My Mexican Grandfather

Yesterday morning I traveled across the border to Nogales, Sonora to visit the Comedor de los Migrantes, a Jesuit-run cafeteria that serves meals to recently deported migrants. At least a third of the migrants who lined up for a breakfast of pozole soup and tortillas had been captured my US Border Patrol agents and deported the night before. After cold nights in the desert, some of the women used the hot tortillas to warm their hands before dipping them in their soup.

After the meal I had the chance to meet a family of migrants who were captured in the desert two nights earlier. There was four of them: a mother, a father, and their two young daughters – about ten and seven years-old – who played with a stray kitten while I talked to their parents. The father had crossed illegally into the US many months before and found construction and concrete work in Seattle. He returned to Mexico to bring over his wife and daughters, but were caught after two days in the desert.

The story of this family parallels my own. My grandfather was a farmer in rural Italy. He, too, had daughters and he, too, travelled to North America to find work to give his wife and girls a better life. He settled in Canada, but like the Mexican father, he found work doing construction and pouring concrete. And like the Mexican father, he eventually he sent for his wife and daughters to join him. Sitting across from this man was like seeing my own grandfather a half-century ago.

The difference, many people would say, is that my grandfather did this legally.

My grandfather in in his eighties now. The daughters he brought to Canada granted him seven grandchildren, and his sixth great-grandchild will be born before Christmas. If he looks out at Calgary’s downtown skyline, my Nonno can count the buildings he helped construct. I can’t see how his contribution to Canadian society would seem any less had he not had a envelope filled with papers saying that he legally belonged.

When people here on the border talking about solving the immigration problem, sometimes I wonder what the problem really is.