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Searching Through the Mountains in Guatemala for the Family of an Immigrant

Miguel, originally from Guatemala, is a seminarian for the Diocese of Galveston-Houston, studying at the seminary in Hales Corners, Wisconsin. He spent several months at Casa Juan Diego this summer.

We have no idea how he managed to get to Houston from Guatemala, but one day Epimelio was at Casa Juan Diego’s door and the doorkeeper took him in. All he had with him was a birth certificate from which we knew the name of his parents and that he was from a rural place in San Marcos, Guatemala, and that he was eighteen years of age. He also had a letter in English which said that he was looking for his parents. Epimelio has disabilities of hearing and talking which make it difficult to communicate. He could neither speak nor hear.

Mark Zwick had asked the Guatemalan Consulate in Houston to help find Epimelio’s family, but they were unable to help. He then put an article in the Spanish newspaper in Houston, hoping to get someone who knew about Epimelio to call, but without results.

As I was going to travel to Guatemala to visit my family, I volunteered to look for Epimelio’s family. I went to San Marcos to that end on a trip I thought was going to take two days, but it actually took a whole week. San Marcos is the Western province of Guatemala by the Mexican border. It goes from the warm coast of the Pacific Ocean south to the cold mountains and to its two volcanoes in the north. I found myself going up and down the mountains of San Marcos following people’s directions to find Epimelio’s family. They told me to follow a road close to the top of the volcano, and when I got to the place, found out that nobody knew about Epimelio or his family. Some people then advised me to look in another place, but I had to walk many miles because of the lack of roads only to hear the people of the village say that they didn’t know anybody with such names or descriptions. Finally, I found a little village where people knew about Epimelio. They were amazed to know that he was in Houston. They knew his family and told me that I was about two hours from the place.

Epimelio’s father was at his own father’s funeral, and when he knew about me bringing news of his son, he came quickly to his home. He told me that he had another son who was living in Delaware, and thought that he might take Epimelio with him.

Back in Houston I told everything to Mark and the people of Casa Juan Diego. I also brought a picture to Epimelio from his parents. His face turned serious to the point of crying when he saw the picture. Then he smiled and asked by signs how they were doing I tried to tell him that they were doing fine and happy to know of him

Mark asked me if I wanted to go with Epimelio by Greyhound to meet his brother Nector in Delaware, which I was glad to do. Epimelio was very happy to see his brother, his sister-in-law, his two nephews, and a niece. They took us to eat and to the beach. We had a very good time. Back in the house at night, I had a pleasant and long talk with Nector. He was so thankful for what I had done for his family and talked to me as if I had done such a great thing, which prompted me to confess to him that, since I failed to find his family the second day I was in San Marcos, I had decided to go back home, but the police took the car I was driving because I forgot the car documents at home, and I had to wait until those documents got to San Marcos (which took a couple of days) to show them to the police officers in order to get the car back.

In spite of not deserving it, I was paid greatly for helping Epimelio find his family. First, I had the opportunity of seeing the happiness of Epimelio upon meeting his brother, and second and the greatest thing I enjoyed was the moment when I brought Epimelio’s news to his mother and saw her reaction. I remember her looking at the picture of Epimelio that I brought her from Houston. It was so moving to see her expression when contemplating the picture of her son. To see her at that moment was like seeing love and tenderness incarnate. My broken voice still showed my emotion when I talked to Nector about this.

Nector told me he didn’t know how to pay us for what we did for him. I told him that he was already paying us because I remembered the words Mark usually tells the people he helps that any time they help anybody else, they are paying us. Nector is always helping others. He receives in his house people from Guatemala and helps them to get a job and a place to stay. His house is a house of hospitality.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIV, No. 6, November-December 2004.