Yesterday, I watched a middle-aged man draw a simple house on colored paper with crayons.
The man’s name is Jeronimo. He was at a community meeting where high school and college students asked Central American and Mexican immigrants to draw something representative of their life story. The students will later create a public arts project to display at MacArthur Park.
Jeronimo is from El Salvador. He came to Los Angeles illegally 20 years ago.
As Jeronimo explains, “This house that I’m drawing here is the house that brought me here, and my dream is to go back there [El Salvador].” (Listen to my interview with Jeronimo)
When he was 24 years old, Jeronimo’s parents came close to losing the little house they built, because of a loan they couldn’t repay. The house was the only thing his parents owned, Jeronimo said. He resolved to travel to the U.S. to earn money that he could send back and save their house.
His parents were against his plan, as were his sister and two brothers. But Jeronimo left anyway. After a tearful goodbye, he made the perilous journey – crossing three borders illegally and ending up in Los Angeles.
Back in his home country, he was a college student. In the U.S., he started out as an undocumented worker lifting furniture. In two years, he had helped his parents pay back the loan and keep their house, and he also paid back the loan he had taken to pay for his migration.
Now, Jeronimo said, the decision of whether to go back to El Salvador is an even more difficult one than was the decision to come to the U.S.
He yearns to return home, but economic realities prevent it. He can be of more help to his family by staying in Los Angeles and continuing to send them money from his earnings. And he would have trouble making a living in El Salvador.
Jeronimo is now a legal, naturalized citizen. He works as a community organizer for day laborers. And, he told me he still regularly dreams of that little house.
My interview with Jeronimo will be part of a feature piece I’ll be doing at LA Public Media, about the upcoming public art project at MacArthur Park featuring the stories of Latino immigrants.