I’m not catholic myself, so I don’t know how much of this is a Latin American thing and how much is a Catholic thing, but you Catholic readers out there can help me out with that. When someone wants to thank God for something or ask for something, they can hold a vigilia , a vigil, a service at the church that goes late into the night and is full of singing, prayers, rosaries, scripture, etc.
On Sunday Elena, one of the church ladies and one of my host mom’s closest friends, held a vigilia giving thanks that her two sons arrived safely to the United States. In addition, it was also the birthday of one of the sons; he turned 22 on Sunday.
The majority of families here in Guajoyo have family members in the United States, and it is because of the money those family members send back that this community is able to grow. Remesas accounted for $3,911,000, a significant sum in a country with a population of just over 6 million. In Guajoyo, where there is a decent house, it is because it was bought with money from the US or because it was given through a project. Even for those who are lucky enough to find work here in Guajoyo, it is impossible to earn enough to even dream of building a decent house. Those who are less lucky live in shacks made of mud and sticks, houses that are prone to a multitude of diseases and health problems.
To a visitor, Guajoyo feels like a rustic paradise. Life’s needs are simpler, things move at a slower pace, everybody knows everybody, and it seems to exist outside the whirlwind of consumerism. But I have been here long enough and have talked to enough people to know that what little people do have has been bought with great suffering, and the desire to work and be productive is systematically denied.
When I first came here, one of my goals was to try to talk people out of migrating to the US. I thought, maybe once they see their community through a stranger’s eyes and learn about the dangers of immigration they will decide to stay here and make things work, become agents of change in their communities.
But I sort of get it now, and I can’t bring myself to try to convince people otherwise anymore. There is no employment in the area, and young people faced with no viable options to provide for and protect their families turn to gangs. Anybody who has a good roof over their heads bought it with money from USA, and with changes in economic policies and the political climate, the ability just to put food on the plate is far fetched for many.
So all you can do is hold your breath when yet another of the young people of Guajoyo start that northward journey. And when they make it, you light a candle to the God who gives rain to your crops and who puts fruit in the trees, and you thank him.
And we thank Him.