By Pat Nelson
For The Daily News, Longview, WA, April 4, 2008
Reprinted with permission
Santos Lopez Fabian first came to the United States twenty years ago on a visa. During each of those twenty years, he worked in the United States most of the year and traveled home to his family in the Guatemala highlands for a few months before returning to work.
When Santos first came to the United States, he didn’t speak English, but he had a strong body and an even stronger work ethic. During those twenty years, he added to the skills his father had taught him in Guatemala. He worked with concrete, brick, and tile. He worked in the kitchen of a Las Vegas casino. He landscaped, cleared brush, and remodeled houses and commercial buildings. He house-sat, and worked at a bulb farm and a chicken-processing plant.
Santos lived frugally, living with roommates and sending money home to his family in Guatemala, and he saved money for the day his wife could join him in the United States.
Santos’ first child, Ester, was born 18 years ago, making it even more difficult for him to leave his family and go back to work for months at a time. Next was Sara, now 16, then sons Eliazer, 13; Eber, 10; and Darwin, 6. His wife, Rodriga, worked hard raising the five children, keeping up their home, helping both her mother, Bernarda, and Santos’ mother Maria, and raising crops and animals to feed her family. She also took (in) sewing… and she waited for her husband to come home.
In 2003, we remodeled our retail center in Woodland. That’s when we first met Santos He was looking for work, and we had plenty for him to do. We soon learned that he was skilled at doing many types of labor and that he was reliable and worked hard. Now, five years later, he still works for us part-time, and he has become a close friend.
Each time Santos returned to Guatelala, Rodriga begged him to stay. But he wanted to provide for his family, so he kept returning to the United States, promising Rodriga and the children that he would one day bring them here.
For years, he had prayed his applications would be approved. During those years, he learned English. He took classes, listened to tapes, watched language videos and practiced. He filled out forms and checked often on his applications to bring his family. He waited, and prayed. That was before the September 11, 2001 attacks.. On that day, security tightened and the progress he had made was lost.
Discouraged, Santos began to wonder if he would ever be allowed to bring his family to the country he called home most of each year. He took classes in Vancouver to study for his U. S. citizenship. One day in 2006, my husband and I, along with friends and family, made the trip to Seattle with Santos and proudly watched as he became a citizen of the United States of America.
Once Santos became a citizen, his family’s paperwork moved into a new category. Last year, he started working full time in St. Helens, Oregon, at a good job with benefits. He continued to work for us on Saturdays, saving money for the day his dream would come true.
He went home before Christmas to be with his family. He planned to return as usual before April 15 so he could file his income tax, but this time was different. On March 21, we picked up Santos and four of his five children at the airport. Daughter Ester remained in Guatemala where she attends college. The family arrived tired but excited, and we drove them to their new home in St. Helens. We took our grandchildren along to meet Santos’ and Rodriga’s children. They weren’t sure how to react to kids who didn’t speak their language, but when we visited them on their second day here., all of the kids played soccer together. When our grandson Max reluctantly left, red-faced, muddy, and smiling, he said, “You don’t even need the same language after awhile.”
Last Saturday, the Lopez family came to our house to visit . There was snow in the hills, and we decided to take them up onto one of the hills to play. We outfitted each of them with gloves, a hat, and winter socks, and then we found the perfect snowy spot to introduce them to winter recreation. Snowballs flew and kids on sleds glided down the hill on their bellies. Their favorite activity of all was throwing snowballs at their mom as she squealed with delight. Santos smiled. He was home in the United States, and his dream had come true.