Merry Christmas! In the true spirit of the holiday season, a long-time friend and constituent shared with me an experience that perfectly reflects both the humanity and the spirituality of the common man, something that so often gets lost in the cacophony of commercialism and politics. I’d like to share it with you.
“Mister Dan, I am happy.” Then the phone went dead.
In January, it will be four years since I got that phone call from Guatemala. It was Jaime, my friend and a day laborer, who had helped maintain my yard during the summer. I live in Northern Virginia and there is a line-up of day laborers each morning along Little River Turnpike. I am retired Navy and when my wife and I returned from the Philippines 32 years ago, we bought an old house with a big yard, our seventeenth, and final, home. The idea was to do my own yard work and stay healthy. I did until I reached 74, and found things were getting difficult.
The day laborers have a helping hand named Arnoldo, and I asked him to recommend someone to assist me. He introduced me to Jaime, a man in his 30s, who looked like a boy. A man who Arnoldo said was dependable and honest. A man who probably did not have papers. I did not ask. “Dependable and honest” was good. A man with a wife and four little girls in Guatemala. A man who did all I asked as we worked together. A man who sent home most of what I paid him. A man who was studying English. A man who told me his wife was building them a house. A man who later told me she was building a wall for protection. A man who had not seen his little girls since leaving his county. A man who talked to them each day by cell phone.
In 2010, just before Christmas, Jaime said he was going home. He had been six years in the U.S. without his family. The house and wall were finished. I never asked him how he got here. I never asked how he was going home. I put some money in an envelope. We shook hands and said “good bye.”
It was after Christmas when I got the call from Jaime. “Mister Dan, I am happy.” Then silence. It was clear that his house, like mine, was now a home.
Jaime’s story is not unique. There are many similar stories of day laborers who are trying to support their families back home, whose work ethic is incredible, who are trying to learn English, and who face enormous odds in their quest for a better life. I read that story last week to a group of community representatives and county employees who have been working with me on day laborer issues. And we all cried!
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.