Divided Families

Divided Families: Technology-Los Angeles,805


NOTE: Video is available. This story is intended to run alongside the story slugged Technology-Guatemala City and Technology-Amigo Latino.

Cronkite News Service

LOS ANGELES _ Feliciano left his home in Guatemala late one night while his son and daughter were sleeping.

He kissed them both, held his wife one last time and wiped the tears from her face. She watched him disappear around the corner, bound for a bus that would take him north across Mexico toward the United States.

It was a dangerous journey — and an illegal one.

Three times, he tried to swim across the Rio Grande, and three times, he was caught and sent back to a Mexican border town.

On his fourth attempt to cross the border, Feliciano joined a group of 15 other men, some of them from his hometown. A coyote took their money and squeezed them into the back of a pickup truck that was so cramped Feliciano could barely move.

His leg was caught under another man’s body, and when the men were finally allowed out of the truck, Feliciano stumbled and fell. The pain extended from his ribs to his left leg, and he could barely walk. But he did it anyway. Hopping on one leg and supported by others in the group, he traveled for nine hours through the desert.

At one point, he fainted. “I woke up and started crying because I thought I was going to die,” Feliciano said in Spanish. “I was thinking about how to say goodbye to my kids, my wife, my parents and the rest of my family if I didn’t make it, and I prayed to God not to let me die.”

Feliciano didn’t die. He eventually made it to Houston and then to Los Angeles, where his brother lives. He took the first job he could find _ as a seamstress in a large clothing factory.

Finally, he thought, America would give him everything he had always wanted: money for the basics, education for his children, a future.

What it did not give him was his family.

For three long years, Feliciano would not see them. And when he finally did, it was on a widescreen 55-inch TV in the offices of Amigo Latino, a teleconferencing service that connects families in Latin America and the United States through broadband television.

The first time Feliciano used the service was Feb. 24, 2007, on his wife’s 33rd birthday. That hour cost him $80, but it was well worth it, he said. He determined to save for another teleconference on his own 33rd birthday in October.

So, on Oct. 20, a hot, cloudless day, Feliciano left the factory where he works and drove half an hour to the company’s small office in downtown L.A.

He was led into a room, where he took one of three empty chairs that faced the television. A few moments later, the screen flickered to life.

“¡Feliz cumpleaños!” his wife and children called, waving a large handmade “happy birthday” sign. Behind them were a dozen relatives who had made the 20-minute trip from their homes in Guatemala City for this special video meeting. Every one of them was smiling.

Feliciano beamed back.

He marveled out loud that his son, Jeffrey, 9 years old and getting ready to enter the fourth grade, had grown nearly as tall as his mother.

Daughter Merilin, who was only 2 when her father left, walked toward the screen, curling her fingers around her eyes and peered shyly through them at her father.

“When are you coming home?” she asked. “I love you a lot.”

A niece showed off her new eyeglasses, and Feliciano caught up on the family news: His sister-in-law is to be married, but she wants to wait for Feliciano to come home so he can attend the wedding.

The wait could be two or three years. Before Feliciano returns home, he wants to be sure his family will be comfortable. Each month, he sends them $500 _ a fourth of his wages from working two jobs. His wife, Pricila, uses all but $50 for house payments in the hope that the house will be paid off by next year.

Although being apart from his family is difficult, Feliciano said he won’t risk visiting in person. “The suffering I went though to cross the border was difficult,” he said. “It’s the thought of suffering again.”

So he buys phone cards, 40 minutes at a time, and he saves up for this _ an hour of family television time on a special occasion.

The minutes pass so quickly that Feliciano can hardly believe when his time is up. He shouts his goodbyes as the images fade, then walks out of the room.

He’s smiling and carrying a picture of his family, captured just as they appeared on the screen moments before.

He holds it up, pointing to each person and reciting the name, as if hoping one of them will answer.


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Feliciano doesn’t know when he will see his wife and children again in person. Meanwhile, videoconferencing is the next best thing. (Cronkite News Service Photo / Michael Struening)