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At 6 a.m. Jose awoke, like he did every morning, to the familiar sounds of his apartment complex. The groaning and squeaking of steps as people rushed out to their jobs. A baby’s cry, an alarm clock, doors swinging open, shut, open, shut. Jose squeezed his eyes shut as hard as he could. Concentrating, and searching for the noise. No not noise music, the music he had come to love as it greeted him day after day. And then, there it was the sound of waves crashing onto the shore. He relaxed, smiled, along with the rushing water came the images of his family and his home.
Dios mio, today, it will have been 36 years since I have seen them.
Jose walked around his small apartment getting ready for the day and tidying up here and there. When he happened to glance at an old calendar a wave of emotion fell upon him.
Could it be? Had it really been so long? 36 years since he last saw his beloved wife Maria His daughters Esperanza and Elizabetha or his youngest. His son Franco, his boy he had only seen as a small infant. But Franco had already started showing his father’s characteristics. Not only physically but Franco demanded punctuality when it came to his feedings.
Jose smiled as he always did when he thought of the family he had left in Honduras. And then as always he felt a stab of guilt and sadness. But worse than these feelings was a thought. The thought he had the first day he walked out of the village towards America. He was in a constant battle with this thought; he could usually control it but not today. For it began slithering out of the shadows of his mind, like a snake in the jungle about to pounce upon its prey.
Did I do the right thing leaving all of my family behind to try and get us all a better life?
This single thought had plagued him for 36 years. He still did not have an answer. He knew he would never have peace until he was able to answer this question with complete confidence.
By 7 o’clock Jose was leaving his apartment headed for the early morning market. He enjoyed the market; in fact it was usually the highlight of his day. Walking through the people weaving in and out like a giant puzzle game. Jose had gone to that same market for 34 years of living in America. At the market he was well known by all the venders and the shoppers. But none of them had ever talked to him. Many have tried but he kept to himself, except on the rare occasion he did not agree a price of the produce being sold. As a result of this they did not knew him past what he looked like. If you asked any vender at the market they would all give you the exact same description the only difference would be the language they tell it to you in.
He is a tall man at almost six feet. His jet black hair only recently starting to become peppered with flakes of gray at the temples. His nose is his most notable feature. Because it starts by going straight down then takes an extreme Left turn so the tip is pointing left and the middle of his nose is pointing in almost the exact opposite direction.
When Jose leaves the market he does not walk straight back to his apartment instead he starts for a park bench overlooking the ocean. He sits down slowly, with a two brown paper bags in hand. He sets one on the ground and begins to pull fruit out of the other. As he eats his breakfast he is taken back to when he first entered into the United States.
The year is 1924 it is a week before Christmas at an immigration office on the border of Mexico and the U.S. Jose is exhausted; he has been up for the last 48 hours without any sleep. He has been walking for months from his village in Honduras. He has only a few hundred pesos left from his journey no money for food or shelter from the cold night winds.
Jose has been waiting to get a visa to cross the border for the past three days. Jose didn’t know English but he could read the body language and expressions of the American officials. They were upset, annoyed, and confused. Because of a new law in the U.S. the immigration process had become more difficult and they were still trying to figure out all of the right procedures. Jose was only two feet from where he had started in line at 7 a.m. that morning when the office closed at 6 p.m. forcing all of the immigrants still waiting for visas to leave and fight for a spot in line the next day. This pattern continued for several weeks, Jose was beyond frustrated. He had gotten a low paying job at a restaurant where he was also sleeping. He was barely able to survive on what he was making. If he did not get into the U.S.A. soon he would have no money for food when he did cross. Jose had always been an honest man, but his family was at risk for starvation he had to cross the border to find work so he could send the money home.
Late one night Jose along with about 30 other immigrants piled into a large service truck, they were going to enter the U.S. illegally. In the truck was young, old, women, children, and men, from all walks of life brought together by one thought. Hope, hope that they could find something better, that they could send their families money for food, clothes, and eventually bring them to the U.S. as well. With this one combining thought they rode in silence packed together like sardines. But they made it, stealing through the night across the border into a tiny town in Texas. For the last time the group of immigrants were again brought together with one thought, relief. They had made it.
Jose worked his way to Florida. He would work in anything from assembly lines to make batteries and cars to harvesting plants in the field and working in hotels. There was only one common link between all of his jobs, they were hard. Hard and demeaning work was the only kind immigrants could get. Through all of his hardships the one thing that kept him going was the thought of his family. He worked to send them as much money as he could, but because he was always moving he could not receive any letters back. And though he was almost always around people many of whom were in the same situation as himself. He always had the profound feeling of utter and complete loneliness and isolation. The only time these feelings were numbed was when he could send money back home. Because of this he worked at everything he did with all the strength he had and doing it to the best of his abilities. The journey to Florida was almost as slow as that from Honduras to the U.S. but he never faltered from his goals and after months of toil he finally arrived.
The work in Florida was also very hard but it was steadier. After one month of living in Florida Jose was able to afford the rent to a small apartment and send money home every week. For the first time in a long time everything in Jose’s life seemed to be falling into place. But one day while returning from work he was surrounded by members of a violent gang called Los Sangres. (the bloods)
They came without a warning 6 of them all with some form of weapon a bat, a knife, even a rock. Jose began to panic he didn’t know what to do it was late at night no one would here his cries for help so he just stood there unable to move. Then a boy no older the 16 holding a bat stepped from the circle towards him. Jose had heard about these gangs forcing their future members to show their loyalty to the gang by doing various tasks the last of which is killing someone. Jose had a flash of terror that that someone might be him. But before he could blink he was already falling to the ground. The boy had smashed the bat directly on Jose’s face knocking him out instantly.
When Jose awoke he thought he was dead. But he was in a hospital, in a bed with a breathing tube. He had never seen so many bandages. The doctor told him that a police patrol had been driving by and saw Los Sangres beating him. They had chased them off and gotten him to the hospital just in time. He suffered two concussions, broken ribs, severe bruises, and a broken nose. Jose spent 4 weeks in the hospital. The day he was released he found he had lost his job and no one wanted to hire a disabled worker. Jose was again on the losing end of a fight for a better life.
But things did slowly turn back around. He worked two jobs, and even started to go to night school to learn to speak better English. Jose had made a good life for himself but it meant nothing to him. He was sending money back home regularly but he never got a reply. He began to wonder if his family was getting the money or if they were even alive. He continued to send money and write letters hoping that they would someday be reunited. He has never given up hope.
As Jose finishes the last bite of fruit he crumples the paper bag into a tight ball, picks up the other bag, and rises from the bench he had sat on to enjoy his meal. At 56 years old Jose still sends money to his home address every week he still writes letters and even small presents on birthdays. As he walks away from the bench through the crowded and busy streets he is surrounded by hundreds and yet is encompassed in quiet solitude.