Issue 18 • Spring 2017
I met Eberto in 1996 when he was about 16 years old. Our neighbor Carlos approached my husband Michael and me to see if we would be willing to provide temporary housing to a young man from Mexico he had met at church. Our finished basement was empty, so we agreed to take Eberto in. Michael was a little nervous about his immigration status, but he showed us a work permit which listed his age as 19. I correctly assumed it was a fake, but said nothing because I didn't want to send a sweet, shy kid back to a living situation where he wasn't safe. Our temporary housing arrangement with Eberto stretched into four years, and he became Tio Eberto to our daughter Katherine when she was born. When he finally moved on, I missed him and worried about him as if he were my own kid. I thought about Eberto a lot during the last election season and into President Trump's first month in office. I found myself wishing he could get to know the man that I knew. While he was living with us, Eberto put in a hard day's work five to six days a week, month after month, year after year. He didn't have a phone, so when he was working for a couple of temp agencies, I got used to early morning calls every day that he didn't already have a job lined up. People from both agencies asked me if I knew any more young men like Eberto who were willing to do any kind of work, no matter how hard or how dirty. They told me how difficult it was to keep employees willing to stick to hard manual labor, especially for the relatively low wages they could pay. Lots of days, Berto would come home from work, cook himself a few eggs and warm a few tortillas to eat, then drop into bed with his clothes still on. He was proud in a shy, quiet way of how much work he could do in a day. I remember the evening he came home from work and told me with great satisfaction that he had picked more buckets of cherries that day than any other worker, and so had earned more money than any of the other guys. Berto loved his weekends (sometimes only a Sunday), but he was always ready to go back to work on Monday. Most of his money went home to his family in Mexico--he really missed them, especially his baby sister. I got to see her growing up in the new pictures that came in the mail for Berto every year. After Berto left, we didn't hear from him for a couple of years. Then one day, out of the blue, he came to visit with his wife and two little boys. Berto didn't look like a kid anymore--he'd put on some weight and his skin was getting darker-- but he still smiled in his shy way. He didn't need to tell Michael and me how pleased he was to introduce us to his family. Berto was still working hard but was now full time with a landscaping company about nine months a year and working in an orchard doing maintenance work during the other months. His wife, Maria, worked for the same orchard, sorting and packing apples. Maria told us she and Berto had met at a dance, fallen in love, and still liked to go dancing together. Sixteen years went by before I saw Berto again. I am a school teacher in a town in Idaho, and this August, I saw a familiar name on my Beginning French class list: Eberto O. I wondered for a minute if this Eberto was the "Junior" I had met all those years ago--was this my Eberto's son? I was delighted when Eberto Jr. confirmed that his dad was indeed my Eberto. Junior came to school the next day telling me that his dad had lost track of Michael and me when we'd moved--he and Maria had even tried to get our new address from the current owners of our old house, but those folks hadn't felt comfortable giving that kind of information to strangers, so they'd given up trying to locate us. During the Christmas holidays this last year, Eberto, Maria and their eight year old daughter Susanna came to visit, bringing us a box of apples from the orchard where they both still worked. Berto was a little heavier and a little more leathery, but he was still smiling his shy smile. He sat quietly, listening to Maria, Susanna and I chatting about their home and the kids' activities. Susanna showed me 14th birthday party pictures of Gabriel, the toddler I had met last time we'd seen Eberto. I cried just a little when I hugged him goodbye and he told me we'd see each other again. Just the other day, I asked Junior if his dad was still doing landscaping for the same company, and he said, "Yep. My dad just loves to work." Last summer, Junior and his dad built a deluxe dog house together so Junior could learn the basics of construction, but after working this summer, he's planning to go to Treasure Valley Community College and play tennis for them. He's not sure what career he'll choose, but he feels like going to college locally is a smart choice--he can still be part of his family. I'd hope that if President Trump were to read my story, he wouldn't dismiss it as fake news. Eberto and his family are just as I have described them. I imagine that there are lots of Ebertos out there in America, working hard, raising kids, and making positive contributions to their communities. I hope that our President gets the chance to hear some of their stories as he sets the direction for immigration policy in our country.