Divided Families

Divided Families: Technology-Guatemala City,710


NOTE: Video is available. This story is intended to run alongside the story slugged Technology-Los Angeles and Technology-Amigo Latino. The images for this story are taken from video.

Cronkite News Service

GUATEMALA CITY _ Pricila kept trying to explain to her two young children where their father had gone.

He went to the United States to work, she would tell them. No, he wouldn’t be home today, and not tomorrow, either. But he would come home some day.

“I had to be strong in front of them … I had to swallow my own tears so the kids wouldn’t cry,” said Pricila, who didn’t want to give her last name because her husband is in the United States illegally.

The first 15 days were the worst _ 15 days during which she didn’t hear a word from Feliciano. And then the news wasn’t good. Feliciano had been caught trying to swim across the Rio Grande and was sent back across the border into Mexico.

It was a month before he finally made it into the United States, first finding his way to Houston, then to Los Angeles and a job.

For the next three years, Pricila and Feliciano would communicate only by telephone. Feliciano promised he would visit, but the trip was too dangerous, and both grew tired of waiting.

A few weeks before Pricila’s 33rd birthday last year, Feliciano told her that he had found a way for them to see each other again. She should go to a place called Amigo Latino and bring the children and the rest of the family, he told her. They would be able to talk and see each other over a large-screen TV.

Pricila said she didn’t really understand how this high-tech meeting would work, but she was willing to give it a try.

It turned out to be more than she could have hoped for. Seeing her husband again was a relief for her, but a revelation for Jeffrey, 9, and Merilin, 5, who was too young when he left to remember her father.

For them, the teleconference brought their father to life.

A few months later, when Feliciano arranged for a second video conference at Latino Amigo, this time on his 33rd birthday, Pricila eagerly agreed.

So on the morning of Oct. 20, Pricila, her children, and nine other relatives _ Feliciano’s mother and father-in-law, two sisters-in-law, four nieces and a nephew _ piled into a van and drove 20 minutes from their home in Guatemala City to the agency.

At Amigo Latino, they were ushered into a sparse meeting room and sat quietly before a 55-inch television screen, staring at their own reflections in the dark screen.

Suddenly, Feliciano’s face flashed before them, and the family burst out with “feliz cumpleaños” (happy birthday) in Spanish. They waved a happy birthday banner at him and grinned.

For an hour it was like that _ smiles and hurried explanations, awkward pauses and tears quickly wiped away.

“Daddy, hurry back home soon!” Jeffrey told his father near the end of the session.

“Even though I couldn’t actually hug him, I felt like I did,” Jeffrey said afterward. “I am very happy that I was able to see him. I don’t know when we’re going to see him again. He said maybe Christmas or New Years.”

As Pricila followed her family out of the room, her face was composed and she clutched a DVD in one hand.

She pronounced the experience, “muy bueno” _ very good.

“I feel happy and tranquil because I saw that he was OK,” Pricila said. “He was able to see his son and to see how big he’s gotten – his daughter too.”

She said that she and her husband together made the decision that he should illegally enter the United States. For years, the two of them earned a living making jeans out of their home in Guatemala. The business was doing well until 2001, Pricila said, when an earthquake in El Salvador, where they export their jeans, caused their buyers to cancel many of their orders.

There was no other option, she said. If they wanted to take care of their children, he would have to leave.

The years of separation have taught Pricila perspective and a certain amount of patience.

“He’s over there, and we’re over here,” she said. “It’s sad that he’s over there. With God’s help, we’ve been able to pass these years.”

And the years to come.


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)

Jeffrey holds up a birthday card for his father as his sister and mother wait for the video conference to begin. (Cronkite News Service Photo Adrian Barrera)

Feliciano waves to his family. (Cronkite News Service Photo Adrian Barrera)

Feliciano’s mother-in-law wipes away tears when she sees Feliciano for the first time in months. (Cronkite News Service Photo Adrian Barrera)

More than a dozen members of Feliciano’s family gather for the vide conference in the office of Amigo Latino in Guatemala City. (Cronkite News Service Photo Adrian Barrera)