2010 Volume 11 Number 1

 

Contents

Vol. 11 No.1 June 30, 2010

PRIMERO DIOS

Gladys Ilarregui, Editor

It is Saturday afternoon and we are carrying old things to my place in Delaware. He has not been to Delaware before and his first reaction is surprise to see a long line of trees with orange leaves by the side of the road. For the purpose of these comments I will call my fellow travelers MA and F.

MA is a young man from Guatemala. F is even younger and has come from Mexico to work hard washing dishes, cleaning houses, and doing janitorial work. She proudly tells me that she started below the minimum wage but she worked so hard that she got promoted quickly. MA confesses to me that he could never have come to the United States as his life consists of going from one place to the next, in a never ending stream of odd jobs: repairing toilets in a restaurant, helping movers, painting old houses, fixing damaged kitchens. At thirty five, he has three kids abroad and he can only think of their education. Suddenly, he takes a small digital camera out of a bag and shoots through the window of the car: “I have to send these pictures to my kids. I have to tell them about Delaware”. He smiles constantly as if this were indeed a vacation, not the numerous hours of filling boxes with books with strange titles.

As the rain starts, they both help me to carry an old sofa and several boxes of books to the place I occupy in Kirkwood Highway, ten minutes from the university. F is truly beautiful, and when she looks at the distance it is as if she had crossed several ages, including this one in the present, to be who she is: a young married woman working in the worst places to make a living.

She is happy this afternoon as we chat in Spanish and we think of Mexico. After carrying my things, MA proposes we stop at a McDonald’s (the obligatory rendevouz of all immigrant workers) and, at the same time, he greets and waves a hand through the car window to a little “perrito”. He then turns to me and says: “I love puppies. We were so poor in Guatemala, but my little dog was there always waiting for me. A dog is a great companion, I cannot imagine life without a dog, but these days I have hardly time for myself”.

As he is very correct, handles a range of vocabulary that is truly exceptional, and can converse about almost any topic, I enjoy listening to the stories of his family and his poverty. I can go back with him in my mind’s eye to Guatemala, as he suddenly, smiling with his eyes, points at a field of crops and says: “Los maizales! I would be so happy in Delaware! They have plantations!” Then he tells me how he loves being awakened by the rays of the sun (not the alarm clock!), and how wonderful it is to just wake up with the serene rhythm of nature. He cannot, he says, for he is working seven days a week, to make a decent living and send things back to Guatemala. By phone his children are asking for American regalia; they want to have it all!

Any time we talk about his future plans he answers “Primero Dios”, pointing out the radical factor that we recognize in Latin American religious upbringing: You may think you can do this or that, but life will tell, God will decide. On our way back, still in the process of cleaning old things, another immigrant worker greets me with a cheerful expression. We discuss how to do this or that (moving more boxes) and he again says: “Primero Dios”, confessing that he has given testimony of how he entered a fast life, after emigrating to the United States, and then abandoned it for the sake of his wife and his morals. He thinks I need to go to his church and pray with them. He moves his damaged fingers full of dust and paint and tells me: “There is so much power in prayer”, and as he leaves, after telling me the hardships of his own life, he greets another young worker–handsome, very slim--who will finish his work by six thirty pm so that he can go to a ceremony at his church.

In the middle of a few gallons of paint, and a ride to move furniture and boxes, all I have heard about is the sacred nature of life and intentions. At moments, as they converse among themselves, I feel as if I were in a church. And, looking at them, I see that they are exhausted. They have worked non-stop. Their week has been endless, with little rest and fast food meals to avoid delays, as I am one in a chain of small jobs to make their living; trying to deal with the economic crisis and struggling to feed their families here or abroad. No one has complained for a moment, as if life, despite their great sacrifices, were a radiant street to walk with open eyes. In rare moments of respite, as they look through a car window, they reflect on life and families, and on dreams to come, because for them--as for no one else--this is still the American Dream.

As I am taking the editorship (with my colleague América Martínez) of this electronic journal that she helped to found ten years ago, I can only think of the impressive resistance of Latin American workers in this country. I think of their eyes, their skin, and their feet and hands devoted only to work. I think of the money that comes through their tired bodies only to be sent to others overseas. I think of the impressive will to overcome poverty, to tell their children stories of success as they buy new shoes or a T-shirt with a slogan that would be really “hot” in a country among mountains.

I hope, in the most modest and underserved way, that as we speak of Latin America in Academia we keep in mind the scope of our studies and the dimension of our people. Latin America is its people, the resistance, the turbulence of those who could not stay in their homeland because of staggering poverty, or the profound political or social exiles. It is also the time to remember Mercedes Sosa, who passed away at the age of seventy five some months ago in Buenos Aires, after a legacy of political songs that were heard in the midst of the struggle or in the nice apartment in Madrid during her exile where she confessed she wanted to kill herself out of solitude. I am sure she would have smiled at these exchanges with real people in real struggles, and that her songs depicting absence and sadness, excesses and injustices, would have made room for my new friends. It is in this brief editorial that we celebrate her passing through our lives, for songwriters and singers have contributed to sustain and spread political rebellion in Latin America as effective cultural agents from the villages to the auditoriums of the big cities. They sang for freedom and hope, as all immigrants in this country are singing the song of production with their radiant hearts and bodies. Ready to manufacture, pick up and paint a new America, the dream is alive in them, as in no other place in this world.

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