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August 2016
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mi vida loca

When I’m not being a systems librarian, I’m being a construction foreman (fore-person?), sometimes on my own house, sometimes on someone else’s. My main qualification for this is that I speak okay Spanish. I don’t speak great Spanish, though, which leads to hilarious situations like when I explained to the guys that Americans like to eat dust for Christmas dinner. (pavo = turkey, but polvo = dust. whoops.) The guys seem to like me, because I say please and thank you and ask them about their lives, instead of just giving orders. In fact, I think we’ve become friends instead of just co-workers.

Some of the guys I work with (names have been changed):

Alberto is in his mid-forties, shorter than me, with ropy muscles. He supports his twelve year old daughter who still lives in Mexico, as well as an ex-wife and five year old daughter here in Virginia. He’s a huge flirt, and he brings me strange presents like “Toda Mujer” magazine. Despite having been in the US for ten years he speaks ni una palabra of English. Three weeks ago he disappeared. After a few days of asking around, we finally discovered that he was in jail. He had been picked up for driving without a license, a spectre that dogs all these guys. (You can’t get a driver’s license in Virginia without showing proof of legal residence.) Neither the jail, nor the public defender’s office, nor the courthouse where his trial was held had a translator on staff. Luckily Alberto has a posse and we provided a translator, which let him make a deal that got him released with community service.

Bernardo is about my age, from Guatemala. He’s huge (especially for a Guatemalan), at least six feet tall, with a big nose and great bear paws for hands. He has trouble moving because of an old war wound in his leg. He fought on the government side of the Guatemalan civil war. Because he was so big, he was drafted into the army when he was thirteen years old, and was almost immediately shot in the leg by a girl his same age fighting for the other side. He has a wife and six kids back at home, but no means of supporting them in Guatemala, so he works here and sends the money home.

Carlos says he’s sixteen, but he looks younger. He’s shy, and his voice is just starting to change. He really should be in school instead of working construction.

David is my current heartache. He and his girlfriend have a six week old baby, and they just got kicked out of their rented trailer. Last week at work he says to me, “The baby hasn’t pooped in three days. Do you think we should take him to the doctor?” “Yes!” I said, and off we went. The baby is fine now, except for being homeless. Every day David makes enough money to pay that night’s hotel bill, plus enough left over for diapers, formula, and dinner. I think his little family is about to move in with us, just for a few weeks until they can save up enough for a deposit on an apartment. Is this the right thing to do, or am I asking for trouble getting involved like this? I’ll keep you updated.


Pingback from Solvitur ambulando » Why drivers’ licenses should not be tied to immigration status
Time: June 8, 2011, 10:22 am

[...] licenses to people with illegal immigration status is dangerous to everyone on the road. I’ve written a bit about some of the folks I’ve met in the local Spanish-speaking immigrant community. Many of [...]

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