Migrantes

March 4, 2012 § Leave a comment


I wrote this five years ago—about a friend, German. He was deported last night, back to Colombia. He’s been in New York 11 years, working hard, waiting to find out about his citizenship case. He found out recently that immigration authorities rejected his petition, and so he agreed to leave. He left last night—more to come, but wanted to put this out. He’s somebody worth knowing. And while his time here in the US was quiet, it was memorable.

Gracias German. Suerte en Colombia.

Dated October, 2007

This snapshot is about my friend Carlos and his uncle German, or Germanies as he likes to call him.  Carlos is big on nicknames.  I sat in on a lunch with him once and he kept referring to somebody named Peacock.  I didn’t find out until after the meal that he was talking about his sister.

Carlos and German are both immigrants and they are also two very thoughtful people living, dreaming, thinking and contributing in America.

Carlos grew up in Caracas, Venezuela and then moved to the East Village with his family when he was still in grade school.  He is the product of an African American father and a Colombian mother. Dad picked mom up on a street corner in Bogota or so the story goes…

As a young kid Carlos and family lived amongst his mother Mimi’s other relatives in Caracas. Carlos’s father was diagnosed with cancer when he was still young and in an effort to take care of the family he moved them to New York City, dying shortly thereafter.

Single with three young children Carlos’s mom started to eek out a living, first cleaning apartments, then working at McDonald’s, and eventually in school cafeterias.

Carlos recounted the McDonald’s years as we walked up 1st Ave. near his mom’s apartment one day.  It was a McDonald’s that delivered food and because his mom worked there, he could just ring up and say, “this is Mimi’s kid, Carlos, I want a double cheeseburger and fries,” and it would get sent right to his apartment. One memorable summer soft serve icecream was 29 cents. Carlos remembers getting half way home and realizing his ice cream cone was already gone, so he’d go back and get another one. This continued two or three times. Carlos admits he got fat.
When Carlos’s dad died, his mom had the chance to petition for her brother come from Colombia to help the family out.

Tio German Marino came to visit New York City a bunch of times over the years and moved permanently in 2001 to live withCarlos and his family in the East Village(a period he refers to as 6 LONG years(años largos)).

German is a small, amigo sized man with a quick smile.  When he and Carlos stand next to each other German looks like he could easily fit in the palm of his nephew’s hand.

German wears tshirts and khakis.  One of his more frequent shirts is the classic I heart NY shirt, which he seems to wear with great pride.  His english is menos que mas, so we speak mostly in Spanish.  I get him going about Colombia’s political situation and the now more than 40 years of civil unrest there. He speaks with the eloquence of a sociologist about how none of the sides had the interest of the people in mind. Not the guerillas, nor the paramilitaries, nor the government. His passion and equal frustration show as his frases end with desperate Porque’s? and Cuando’s?  Not surprisingly German has a degree in sociology and also studied political science and social work. Like a recent graduate finding his way in the real world, he refers to his college years longingly, ” one of the most beautiful times in my life.”  German says he still dreams about his home country.  “I miss the mountains, rivers, lakes, beaches, and the beautiful Colombian women.”

As he looks out from the 20th floor veranda of Mimi’s apartment at the awe inspiring Manhattan skyline, German muses about his new home.  He says he had a “revolutionary” period in his life, and that when he came to the US he had a relapse of this “mental disease” and felt animosity towards what he calls ”yankee imperialism.”  He’s better now though he says.  No more yankee hating.

German says he can now see New York for the amazing place it is, a place where people from all classes and cultures can come together and work, and make money, and take vacations when they want to.  He says in Colombia these kinds of opportunities are only for the wealthiest classes, and that for the working class a vacation is imposible.  German says there are things he doesn’t like about the US as well.  He says he hates to see the freedoms that define American culture and society be challenged.  German blames those in power for “arrogance, a superiority complex and racism.”  He says this frustrates him because they are things he thought he left behind in Colombia.

Still, he says he thinks that 80 percent of people in the US are good people and have a strong faith in God, “ante Quien toda la humanidad somos hermanos sin distingo de color, de lugar o de situacion económica.”

In New York German does service jobs.  He worked on the cleanup of Ground Zero for a while and now he has three part time maintenance jobs at different buildings. German says he makes half of what he used to make when he was a “slave” to restaurants, working 72 hours a week, Monday to Saturday, 7 to 7 every day. Now German works a lot less, and makes around 15 bucks an hour, but he is happier and has time to take English classes.  German says thanks to Mimi this better life is possible.  If it wasn’t for the generosity and free rent Mimi gives him he would also not be able to send money back to his family in Colombia.

German Marino’s world is small and simple. His physical footprint could be wiped out in a heartbeat. He sleeps on the floor of Carlos’s childhood bedroom laying down a small mattress every night. The mattress is placed up against the wall again during the day so people can pass through the room. Aside from a change of clothes, which he washes and dries in Carlos’s bathtub, he has next to no possessions. Carlos gave him a laptop which he uses to read Colombian newspapers. At night he sits silently at the desk in Carlos’s room and writes, sometimes free hand, sometimes on his computer.  I asked him if it was a novel.  Taking my joke seriously he replied, “no,” “es otra cosa…”  He then smiled and turned back to his thoughts.

German says in any interview people arrive at a question they prefer not to answer, for him, it is age.  He says he still feels very young and when people asks how old he is, he tells them…

“When I turned 17 years old I decided that I would never add another year, so I am 17 now and I will be 17 on the day that I die.”  Here’s to being 17 again, or if you are wise like German, staying 17.

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