Land of Opportunity

Juan was sixteen or he could have been twelve. Neither one of us spoke the other’s language but we communicated with hand signals, drawing pictures in the air and pointing to symbols to describe the words we couldn’t understand.

Stretching out into the deepening surf of the southern Gulf of Mexico, rock jetties provided the perfect place to sit and watch the crashing waves, pelicans feeding and the sky darken to meet the color of the water at the end of the day. Juan was quiet as he inched his way closer to the rock Dylan, my golden retriever, and I were sitting on. He reached out to pet Dylan with a sad look in his eye.

For the next few nights I drove to the beach, Juan always seemed to appear out of nowhere wanting to pet Dylan and talk in the language we had contrived. He was from a poor village in Mexico. His parents had come across the border bringing him with them, hoping to find the better way of life the stories their friends told had painted into a bright colored picture. They’d been in the States for almost a year, and life had not gotten better. Juan had left his dog in Mexico. They were best friends. Now Juan had no one to talk to.

I would drive him home from the beach after we talked for a while and he’d had his fill of playing with Dylan. I never did know exactly where “home” was for Juan. We always drove down an abandoned street where he got out of the car at an abandoned house; windows and doors boarded up and tree limbs strewn across the yard. He would leave the car and run through the yard not looking back, carrying the latest flashcards I had made for him to learn more English words before our next visit on the beach. I never left empty handed–I would bring colored pencils and empty cards of my own for him to use to create my lessons in Spanish.

One night Juan was already at the rocks when Dylan and I walked to the end of the jettie. He was trying not to cry but with little success. His father had been taken away and he couldn’t articulate why. He and his mother were returning to Mexico. He reached over and hugged Dylan. He was leaving another friend.

America–land of dreams. It seems as if that is all this country is anymore; a land of dreams. There are so many visions, so many campaign promises, so much money given to support the politicians with the strongest, loudest spoken words. Where are the people doing the work to see that the promises are kept as we watch more and more dreams become nightmares?

Abraham was sixty-two but he could have been seventy. He walked with a limp leaning on a rough-hewn walking stick, his attempts to carve it into a work of art left unfinished when arthritis got the better of the act.

A small county-seat town west of San Antonio displayed a Mexican influence in the stucco walls and red tile roofs of the buildings circling the courthouse and town square. In the center of this land-locked square sat an old lighthouse, now the local police department and a museum of the Old West; cowboys, cattle and their influence on the development of the community.

Abraham was sitting on a bench outside the door of a small coffee shop which seemed to cater to the cosmopolitan-minded people working in the legal offices adjacent to court. Well-dressed people trafficked in and out, coffee in one hand and cell phone in the other.

I brought my coffee outside and handed a second cup to Abraham. His eyes said “thank you” and I sat down on the bench next to him to talk. He seemed surprised, but quickly started to tell me his life’s history. His family had brought him to Texas when he was ten. They crossed the border with several other families in the dark of night. He had been scared, but could do nothing except move along as his parents tried to find their way to a better life. Abraham’s father had been a craftsman, working stones and metal into pieces of art. Abraham reached in his pocket and pulled out a cross made of silver and turquoise. His father had made it when Abraham turned twenty-one and he’d kept it in his pocket ever since. He’d had a variety of jobs over the years, never finished school and struggled now as his arthritis threatened to become debilitating. His parents had died never seeing the fulfillment of the dream they left home for. Abraham never did find a home, but he had his cross, his faith and a cup of coffee.

As I rose to walk on, a woman came out of the coffee shop, closed her cell phone and looked over at Abraham. She kicked his foot, slapped at the air in front of his eyes and launched into a tirade of curses telling him to go away, go anywhere, but go away from there. She was tired of looking at him, tired of watching him sit and ask for help and she was going to do whatever she could to see that he was forced out of town.

America. People come here for the promise of dreams fulfilled. People living with no hope for a better future look to the illusion of success displayed on our websites, our TV advertisements, our movies, and risk their lives for a piece of that illusion. Beneath the finely coiffed and painted exteriors of the images we project lies the truth, and the reason we should be closing our borders, building walls to keep the dreamers of success away, sending them back to the reality of their homelands.

We can’t give these people what they are looking for because we don’t have it ourselves.

We can’t help those who believe in the illusion because it is simply an illusion; words spoken well, but nothing more than words, nothing more than computer generated graphics showing what we all dream of but few actually do the work to achieve.

Xavier was ageless; young and old at the same time. He was like a shadow working around the tennis club where I gave lessons, the results of his efforts always clearly visible as the man remained hidden from all but the most trusted members. He would come to my office at the end of the night when leagues were over and it was time to close. He had been working there for years before I arrived, knew the story of every member and kept their secrets. He spoke broken English with a twinkle in his eye showing a spirit that knew how to fight to survive in a country his family had come to hoping for more than just survival. He was going to have to figure out what to do next, the new company buying the club was not going to let him stay, and would be hauling away the old trailer he lived in with two dogs, five chickens and a goat. He was worried about what was going to happen to the animals more than he was himself. He thought he might just find an old sofa, put it on the beach and live there selling palm branch designs for the money to pay for food to eat.

He had a ritual before leaving each night; to make sure the lights were turned off, the front door locked and when my car engine was running and the headlights on he would always ask what the one word was that I lived by. I would always answer “Believe,” spelling it out before he asked because I knew he would.

I came to work one morning and Xavier was gone, but when I opened my car door that night there on the seat was a small piece of wood with a hand-woven design covering it “Belive” it read in bright orange, green and yellow thread;

“BE — LIVE” and I could almost see the twinkle in Xavier’s eye knowing the misspelling had been intentional all along.

America. I wonder sometimes if it isn’t that those who come do so for the better life they are supposed to find here, but rather that they come because we need them to show us the meaning of the lessons we too arrogantly believe we do not have to learn.

We have a constitution–more than just paper, it is a legitimate enumeration of the laws of humanity which should apply to all, and which would apply to all if all understood their responsibility to follow those laws.

We are the United States of America, a nation of immigrants who struggled to survive in a land full of opportunity for all, until all became a hollow word and the greedy few found false power in the illusion of their monetary success.

Nine more American soldiers died today, in a land we invaded under the illusion of helping its people find what we have. People say we’re losing that battle. I look at the direction our country is heading–I listen to the news of the direction the country we invaded has taken today. I don’t think we’re far from achieving our goal after all.

How much farther along would we be if our soldiers had been home defending our laws, helping us to become what we were meant to be?

MONICA BENDERMAN is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten-year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq and a year in prison for his public protest of war and the destruction it causes to civilians and to American military personnel. Please visit their website, to learn more.

Kevin and Monica may be reached at