28 Dec I Understand Why They Come
After just visiting Latin America, I understand why so many immigrants come north. When I grew up in Southern California, we had very little diversity, but fifty years later, diversity is the norm. As the daughter of an immigrant, I believe in giving people a chance for a better life in a new country. However, migrant waves throughout the world have put immigration at the top of many countries’ challenges.
Recently, a great wave of migrants marched north from Central America heading for the southern states. People have different views, some welcoming and others wanting to shut them out. I don’t want terrorists or criminals, but I believe people deserve a fair hearing to decide if they can be given a chance at a new country or not.
After being in Latin American countries with impoverished conditions and where I sometimes felt like I was in a war zone, I understand why they marched many miles in search of a better life. If I lived in one of those countries, I would march too.
When I visited Central America, so much was run-down. Homes often lacked roofs and walls and were made of haphazard materials such as tin, hanging fabric, and old and cracked wood. Stray dogs filled many streets. Once, when I was in a public restroom in a city’s main plaza, a stray dog kept running into the restroom and into the stalls! People tried to shew it out, but it would not leave. Thus, as I sat on the toilet, the dog kept trying to run underneath, and I kept saying, “No!” Needless to say, I did not want the stray dog climbing all over me, especially in that position.
Restrooms continued to tell the tale of the countries I visited. Even at historic sites, I could rarely flush paper down the toilet. Most stalls had a bucket for the paper because the plumbing was too ineffective to wash away the waste. We rarely had toilet seats, and one seat I sat on was made of such lightweight plastic that I almost wobbled off!
When we drove past a slum in Callau, Peru, en route to Lima, I saw many homes without roofs. Our guide told us that since the area just has a little rain that people usually fare well. When it rains, though, it’s a disaster. In one of the slums we passed, there was no running water, and people got water twice a week. Families had to go to a central place for water and carry buckets or bottles back to their homes.
I felt so sad when I saw this, and I prayed that such people would get a better life. Some of the countries I visited had extremely low literacy rates. The 2018 literacy rate in Guatemala was a mere 81.5 percent, whereas, the literacy rate in the United States was 99.0 percent.
Guides in several countries told us about dictatorships they had endured, presidents who were in and out quickly, assassinations, and ever-fluctuating currency. Before we disembarked in Buenos Aires, our Argentinian destination director told us that if we checked the exchange rate in the morning, that we should check it that afternoon too because it may have changed. Argentinians also sell their property in American dollars because the Argentine peso is so unstable.
I also saw many signs of earthquake damage from years ago. Many of the countries don’t have the finances or infrastructure to repair cracked walls, clear rubble, and create safer buildings.
In 2017, the average per capita income in Guatemala was $8,200 versus $60,200 in the United States. To many Guatemalans, the United States must sound like the land of gold and plenty. Having worked in schools where many students have no pencils, shoes, or money for school uniforms, and where they’ve complained that they are hungry and had no breakfast, I know that the United States is no paradise. And yet, after seeing such vast poverty in Latin America, I understand why they march. Their hope for a better life drives them on. I just pray that our government and our international fellows come up with immigration plans that are just and merciful.
The challenge is to find a balance between our Statue of Liberty’s open arms and the need for border safety and creating well-being in our country.
On my trip, though, I spoke with people from Canada and Europe and learned that many countries have their own version of this immigrant issue. Part of my travel education, though, has been to increase my compassion. Thus, while some condemned the marchers, I understood their pursuit. The monumental task for immigration officials, though, is to decide who is safe to let enter and who is not. I leave that to their expertise.
Volcanoes have also caused a lot of destruction in Latin America. In Guatemala, when we drove from Puerto Quetzal to Antigua, we passed two steaming volcanoes. One, the Fuego (Fire) Volcano, had a catastrophic eruption June 3, 2018, which killed nearly 200 people and destroyed nearby lands.
We needed to cross a bridge near this volcano to get to Antigua. The bridge, which was damaged in the eruption, could only hold one-way traffic. Each day, motorists had to cross by 2 PM because the bridge could not handle more weight for the day, especially if it rained. Our guide got us back to port and across the bridge by the deadline. Not all of the tours made it, though, and several drove an extra hour and a half around the country to return to port. These are everyday occurrences for Guatemalans.
In several cities, vendors hounded us to buy goods from them such as bags, blankets, or jewelry. They followed us to the bus, and I came to where I hated going to stores. In the Buenos Aires neighborhood of La Boca, as soon as I looked at a clothing item, a salesperson besieged me, asked if I wanted to try it on, and spoke to me at great length about their merchandise.
I also felt unsafe walking in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, and I tightly clutched my bag. When people bumped into me, I quickly checked that my belongings were still intact. A couple times on the cruise, the captain warned us to dress down and mind our belongings. Rio de Janeiro also has over 700 slums, called favelas, which are known for their violence.
Thus, with the poverty, lack of security, and political instability, I understand why people leave everything and risk their lives to march to new lands. I hope that they all live the life of their dreams in whichever country they land. Thus, as the 2018 season of good tidings ends, I wish tidings of peace, joy, and prosperity for all in Latin America and across the world.
Jennifer K. Jordan
For more life and travel inspiration, please visit my blog at www.InspiringWisdomToday.com/blog/.
Photo Credit –
Photo of Guatemala by Jennifer K. Jordan
“Guatemala GDP – per capita (PPP).” https://www.indexmundi.com/guatemala/gdp_per_capita_(ppp).html. Accessed 12 December 2018.
“Guatemala Literacy.” – https://www.indexmundi.com/guatemala/literacy.html. Accessed 12 December 2018.
“2018 Guatemala volcano eruption: Facts, FAQs, and how to help.”
https://www.worldvision.org/disaster-relief-news-stories/guatemala-volcano-eruption-facts. Accessed 27 December 2018
“United States of America /GNI per capita.” https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHFX_enUS590US590&q=What+is+the+per+capita+income+in+the+United+States%3F&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi_-9nC2rnfAhVS1IMKHcBjB1gQzmd6BAgHEBo&biw=1600&bih=758. Accessed 12 December 2018.
“United States Population.” https://countrymeters.info/en/United_states_of_america_(USA). Accessed 12 December 2018.