“They shall have a better life than I”
Jacinto never met his dad. His is not another story so common around here: girl meets boy, gets pregnant unwantedly, and the boy vanishes. Jacinto’s story is different. When he was 8 months old, his dad was shot by the Guatemalan army during an armed conflict that struck Guatemala for more than 30 years. The western part of Guatemala, where Jacinto was born, was worst affected. “The only memory I have of my dad is his last name ‘Brito’, which I carry as well. I’ve never seen a picture of him, nothing.” According to Jacinto, his dad was forced to join the leftist guerrilla fighting for a communist state in Guatemala.
After the death of his dad, Jacinto’s mum had to start working to sustain the family. She soon met another man who Jacinto considers to be his dad now. Together they moved from the countryside to the city of Nebaj. The family never had a lot of money so Jacinto stopped going to school when he was 13 years old. Instead, he had to contribute to the family’s income. Together with some friends, he decided to go to the United States to make money there. “My family wasn’t happy about my decision but they couldn’t hold me back”. He hired a coyote, people trafficker, which he would have to pay US$5,000 when eventually making it to the United States.
That didn’t happen (this time). He got intercepted twice in the US-American desert just off the border with Mexico. Twice, he was immediately deported back to Mexico. Why to Mexico? Usually migrants get deported back to their country of origin. To avoid having to cross all of Mexico again, Jacinto carried a fake Mexican ID card. After the second time trying, Jacinto didn’t have any money anymore and was tired. He wanted to go back home to Guatemala but without money, he couldn’t even pay the bus back home. So, he turned himself in with the Mexican police, which then deported him by bus to the Guatemalan border. To pay for the bus to get to his home town, he begged for money until he could finally go back home.
A couple of years later, when he was 15 years old, Jacinto met his current girlfriend Kat. They wanted to build up a life together but for that one needs money. So, when Jacinto was 17, he left again to go to the US. This time he made it in once. For 2 years, he worked in Washington, D.C. in among others construction, restaurants, and a sauna. “My English is very bad because I actually hung around all the time with people from Nebaj speaking even more Ixil (Editor’s note: His indigenous mother tongue) than Spanish.”
One day, a police officer asked him for his papers. He had papers but fake ones, which the police officer recognised. Jacinto was afraid to be deported. “I was lucky that the guy was the child of immigrants as well. Mexico I think. So, we could speak in Spanish and I think he had pity with me. He let me off the hook and told me to keep my fake papers at home.” After two years in the US, he had enough. He was homesick, wanted to see Kat and his family again. Consequently, he went back to Guatemala and moved with his girlfriend to Guatemala City to start a new life there.
At one point, all his savings from the US were gone and the two moved back to Nebaj where their families are from. Jacinto started working as waiter and later as a hiking guide for a social project in Nebaj. Kat works in the same restaurant where Jacinto started. Together they have two sons, 2 and 6 years old. Jacinto and Kat never married, which is fairly unusual in Guatemala. Jacinto says that he doesn’t want to spend money on a wedding and that whether they carry a ring or not doesn’t make their love for each other any different.
Together with their children, they live in a simple house without a proper floor. “My parents didn’t have any financial means to support me or my studies. I want a different future for my children, a better one. I want them to go to school, to study something, to maybe work in a bank. I don’t want to say no to them every time they ask me for something.” For that reason, Jacinto is planning to go back to the US in a couple of months. He wants to work there for some years to save enough money to finance the education of his two sons. The fact that the journey is dangerous and that his children and wife won’t see him for several years, or in the worst case never again, doesn’t trouble him. “What else can I do for my children? There’s no way for me to make more money in Guatemala than I do now. Doesn’t every parent want a better future for their children?”
Jacinto is not the only one with those plans. All over Guatemala, one can here this story: the breadwinner of the family spends a couple of years in the US to make life for his family better in the form of better education for the children, a nicer and bigger house, etc. It is estimated that between 900,000 and 1.5 million Hispanics of Guatemalan origin live in the US. The latter number would mean that around 10% of the population resides in the US. The vast number of Guatemalans migrating, just like Jacinto, only go for a certain period and do not want to stay in the US permanently.
Jacinto, 28 years old, determined to enable his sons a better future.