Wednesday, September 21, 2005

WSJ follows Guatemalan Katrina victims to warm welcome in Nashville

The Wall Street Journal reports that a group of thirty Guatemalan victims of Katrina have found open arms in Nashville:

"Back home, Mr. Escobar and Mrs. de Leon's husband, Miguel, decided it was time to heed pleas to evacuate. The men hurried over to the hotel to fetch their wives. The four immediately joined a group of Guatemalans who had arranged to hit the road together, 30 in all. The group had only two children; most parents in the group have left children in Guatemala."

"Fighting colds and fatigue, they arrived on the edge of Nashville on Sunday, Sept. 4 -- a week after abandoning New Orleans. They threw down some blankets and stretched out to sleep on the floor at the tiny house of Mr. Guzman's friends. On Monday, they arose to a Spanish-language radio station's call for Latinos to take part in a Labor Day fund-raiser for hurricane evacuees."

"Moved by news reports that undocumented immigrants had few places to turn for help, about 2,000 Hispanics showed up with everything from lampshades and dinner plates to disposable diapers and cases of drinking water. They lined up to donate as little as $1 and as much as a day's pay. Most of them were also believed to be illegal immigrants, according to community leaders."

"Among those who heard about the newcomers was Santa Perez, a 58-year-old restaurateur and green-card holder, who came to the U.S. about 30 years ago from Mexico. 'I know what it's like to cross rivers,' she says. 'Many people helped me get started. They opened doors for me.' She invited the Escobars and their friends to her Mexican restaurant, El Arroyo, for a feast of tamales, carnita, beans and rice."

"Mrs. Perez had been thinking about donating $4,000 to the Red Cross but decided to use it to help the Guatemalan group. She paid the first month's rent, or $589, for each of four apartments to house the immigrants, then bought new beds for them. The apartments were furnished with tables, chairs and lamps donated at the fund-raiser. Food came from churches frequented by Latinos."

"Local Latinos stepped forward with information about jobs. Ms. Bautista and five other Guatemalan women were taken to a local job fair and directed to a plant in nearby La Vergne that manufactures and distributes DVDs and other disks. Within two days of arriving in Nashville, they had jobs packing DVDs."

"Several men in the group soon found work on construction sites, as they had in New Orleans. A phone call placed by a local resident helped Mr. Escobar land a job as a mechanic at a car-repair shop, after initially being offered a cleaning job at a Hispanic-run bus company."

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