After walking around Xela, with Jenny and Jhonathan as our fabulous guides that live in the city, we learned about some history, architecture, and great eateries. Compared to Guatemala City, Xela is friendlier and safer. There are still lots of crazy cars and motorcycles to watch out for, but less than in the capital city. We also got to experience some great live music at a cool café venue at the end of the day.
After getting to know the city a bit, we were able to get to know two migrants who are from communities near Xela. Don Israel and Usvaldo shared their stories about their journey to the US. The stories were similar in that they both migrated to the US twice, but were not able to make it the second time. Something they both said was that the second time was harder because of the increase in border security and anti-immigrant sentiment. The second time Usvaldo migrated, he almost died in the desert of Arizona. The second time Don Ignacio migrated, his group was deported from Mexico three times and faced discrimination there. The fourth attempt resulted in a deportation from the US and being treated like a criminal in the detention center. Both their stories correlated in the difficulties of migrating, but also in integrating back into their community. I’ve heard many stories of migrants going to the US and the danger they face, even from my own parents, but I had not heard about the difficulties of returning to their country of origin.
Usvaldo returned to Guatemala after almost 10 years in New Jersey. After 10 years away from his community, everything had changed when he came back. His friends were gone because they migrated to the US as well and the younger children that he knew were now grown up and did not recognize him. The only connection he had was with his family. Even the food was unwelcoming and he did not adjust until after a couple of weeks. Even though he came back with enough money to start two businesses, because of lack of business education both businesses were unsuccessful and he shut them down. Now he works at a restaurant again and has not attempted to migrate again after he almost died in the desert. He is still becoming accustomed to living in Xela and his community, he continues to struggle in Guatemala even though he had been working in the US. Migrating to the US does not mean that all struggles are over because of the economic immobility in the country.
Don Israel returned to the US after about 4 years of working in the US. He also came back with money and paid the debt on his house and bought another house with more land. He struggled with providing for his family after his return because of the cheaper goods that were coming in from the US because of NAFTA. He was unable to compete with the low prices in addition to only producing a small amount of food from his land. The struggle to make a living being a farmer led him to his second migration to the US. After the unsuccessful attempt because of tightening border control, Don Israel returned to Guatemala and continues to struggle to make a living, so much that his own son has gone to the US, something he was trying to prevent.
Both men’s stories have similarities and differences, but both include the struggle of migrating and the struggle of coming back to a country where there are no jobs. Both Usvaldo and Don Israel described their migration as a forced migration because they both did not want to leave their homes, their family, or their country. The struggle did not end when they got to the US or when they returned. The struggle to adapt to the culture and economic condition in Guatemala was one both men had to face upon return. So what happens when there is no security in living a decent life in one’s own country? Migration and permanent residence in a different country. There is no security, no mobility, and no assurance of living a decent life unless they migrate, which is why so many people do. Its sad to know that people migrate not because they want to, but because they have to.