Future bleak for deported family
Transition to rural Mexican life is tough for former Palo Altans
With no job and no possibilities, Isabel Aguirre and Pedro Ramirez and their four children are clinging to a two-room shack in the mountains of central Mexico as their only refuge.
A corrugated tar-and-cardboard roof offers meager protection from the elements, where the Palo Alto family has been living since Ramirez and Aguirre were deported by United States immigration authorities on Feb. 28 and April 6, respectively.
Since their story was first made public in the Weekly on March 30, the family's plight has been covered by scores of news organizations throughout the nation, including some overseas.
The couple's four children, who are U.S. nationals, faced deportation with their mother or placement in foster care because their parents could not afford plane tickets to take the children to Mexico. Local residents and staff at Palo Alto schools, where the children attended, donated money for the tickets.
The children left with Aguirre on a red-eye flight from San Francisco to Morelia, Mexico, on April 6. The family carried only their clothing and a few parting gifts, but were forced to leave behind all of their other possessions.
The home they now live in is up a gravel road in the small village of Cancita, a half-hour's drive from the main road. It is Aguirre's father's house -- the home she grew up in, with a cement-slab floor, a small door for ventilation and crumbling balustrades supporting a porch overhang. The thick, black cardboard roof sags in places, an unquaint substitution for thatch in desolate country where resources are scarce.
On Saturday morning, the temperature was 90 degrees with a promise of rising to 100, Pedro Ramirez said during a phone conversation on April 14. It's been this way every day since the family arrived.
"It feels OK," Ramirez said in an upbeat voice that betrays the worry photographs show etched in his face. "It takes awhile.
"But there is nothing -- no job, no possibilities -- there is nothing for the kids to do. There are one or two neighbors, but it is too hot for the kids to play outside," he said.
Ramirez isn't sure how he will sustain his family. The only work available is in the fields, cultivating the land owned by a local farmer, or possibly eking out an existence on the two-acre plot behind his father-in-law's house. For now, the children are eating; it is mostly tortillas, beans and rice, cooked in an outdoor kitchen, he said.
"Food is very expensive here," he said.
Ramirez would like to build a house for the family behind the shack, but materials are very expensive, he said. For now, they live four to a room, with the children sleeping on the porch on cots.
They are safer now than when they first came, since Ramirez has sprayed for the many scorpions he found in the house when he first arrived. One of the children nearly sat on a scorpion that perched on top of the latrine seat, a pit dug into the ground with no drainage, topped with a wooden seat.
There is no electricity, so water for cooking, bathing and drinking -- and for any potential garden -- must be carried from the river, where clothes are also washed. The river water was probably the cause of Aguirre's dysentery sickness. Acclimating the body to the water, food and local microbes also takes time, people said. Due to the family's financial hardship, Aguirre didn't want to go to the doctor, said friend and translator Marielena Gaona-Mendoza. But she became so ill she was unresponsive, and a niece came with a car to take her to the doctor, she said.
Ramirez found his father-in-law lying on the floor of the tiny home, unable to walk, when he first arrived there in late March. The elderly man is better now and is also living with the family, he said.
Adjustment is hard for the children -- especially for the oldest, Pedro, Jr., 15 -- who was a sophomore at Gunn High School.
"Pedro said 'I can't stay here. What am I going to do?'" Ramirez said.
"The schools go to the sixth grade -- and that's it."
Ramirez said the couple plan to send Pedro and younger brother Adrian, 12, back to California in June or July so that they can continue their educations, but they must stay put until their passports arrive. The girls, Yadira, 10, and Adriana, 6, will remain with their parents for now.
He hopes the boys can stay with family friends upon their return.
Father Lawrence Goode, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in East Palo Alto, said the family's departure was very emotional for him. Aguirre and the children came to the church on April 6 to receive a blessing, after a Lenten passion play that was attended by hundreds of worshipers had taken place.
It was to be a private affair before the Mass, but involved hundreds of the mostly Latino participants, who were told the family was being deported.
"I tried to tell the people (about the family leaving), but I couldn't get the words out," he said.
"I feel sorry for this country. There is a blindness that people don't see the total picture. These people have really contributed to this economy. People seem to fear that they will change things, but every group of immigrants that have come here have become Americanized.
"I wish they would keep some of their culture. I've been a priest since 1964 and I couldn't get enough of 'Mexican.' It was like we were at a crossroads and we were passing each other by. They were getting out of it (their culture) and I was taking it in. Where Irish had been, I was filling it up with Mexican. People come here ... but we really don't have a(n) (American) culture. You don't have songs that you sing, or dances you dance," he said.
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be e-mailed at email@example.com.