Thursday, July 13, 2006

William Mendez

The first time William Mendez saw snow was when he stepped out of the airport in Montreal, Canada into a blizzard. This was his first and only time to sneak into the US, mojado (wet, aka illegal...think "wetback"). Although this was more like sneaking in helado (icy).

The coyote had arranged everything for this group of men from Aguabuena, Costa Rica. They were all friends, brothers, fathers, sons. They were to fly to Montreal, claim refugee status, get their bags from baggage claim, walk outside, and the coyote would be there waiting for them with a van.

This group of Costa Rican refugees had a plan to obtain refugee status. They were all going to claim that they were homosexuals being persecuted in the homophobic atmosphere of Costa Rica. (If the thought of "Costa Rican refugees" hasnt already struck a strange note in your mind, it should be known that Costa Rica is probably the most socially liberal countries of all of Latin America.) No one remembers whose idea this was exactly. Now most of them are back here, the coyote owns a bar and sometimes the refugees all meet to reminisce. William was the only one who didnt want to claim his false sexuality. He claimed that he had many enemies in Costa Rica who were out to get him. They were all granted refugee status in Canada.

They all came out of the airport with papers in their hands and waited for the pickup. They were dropped off an hour walk from the border. They crossed in the middle of the night, through a blizzard, not knowing how to walk on snow (or that it was even possible). They walked for 2-3 hours across the border and into New York. Magically, there was a bus the coyote had arranged waiting for them in the middle of nowhere. They drove all day to New Jersey.

William´s son is still in New Jersey. He works as a landscaper. He has a wife and two kids. He loves the US. He has been there for over 5 years now, so he is awaiting the new law that he hopes will give him amnesty. William worked for 9 months mostly at a car wash during the summer. William is back here in Aguabuena. He still wears his tee-shirt from the New Jersey (pronounced New Yersee)car wash. I asked him if he was scared when he crossed the border in the blizzard. He said he had never been so scared in his life, but he was with friends and his son. He complains that New Yersee is too cold in the winter and then too hot in the summer. He had never felt a climate that hot, not even in the low lands of Costa Rica.

I want to tell his story because I think it is appropriate right now. When I was home last month, I got in an argument with one of my best friends about immigration and the new laws, walls, and prisons. My friend told me that foreigners need to respect the laws we have. I know all the arguments about the immigrants who have tons of babies, eat up wellfare, dont pay taxes, and steal our jobs. But living in Costa Rica, I see that there are no jobs here. The people here watch Hollywood movies and North American TV shows. They are innundated with "American" culture. There is not one person in this town that does not think about going to the US to work, for many it is their only dream.

I think that considering the history of the US involvement in Latin American politics and economics, we are responsible for the dreams we invoke in these people. Everyday I talk with teenagers here, and try to convince them not to go to the US. But how can I convince them that their dream is not what it seems? I have the privilege to travel and see the world, why shouldnt they? Yesterday I was talking to my neighbor and good friend Harold, he looked at me strait in the eye and asked "if you were me, would you go??". I though about it for a while. I had to say yes.

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