I had the rare opportunity to sit with a couple from Honduras, along with their two little children and a friend who translated, to hear their story about coming to Los Estados Unidos. It’s rare because many families prefer not to speak openly and share their journey, it’s too risky for them.
Mateo and Sofia (not their real names) have begun the process of obtaining refugee status for themselves and their two little ones, Lucia (5 years old) and Ernesto (4), and therefore, in theory, can’t be deported as long as the process continues. But no one wants to take any chances. This family was already split once, and they can’t take the chance of being split up again.
I taped our 75-minute conversation, transcribed the interview, and will summarize it below. Their journey was a long one and I won’t finish it in this post; call this a series of 2-3 posts called Coming to America, part of my campaign to raise monies for camp for immigrant children. We are trying to enroll 9 children in a summer camp which offers transportation to and from home, pool, arts & crafts, performing arts, and other activities designed to boost confidence and self-esteem.
Jimena explained to me that summer school programs are available for children with significant language and school challenges, but the nine children we are raising money for are doing relatively well academically, and for that reason, ironically, are not offered anything. They are: Larry, Milton, and Rooney, all Grade 1, and Jasmin, James, Ashley, Yoreli, Evelyn, and Milaidy from Grade 2.
Meantime, their parents labor in local farms from early morning to evening and plead, in their gentle, humble way, for care for their children while they work.
The cost, I believe, is reasonable, but not affordable for them. The camp charges $625 per child for 3 weeks starting early July (a little over $40 per child per day), including all the above plus lunch, and $1250 for 6 weeks. For 9 children, that totals $5,625 for 3 weeks and $11,250 for the 6 weeks. I’ve already told Jimena that I’m reasonably confident we’ll get the amount for 3 weeks, but not at all sure we’ll get the amount for 6 weeks, which is substantial. But from Bernie I learned to never say die, go after what you need, and then work with what you get.
Not one of these families has had it easy, and I thought to profile one family to give a sense of what they endure. This family has already applied for refugee status. They didn’t make it here to get rich or to have an easier life; they came because, if they didn’t, they’d be dead.
Mateo, Sofia, Lucia and Ernesto arrived from Honduras about a year ago. The children were 4 and 3, respectively, and Mateo and Sofia were selling Avon products and used clothing as a small business. Gangs had begun to proliferate around their town.
One day, Mateo was returning home onboard his motorcycle when he was stopped by drunk gang members who asked him for money for beer. He told me that he actually knew them, that they’d gone to school together. He didn’t have money to give them. They grabbed him by the collar, knocked him off the bike, punched him in the face and knocked him out. He woke up in the hospital and had to pay for the care they supplied (he still has small scars under his eyes from that encounter).
This had happened to many others, but never to them. He knew better than to report this to the police, but the gang demanded money, of which he had none to give, and one morning he woke up to find his motorcycle gone. He looked for it and found it smashed against a riverbank, completely totaled. Now he had no way to continue their small business.
They sent him word that they would kill him and his family if he didn’t pay up. At that time his close friend, a young man whom he grew up with and who became a pastor, and who resisted the gangs, was murdered. Mateo showed me a photo of a very young, earnest man whom he had loved very much, and wept as he described what had happened to him.
The gang relayed to him that he and his family were next, including the little ones. “They’re watching you very carefully,” a friend told him, and finally sent him word that he wouldn’t survive the night.
They left their home that very evening with the two children and very little else to stay in Sofia’s mother’s home, where they debated what to do. They went on to his own mother’s home, but that wasn’t far enough, and everyone agreed that the entire family had to leave. Sofia’s father had worked in Chiapas, Mexico, and still had a small, empty apartment there. The very next day they took the bus for the long ride from Honduras to southern Mexico.
Mateo made it very clear that they had never intended to come here. He had worked hard to start a business to support his family. Both their parents and the rest of the family were in Honduras, all very close, there were no dreams of going up north to strike it rich. They left because the choice they faced was start a long, dangerous trek up north or be killed, every one of them.
On Wednesday I’ll write more about Chiapas, Monterey, and the border. The photo above shows Mateo and Lucia resting on the desert floor across the Texas border, Please support this family and the others who need care for their little ones while the parents work very hard.