The following story comes to us from JFCS Paralegal Julianna.
The photo above is of a girl named Julieta who became my friend despite neither of us speaking the other’s language
Throughout my childhood, my parents took my older brother and me to Veracruz as often as possible during holidays, sometimes by plane and sometimes by bus. Twice, my brother and I sat behind our parents in the jump seats of a small pickup truck on the more-than 2,000-mile journey from our house in the mountains of West Virginia to the mountains of southern Mexico. I learned Spanish by playing with children in the streets and by attending a public school in a small town where no one spoke English.
I soon learned that speaking another language was not only a fun way for my brother and me to have secret conversations back home. It could save someone’s life.
In the summer of 2001, there was a group of Salvadorans and Guatemalans doing contracted maintenance work at a power plant near our house in West Virginia. One of the men was falsely accused of stalking a woman in a nearby town, where the workers were living. Local law enforcement contacted my dad to help with interpretation. He served as the interpreter, and he helped the man find a lawyer.
One day, a group of local men, in response to the alleged stalking incident, chased and beat up the youngest of the workers. The injuries were so bad that he needed crutches, which he was still using two days later at my brother’s 12th birthday party. All of the workers were invited. The party was on September 9th, 2001.
Two days later, of course, was September 11th. Knowing that this tragic incident would only fuel racism and xenophobia among the locals, my dad spent the next few nights sleeping on the workers’ porches and patrolling near their houses to make sure they were safe. Many locals who didn’t already have rebel flags waving outside their homes were now brandishing the symbol with newfound enthusiasm. My dad contacted the only Hispanic State Trooper in the state and asked him to visit the workers and teach them their rights. At 9 years old, I had begun to understand that looking out for those more vulnerable than ourselves was one of the most valuable ways to participate in life.
As part of my work here at JFCS, I have the opportunity to meet every week with children who have come to the United States without their parents. I teach them their rights, and I sit down with them to discuss their lives back in their home countries, their journeys to the U.S., and their dreams they hope to fulfill here. Looking back at all of my inspirations, from my travels through Mexico to my parents’ unhesitating drive to help those in need, I feel so blessed that they have ultimately led me to such meaningful work.