From: Anthony Goss (Junior Leader, Spring Immersion 2017)
Reported on April 19, 2017, day 12 of the Spring ’17 Immersion
The phrase I have used most these past two weeks is “hace tres años.” It means three years ago and I have used those words to compare my first experience as a participant to my current experience as a Junior Leader.
“Hace trés años, me quedé con la familia Rodriguez.” Three years ago, I stayed with the Rodriguez family. I was a freshman in high school and terrible at speaking Spanish. I clogged the toilet during my first night with the Rodriguezes. There are moments I’d like to forget from my first time with the Rodriguez family, like the toilet incident and accidentally calling the mother, Elvia, ancient, and there are moments I want to always remember. This family, whom I had never met until then, showed me incredible love and kindness. They unclogged the toilet, prepared excellent meals, and dealt with my broken Spanish. Elvia devoted an evening to teaching me the proper pronunciation of silverware, and Alessandro, the 8-year-old, played wordless games of hide and seek with me and showed me the best way to pet the dog, Yogui. This family opened my eyes to the realities of living in a country where it takes a day to earn what one would in an hour in the US. I woke up every morning to the smell of fire; Elvia would get up at 5 am each morning to cook food to sell in the market – a way for the family to make extra money.
Hace tres años, the Rodriguez family wasn’t complete. Elvia’s husband, Armando, and youngest son, Tony, were away, working in the United States. The family kept a candle burning at all times, a silent prayer for their safety. My first experience with the Rodriguez’s taught me the love and hardships of the people in Guatemala.
Today, three years later, I walked alone down the long street of San Miguel and found their house by memory. I knocked on my old door as a different person. A leader, an experienced GV alumni with three years of Spanish under my belt and an acceptance to college. Their house was the same as I remembered it, but the people inside had changed.
Armando and Tony had returned, jailed then deported in the last few months by the Trump administration. I asked them where they lived in the US, and they laughed and said “jail.” Nestor, another son, had a second child but had lost his job and spent the last two years looking for work. Armando and Tony hadn’t found work either, and Elvia worked from 5 am to midnight making food for Semana Santa (Easter week). Finally, Yogui, the dog I have been so lovingly instructed to pet a certain way…. had run away and never come back. The family was still incredibly kind and humble, but I felt a note of sadness in their words.
As I walked back down the long road, I became angry at my country for making people I care about miserable. I was mad that the racism and fear peddled by the current US administration had reached this quiet Guatemalan town. I was mad that it affected this family; a family filled with people willing to do hard labor, while my friends in Seattle weren’t even willing to get off of their cellphones. I was also feeling really sad. This stable family I met three years ago had an air of despair that no amount of food or smiles could mask.
Hace tres años, I was only prepared to experience the people and culture of Guatemala. Now, GV has given me the confidence and capacity to act. Sitting on the roof of the Rodriguez’s house, looking at laundry and garbage, I promised myself that I would use my privilege to make change. I recognize that I have a privilege to go to college, to not need to work 19 hour days to put food on the table, and to return to the US.
I was already planning on studying political science and international relations in college, but now I have extra motivation. Now, I have a family to fight for.