money one can earn there, i mention how much things cost.... at least it gives a new perspective to the tierra de oro idea


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