Divided Families

Divided Families: Technology-Amigo Latino,385


NOTE: This story is intended to run alongside the story slugged Technology-Los Angeles and Technology-Guatemala City.

Cronkite News Service

GUATEMALA CITY _ Gabriel Biguria started Amigo Latino video conferencing company five years ago with one office in Guatemala and another in San Francisco.

“It’s basically a business quality service, but what we’re doing is democratizing access for families, so we’re using technology for something good,” he said in Spanish.

Families can go to nearly 40 offices in Latin America, including Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and Ecuador, and connect with their relatives in more than 10 major U.S. cities, including Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, Biguria said.

He hopes to open an office in Arizona next, he said, because tougher restrictions are making it harder for family members to cross the border to see one another.

“We have more people that are calling us who are really looking for our services over there,” Biguria said. “We are right now working on identifying the right spots and the right partnerships to set up shop in Arizona.”

Amigo Latino offers a half-hour session for $40 and an hour session for $80. Printouts of digital pictures and a DVD of the teleconference cost extra.

Business in Guatemala is booming, said Eduardo Calderon Lopez, 19, who administers Amigo Latino’s central office in Guatemala City.

“Guatemalans have become very grateful for our services because they have had family members leave to the states not knowing how they’re doing over there and worrying about them,” he said.

People are usually nervous when they come to Amigo Latino, Calderon Lopez said; they just don’t know what to expect. But by the time they leave, they “cry of happiness,” he said.

The reunions are sometimes comical and always joyous, he said. “They’ll make comments saying, ‘Look how fat you are, look how skinny you are.’ And, they’re overcome with joy.”

He said he has witnessed teleconferences during which people have met relatives for the first time — grandparents who are introduced to their U.S.-born grandchildren and men who left their pregnant spouses behind when they went to the United States and are seeing their child for the first time.

Occasionally, people who have met online will use the service in order to get to know _ and see _ each other better, Calderon Lopez said.

But “mainly people who haven’t seen their family members in many years, like 10 years, are the ones who constantly use our service,” he said.


PHOTOS: Click thumbnails to see full-resolution images and download

Eduardo Calderon Cruz is only 19, but he oversees the daily operations of Amigo Latino in Guatemala City. (Cronkite News Service Photo Adrian Barrera)

The office of Amigo Latino in Guatemela City is a place where families divided by the border go for virtual reunions. (Cronkite News Service Photo Adrian Barrera)