Refuge

His mother abandoned him at birth.

His father was murdered when he was five years old.

His grandparents beat him with electric cables and made him sleep on the curb in front of their house. He speaks an Indian language only known in the highlands of southern Mexico, and only has the most rudimentary Spanish.

When he was fourteen, an aunt sent for him. It took him five days to cross the Arizona desert.

He moved in with his aunt, and went to work washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant in a Midwestern city. He did this for three years, six days a week, ten hours a day.

No one spoke Spanish in the restaurant and no one spoke English.

The system finally caught up with him, and today, he was sitting in an immigration processing center waiting room, hoping that the same system would find a place amongst the many rules and regulations and offer him safety.

I had been visiting with him once a week during the past couple of months at a detention facility, and it seemed like a good idea to be with him when he appeared before the authorities.

The young man was sitting across from me, between his attorney and the guard from the detention facility. We all chat for a while, but he soon runs out of Spanish vocabulary and lapses into silence. I worry that he is going to have a hard time in life, if he can’t even speak Spanish.

But a Chinese family comes into the waiting room, and they begin an animated conversation. The young man, seemingly trapped by a lack of language into a life of loneliness, sits up and smiles. The attorney looks at him and says, “Entiendes el chino, verdad?” and he says, Yeah, I understand some of it. And he smiles, not as nervous now, not so alone.
 

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