Saturday, May 09, 2009

Hope, Food and Family

I don’t live in fear.
I live with hope that this country can show some humanity.
I want to pass on what I learned from my grandparents...
and that is to be grateful for what I have.”

“Robert”[1] is thirty years of age and lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is originally from San Mateo Ozolco, a small village of roughly 3,000 people located in the southeastern state of Puebla, Mexico.

At one time the village numbered an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people. However, throughout the past decade, an estimated half of the population has left to neighboring cities or to the United States in search of jobs and to eke out a living. For example, years ago, Robert’s cousins and other male family members left the village in search of jobs. Women stay behind with their children, tending the land and cultivating what they can. There is a common sadness in the departure of loved ones from those they love. And there is a common sense of loss when children and spouses see family members depart to go elsewhere.

Robert is part of an indigenous community that has lived in the region for more than 500 years. Even today, community members speak Spanish and Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs). The land has been used to grow various crops such as corn, beans and various fruits. Robert started working at the age of seven, earning 50 pesos (5 cents) for a day of work in the cornfields.

Robert recounts the difficult decision to leave San Mateo Ozolco. First, he left to the neighboring city of Puebla and then traveled to Mexico City. In Mexico City he worked as a laborer in a fast-paced restaurant. For two weeks of employment he earned the equivalent of $60 USD (in Mexican pesos). He was disheartened by the experience, the pace of life and the marginalized way in which he, as an indigenous person was treated. After several weeks, he returned to San Mateo. By then, he had nearly run out of money, with barely $20 remaining from his two weeks of work.

While in San Mateo Ozolco he again made efforts to find full-time employment but was able only to find odd jobs here and there. After several months of little success, he decided to risk the treacherous journey to the United States. He did not see any other option, and did not want to leave his community, but Robert eventually crossed the southern border. He arrived in the United States in the summer of 1999 and made his way to Philadelphia, where several family members had found jobs.

Since then Robert has worked as a laborer at a local restaurant. He shares:

It is difficult to live in a place that is not your home. I left without really wanting to leave and I left behind my family and my community. I knew there were going to be obstacles. For example, there is a daily effort to strip away a person’s spirit or to humiliate you because you may speak or look different.”

Just getting here was painful and difficult. Life here is full of so many unknowns. I work hard, I am a good human being and I hope that some change can take place. Everyday I long to return home but now I have some dreams I want to fulfill."

Robert works, has learned to speak English and is part of an Aztec dance troupe. Most week nights he can be found at a local community center, teaching Nahuatl to young children or involved in some activity.

1] Robert - pseudonym.

What YOU can do:

1. Read AFSC's report A New Path, which contains recommendations on humane immigration policy for the nation's future, go to

2. Contact
the White House and urge President Obama to support humane immigration policy that keep families together, protect all workers and ensure a fair, affordable and timely process for the status adjustment of undocumented immigrants.

White House Comment Line: 202-456-1111
White House Switchboard: 202-456-1414
Send President Obama a fax: 202-456-2461 urging his leadership on this critical issue.