March 20, 2009

Commentary:

Power of love

By Humberto Caspa, Ph.D

A few days ago, Mexico beat Bolivia in a forgettable friendly soccer match. Despite his team’s defeat, Juan Pablo Mamani, a sports commentator for a national television network in Bolivia, isn’t so unhappy. On the contrary, there is joy in his eyes. After all, the game allowed him to join his mother after 20 long years.

A Soccer game, like a motion picture or a play at a nearby amphitheater, can work as a stress reliever during tough economic times. Latinos are no different than the rest of the U.S. population. We pack entertainment buildings any time we feel our jobs are in jeopardy, and when it becomes an ordeal to come up with a few bucks to make up for the house mortgage or rent. We are all in the same recessionary boat.

For Juan Pablo’s mother, Julia, living through an economic recession isn’t so unusual. Many years ago, while staying in her native country, Bolivia, economic downturns in her family did not come in cycles, they showed up almost on a daily basis.

Right before and after the early 1980s, when military dictatorships decided to tear down the contours of democracy and settled an asymmetrical system tilted to benefit the well-off, the economic crisis turned into a perennial hurdle virtually impossible to cross through for people like Julia. In spite of working hard, she could never leave the underworld of poverty.

Right in between the economic and political crisis, a family tragedy further darkened Julia’s life. Her husband, Cristobal Mamani, a merchant and truck driver, died tragically in the Andes while helping pullout out a trailer that had run over a cliff. The cable broke off and he and another friend were fatally swatted into a precipice.

Then, Julia took the double role of father and mother to raise her two children. She worked long hours to make the ends meet, but her efforts weren’t enough to provide a healthy economic environment for her family.

Like most parents, she dreamed about her children having a professional career. Because the chance of getting a job with a decent income was unlikely in Bolivia, Julia decided to use her savings and move to the United States, leaving her children behind.

It’s been about 20 years since she left Bolivia. Juan Pablo, her older son, was just a little boy when she boarded a plane in the Capital La Paz. Today he is a grown man, has a professional degree and a lucrative job at a local television station in Bolivia.

After finishing High School, Juan Pablo went to study journalism in one of the most prestigious universities in his country, the Bolivian Catholic University. His tuition, rent, food, were all paid by his mother.

Last Wednesday, after the soccer game in Denver, Colorado, Juan Pablo desperately went to his hotel room to pack his luggage. His team lost, but that wasn’t a big deal to him. He has been preparing to see her mother since he stopped using pampers a few decades ago. His plane landed on Thursday in LAX, and there she was joyful as ever. They hugged, kissed, cried and loved each other.

Julia is just one of millions–perhaps billons— of immigrants who historically came to the United States for a sole reason: to have a better life. English, Irish, Poles, Italians, Jewish, Asians, Latinos, and other people from every corner of the world thought about coming to the United States when their countries crumbled due to an economic recession.

However, like Julia, I, and many new immigrants, it is quite difficult to move back where we originally came from, even during economic crisis. I tried it once, but the United States pulled back in.

Humberto Caspa, Ph.D. is a professor and syndicated columnist.

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