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Solidarity stories: Immigrants share both sides of experience

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For The Dialog

 

MARYDEL, Md. – Carlos Miguel Chavez came to share the struggles of his migration from his native Guatemala to Maryland some 15 years ago, but he also had a question for diocesan leaders of the Global Solidarity Program between the Diocese of Wilmington and San Marcos, Guatemala.

“How can someone from Guatemala get to be part of the committee?” Chavez asked after Brother Chris Posch asked Guatemalans how the committee could better serve them.

The question came at a June 20 program of storytelling and faith-sharing at Immaculate Conception Church titled “Shared Experiences, Enriched Lives.” About 25 people attended, split almost evenly between Guatemalans and those of European descent. Brother Chris Posch, a Franciscan priest who is director of the diocesan Office of Hispanic Ministry, translated from Spanish to English and from English to Spanish.

Participants in the Global Solidarity Program between the Diocese of Wilmington and the San Marcos diocese in Guatemala gather at Immaculate Conception Church in Marydel, Md., for a June 20 program of faith sharing and storytelling. Above, Brother Chris Posch, Heisler Miguel, 6; Erica Miguel; Elvis Herrera; Mary Jo Frohlich; Angel Perez, and Father John Hynes. Frohlich and Fathers Posch and Hynes are on the Solidarity Committee for the Diocese of Wilmington in a program with the Diocese of San Marcos in Guatemala. The Dialog/Gary Morton
Participants in the Global Solidarity Program between the Diocese of Wilmington and the San Marcos diocese in Guatemala gather at Immaculate Conception Church in Marydel, Md., for a June 20 program of faith sharing and storytelling. Above, Brother Chris Posch, Heisler Miguel, 6; Erica Miguel; Elvis Herrera; Mary Jo Frohlich; Angel Perez, and Father John Hynes. Frohlich and Fathers Posch and Hynes are on the Solidarity Committee for the Diocese of Wilmington in a program with the Diocese of San Marcos in Guatemala.
The Dialog/Gary Morton

Chavez’ inquiry may well add another level to the solidarity program that promotes better understanding between people of the two dioceses through at least annual visitations of delegations from each diocese to the other. Those visits have produced a number of projects to assist the Guatemalans in their home country both materially, such as through projects to bring water to towns and support church-sponsored medical programs in rural San Marcos, and spiritually, as through support of catechist training.

In Delaware and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore the main effort has been to help lifelong Americans — all of whose families migrated to the United States — come to know the stories and the faith of more recent arrivals such as the Guatemalans. Saturday’s gathering, “Shared Experiences, Enriched Lives,” was the latest in a series of meetings to help the two communities better understand one another despite the cultural and language divisions between them.

After Chavez’ question, three longtime leaders in the Global Solidarity Program pact (signed in 2003) mulled aloud how the Guatemalan community here might become more involved in the committee’s work.

Logistics prevents many Guatemalans from serving on the committee, according to Father John Hynes, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Wilmington, who has been involved in Hispanic Ministry for 20 years. Meetings are usually on Thursday nights in New Castle County, while the majority of the Guatemalan population in the diocese lives downstate in Delaware or on the Eastern Shore.

Committee member Mary Jo Frohlich, who returned to Guatemala with a delegation of five others last July, said perhaps she could arrange regular meetings in Marydel, with a sizeable Guatemalan population, that could convey information about the program to the local community and pass back to the committee what local Guatemalans are thinking.

Brother Chris built upon Frohlich’s idea, wondering whether similar meetings could be held in Georgetown and Milton in Delaware, and Easton in Maryland, to help Guatemalans become more involved in the committee’s work.

Chavez earlier had told the gathering about his struggles when he migrated to Maryland from Guatemala some 15 years ago, via Arizona and Florida. He recalled in particular being crammed into vehicles and driven from Arizona to Florida, arriving “with no money and nothing to eat.” He remembered sharing a lunch of three tacos with others, so each had half a taco.

He arrived on a work permit and later achieved resident status. But for years he remained in the United States while his family was in Guatemala. Chavez smiled broadly as he noted, “I’m so glad my wife has been here two years now.” His children came with visas.

“Things have changed,” he said. “My children did not suffer as much when they came.”

Fausto Ortiz provided an insight as to what drives people from Central and South America to risk their lives to come to the United States.

“My father worked a lot so I tried to help him,” Ortiz said, first by moving to Guatemala City in search of better pay. “There was not too much money,” and he heard others say there was more work “in the North.” When he told his boss in Guatemala City that he was going to the U.S., the boss tried to talk him out of it.

“People die in the desert,” he said.

“I said I didn’t care, I want to do more for my family.”

He came to the United States in 1998, at the age of 18. He had no family or friends here, just himself and his faith. “Now I’ve got lots of friends but I don’t forget about my family” in Guatemala. He also has a family here, having married in 2008. He and his wife have four children.

Ortiz also capsulized the theme of the story-telling and faith-sharing programs.

“We all have a story to tell,” he said. “The important thing is that God blesses us all.”