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His Daughter Died of Sadness. Separated From Her Father By Economics As She Lay Dying

Andy and Blossom Wright were Catholic Workers in Houston for eight years. They now live in Wisconsin and recently visited with their four children. We asked Andy’s help in getting Daniel to the bus station.

“Ella se murió de tristeza.” She died of sadness. This was the analysis of Danielʼs housemate here in Houston, the man who shares in paying the rent. Danielʼs daughter, Estefani, just 5 years old, had died in the early morning hours. She had stopped eating well in the Fall of 2012 when her father, Daniel, left Milton-Freewater, at the end of the Oregon apple harvest to find work in Houston. She was her fatherʼs only child. About a week prior to her dying in her motherʼs arms, she had been pronounced “fine” by a doctor, Daniel laments.

Daniel and his wife have been married 8 years. She is an American citizen who was brutally attacked in a city in California prior to their marriage. She is wheelchair bound. Daniel thought that she and Estefani could live on her disability check, $700 per month, while he tried to find work in Houston. His housemate reports he spoke with his daughter nearly every night hoping to bring them to Houston when he had enough money. Daniel relates that Estefani would ask each night when they would be together again. He would respond, “pronto” soon. He rented a simple room with a box fan and no air con-ditioning. He took odd jobs nearly daily, but without a work permit, could not land a steady job. He was in “the final steps” of naturalization through his wife. He is in tears as he mourns his daughterʼs sudden death. He keeps repeating, “es un golpe fuerte.” This is a hard hit.

Daniel has fond memories of Milton-Freewater, Oregon. It is where he has, seasonally, spent most of the last 12 years, since he immigrated at the age of 16. He is from the Mexican state of Jalisco. His parents died around the time he immigrated. He needed to make a living for himself. His siblings are married, “living their own lives” in Mexico. He met his wife in California. Following his seasonal migration of economic necessity, he went back to pick apples this past Fall. As in other years, he would then leave to keep bringing in money to live, to make a future with. He showed up at Casa Juan Diego, eyes red and swollen from a morning of grief. He needed money for passage to Pendleton, Oregon–the nearest Greyhound stop to his home. As is Houston Catholic Worker custom, we take people at their word, while assuring the actual need is met.

We went to the Greyhound station in downtown Houston. No longer are persons employed to sell the bus tickets. Since my last visit to the station, a lighted sign announces: “Central de Autobuses”–signaling the economic reality of Greyhoundʼs reliance on Spanish-speaking travelers. We approached the computerized kiosk. The next available bus to Pendleton would leave after midnight. “I need to be with my wife, she is dying of sadness,” Daniel sounds desperate. We buy the ticket, $20 for food and a water bottle are added. We arrange to meet at his domicile just before mid-night. When I arrive he is well-dressed, ready to go. His eyes are still swollen and red, he repeats, “es un golpe fuerte.” I drop him off at the bus station. He thanks me and Don Marcos for prayers, the help, and is grateful to reacquaint himself with the Hail Mary.

A Reflection

Danielʼs story makes me sad, but it also makes me angry. Do I sense the bitter tears as I crunch a succulent apple from the Pacific Northwest? Nothing short of a proper work up, a correct diagnosis, and prompt treatment could have helped Estefani survive. But what separated her from her father as she lay dying is nothing short of economic violence. A hard working man, on the cusp of legally claiming the title he had lived for 12 years, American, was thousands of miles from his daughter as she lay dying in her motherʼs arms. She ached to see her father. May God help us if this is the price we tolerate for cheap apples.

Daniel impressed me as an honorable man, a man of faith. His instinct was to fly to his wife, and comfort her, even as the economic cost of his decision was severe (he mentioned the funeral costs for which he would have to beg to cover). In parting we shared the poor immigrantsʼ unofficial prayer “primero Dios, seguimos adelante.” By Godʼs help, we will persevere.

May these reflections help to lead to a just immigration reform.

Houston Catholic Worker, June-August 2013, Vol. XXXIV, No. 3