Dare to dream is what I remember about José and María. It’s is something I haven’t done in awhile. It’s been decades since I crossed paths with them while a seminary student. Where are they now?
I have no idea, but I remember José and María as individuals with courage and determination. I hadn’t met people like them before – persons willing to risk it all for their dreams – to dare to dream.
Ride to Church
I met José while working at a nearby Hispanic church near Fort Knox, Kentucky. The church composed mainly of soldiers and their families from the nearby U.S. Army base. Many of these soldiers were from Central America on a government program to obtain their U.S. Citizenship in exchange for military service. I gave José a ride to church every Sunday. He spoke very little English, so I had to communicate via my not so good Spanish.
At first I thought José was a shy sort. He talked very little but when I discovered that we both liked music, he seemed less shy and talked more about his family.
We got along. Since we both liked music, he would play his guitar and sing soulful songs, and I would listen – then I would do the same. I believe he thought I understood him more that I did, but it didn’t matter. We made the best of it.
A few times I would just sit and listen to him talk about his life over a coffee. He would ramble and I would listen. Although my Spanish wasn’t very good, I always got the main idea. Just looking at his face while he spoke conveyed a lot information and emotion. A bit of sadness would come over his weathered face when he spoke about home. I understood that.
I learned that José worked as a handy man for a local family. He had a family of eight children with a wife that lived in the state of Sonora, Mexico. Apparently he was the “bread winner” in the family and he dutifully sent cash back via Western Union every month.
José hadn’t seen his family in seven years and had been living and working in the U.S. for the last twelve years. He had saved some money and was hoping to work a few more years to save more before returning to his family and home.
You see José couldn’t risk going home because he was afraid that he couldn’t return to the U.S. and thus lose his source of income. Confusion over the immigration laws caused many like José to find themselves in limbo.
Unfortunately, not much has changed since then. Today, most in the U.S. would agree that comprehensive immigration reform is needed, but alas the current political reality prevents this progress.
I don’t know if José is still living. He wasn’t a young man at the time. I don’t think I fully realized his situation, but I knew that he wanted to return to Mexico from his exile. I hope his family is doing well.
Coffee Shop Poster
María had a different story of exile.
One morning I saw a flyer posted in a coffee shop about a meeting regarding refugees from El Salvador. They were seeking asylum in the U.S. from their government.
A local Catholic Church held a meeting for the “asylum seekers” or refugees from El Salvador where they found housing and support. María was the speaker that evening, telling her story of student protest, arrest, and torture by the authorities.
At that time, El Salvador was embroiled in a civil war (1979-1992). The U.S. Government funded “guerillas” to fight “communists” in El Salvador, but mostly Nicaragua. The “Iran Contra” scandal surfaced during the Reagan administration because the government used clandestine means in an attempt to overthrow the “Sandinista” regime in Nicaragua. What an insane time.
María, in her late twenties, found her way to the States and now was appealing to the U.S. government for political asylum. She expected to “disappear” if she remained in El Salvador.
I was both horrified and intrigued listening to Maria’s story. Since I did not know much about that country and wanted to know more, I brought her to my Sunday school class to tell her story. I was a bit shocked to find that her story fell on deaf ears. It was if I had brought a leper into the room. I passed the hat for a few bucks for her defense and added a few bucks of my own (poor student) to the collection.
That was the beginning of the end for me on how I viewed the world. Things became grayer. I didn’t see María after that Sunday. Could I prove she was telling the truth? No, but I believed her.
Of course now, because of the Freedom of Information Act, we know more about the political mess in El Salvador and Nicaragua at that time. Suffice it to say, it was not a shining moment for the U.S. Government. It seems that even today we haven’t learned much from our history.
Today’s media churn out stories like José and María almost as if it’s normal. It’s not. Perhaps the internet is a desensitizing tool with stories of “that family” I refuse to name next to stories of horrendous human atrocities. It’s a cynical view. On the other hand, some folks just don’t want know about it or completely dismiss it.
People Dying to Leave Home
European governments have estimated that several hundred immigrants from Africa and the Middle East are drowning in the Mediterranean Sea each month from makeshift boats and rafts. The Italian, French, Spanish, and Maltan governments are picking men, women, and children out of the water weekly. Apparently, rescue efforts will decrease soon for lack of funding.
The U.S.A. has a similar but larger challenge. Many folks have entered the U.S. through mulitiple means, including Latinos or Hispanics. For instance, since Cuba has changed its visa laws, more Cubans are arriving in the U.S. by plane, although some still come on makeshift boats and rafts. Cubans are unique to the U.S. immigration system, since all who manage to arrive in the States are considered political refugees and thus are allowed to stay.
