Inside a huge garage at the David H. Ponitz Career Technology Center, there are ten or so cars in different stages of being fixed, and about a dozen hydraulic lifts. Instructor Rick Seither calls his students over for a mini-lesson.
“Why is this clicking?” he asks the group of about a dozen kids. One kid pipes up with answer after answer—that’s Javier, a charming, bespectacled 18-year-old with thick black hair. Javier, whom we’re calling by his middle name to protect his identity, is a straight-A student. And if it wasn’t for a bumpy freshman year, he says, Javier would have a 4.0 in his overall high school average.
“I was still learning English,” he says. “I would’ve been a 4.0 the whole way.”
When he arrived in Dayton in what was to be the middle of his eighth grade year, he could only say “hello” and “good-bye”. His parents had left Ecuador for Dayton years before; he and his little sister stayed behind with their grandmother. But it was never discussed that the kids would leave Ecuador and join their parents.
“I told my cousin that I will never go to the U.S.,” Javier shakes his head as he recalls. “Never, never, never.”
But then things changed.
“One day my mom called and said, ‘Hey, do you want to came to the U.S. with your sister?’ And I was like whoa, are you kidding me? And...somehow we got here.”
That “somehow” included an elaborate network of coyotes, professional smugglers, working together. From Ecuador they flew to Honduras, then spent several days on the road to Mexico City where they stayed with friends of the family for three weeks. In order to cross the border, Javier and his sister were told to “act Mexican”. Two coyotes played the role of mother and father, and they acted as if they were going to shop at an Arizona grocery store. The kids sat in the back with gameboys.
“We had to learn their names, we had to learn our names because we had different names,” Javier says. “Oh, and we had to learn the Mexican national anthem. It was nice.”
Javier’s laughing as he tells the story, but he was scared.
“These people are being used by everyone,” says Tony Ortiz, Associate Vice President of Latino Affairs at Wright State University. He says he hears stories like this from lots of immigrant families, particularly when he works with families through St. Mary’s Church in Dayton. “The father and the mother, they're trying to do what's best for the whole family. They're coming from conditions where it's not possible for them to survive...but they're coming here and they're being used.”
Ortiz says coyote networks make lots of money off of children and adults trying to get across the border, and Javier says his parents paid thousands of dollars to the coyote network for each child. He was one of tens of thousands of minors to cross the border without papers each year.
Their parents had to borrow from friends and spent some time paying off the debt. Javier shrugs. “It took a lot of dedication.”
While some parents spend years saving money to pay for their child’s college education, Javier’s parents borrowed money just so the family could be together.
Now, Javier is in the process of figuring out the convoluted college application process for undocumented students. In part two, we'll see how how he navigates that process.
Graduating Latino is WYSO's series on education for Latinos in the Miami Valley, produced in partnership with Think TV. It's part of the public media initiative American Graduate, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.