Of course, Mexicans, Central Americans, and others are not so lucky. It’s a different matter with thousands trying to cross the southern border of the U.S. Many without proper documentation are detained for deportation while others may die from exposure or murder near the border with Mexico. Apparently, the “coyote” system has become very lucrative for both drug related organizations and others.
The tragic death of a 15 year old boy, Gilberto Francisco Ramos Juarez, has become a huge symbol of the immigration problem. He was from a rural village in northern Guatemala. Gilberto died near the border from exposure. His parents had scraped together $2500 and borrowed another $2500 to pay a “coyote” to get him across the Mexican border to the U.S.
The last time Gilberto’s parent’s heard his voice was on the phone on the Mexican border asking his father to send the rest of the money for his “coyote.” We wouldn’t have known about him if he had not scratch his brother’s phone number in Chicago on the back of his belt.
Country of Immigrants
I sometimes forget that for all of the government’s faults and dysfunction, the United States of America is a still a good place to live. Yes, there seems to be more craziness now, but the U.S.A. is still the “possibility” that you won’t find in many places around the world, with a few exceptions – and there are some.
But, how else can you explain people from all over Latin America and the world want to come to the U.S. by any means – even sending their children to the border to enter legally or illegally just with the hope of getting some sort of job or to join a relative so that eventually their children can have a “better” future? In reality the results are mixed, but folks keep coming.
How do you explain the huge numbers of visa applications each year from around the world to come and live here? It’s no “cake walk” to enter the U.S.A. legally, unless you’re a multi-millionaire – just ask some recent naturalized folks.
Today many Hispanics arrive in the U.S. with means, you just have to observe the real estate market in California, Florida, New York, and Texas to see the trend. The U.S. is one of the few large countries that the long term trend is toward a younger population, despite the baby boomers. For instance, China, Japan, Russia and others are aging populations.
Here’s a thought. The country we call the United States of America is not its government, nor its politics, nor Wall Street, nor its language, racial or social mix. The country of the U.S.A is the mountains, the coasts, the fields, the rivers, the lakes, the plains, the people, but essentially it’s an idea.
It sounds a bit “hokey,” but the idea that all persons have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – that is a pursuit of living a life worth living filled with a purpose that is beyond themselves is a timeless idea. To live, love, and create. What else is there?
It’s not an exclusive idea – others around the world have similar ideas, but the United States of America was founded upon and has its institutional framework based upon this idea.
The U.S.A. Declaration of Independence contains this idea and lists one of its reasons for independence as the country’s inability to make “laws for naturalization of foreigners.” This item was one of several grievances listed on the Declaration against the English King.
Albeit, the naturalized “foreigners” were limited to European Protestants and a few others, but the intent seems to be a nation of immigrants as its core. Thus, immigration is part of its genetic code.
This is one reason why we are a country of immigrants. Yes, there were other peoples and tribes here before us. Our history is threaded by the brilliance of individuals and groups as well as vicious acts against others and among ourselves. Nevertheless, the United States of America is a country of immigrants and that is its strength and glory.
Yes, we currently live in a self absorbed information age, but history swings like a pendulum. I venture to say that the only thing you can count on is change – it even beats death and taxes. Nothing stays the same at anytime. The “American” idea may morph into a better one, whatever that may be. Until then, it’s a good place to start.
If you have the time, here’s a recent video discussion of U.S. immigration policy. Also, here is a video discussion around the increase of children arriving at the Mexico/U.S. border. C-Span can be one source of information regarding these matters. The panel discussions can be long but with video you can fast forward.
Dare to Dream
Remembering José and María is always instructive – José for his desire to provide for and raise his family in peace and for Maria who wanted a future to become who she desired with the freedom to express herself. They dared to dream and took action.
The Spanish names of José and María translate in English into Joseph and Mary. As the Christmas story goes, they were the earthly parents of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase the Biblical account, they found themselves unwelcomed in an overcrowded city due to Roman tax law which required everyone in the Empire to return to their place of birth to be counted.
Joseph and Mary were just another family arriving late at night with no place to stay except a barn. Yet, that birth story has changed history for the last two thousand plus years for both good and for bad. You never know.
José and María wherever you are – thanks for helping me to remember about courage, determination, and taking action on your dreams. Dreams only die if you quit. As a young Pashtun woman from Pakistan said on a popular media channel, “They only shot a body but they cannot shoot my dreams.”
Hasta la muerte todo es vida. [Until death all is life or where there’s life there’s hope.] Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra from Don Quixote
Music – the international language
Music is one way to celebrate life. If you like the music of Carlos Santana-here’s “Corazón Espinado” with solos by Cindy Blackman Santana on drums and Benny Rietveld on bass.
If Santana is too rock n’ roll for you, here’s Jorge Drexler from Uruguay: