Guatemalans in the East Bay: A conversation

Photographer Ray Chavez and I went to Guatemala earlier this year and created this series about some Guatemalans living in Hayward and Oakland. If your computer doesn’t let you see the multimedia presentation, you can also view the stories here.

I’ve been fielding a lot of input so I hope I can use this post and the comments section below to open up a conversation about some of the questions people are raising.

We invite your observations, opinions, questions and challenges, and I’ll do my best to answer the questions.

  • Mike DeMontoya

    25 Dec 2007. I open the CC Times to see if there’s an uplifting story appropriate to the Holiday Season. I’m not disappointed. No mention of the usual gang related shootings in Richmond, Antioch or Pittsburg. Instead we’re treated to the joyful story of how poor Guatemalans endured the ravages of civil war in their native land and now live in the U.S. This story is one of a series by Matt O’Brien, scheduled to run for a week. How appropriate for this season of giving and compassion for the less fortunate. But on closer inspection, this story begs the question: Is it just a “warm fuzzy, feel good story”, or has Mr. O’Brien a hidden agenda. Knowing the political leanings of the Times and Mr. O’Brien, I strongly suspect he does. He emphasizes the hardships these “immigrants” endured and how they are good, decent; law abiding people who only want a chance to become productive “citizens”. But he also includes the fact that they’re not yet “citizens”: some are here illegally. So, I submit the true agenda of this series is to evoke in readers, empathy, compassion and understanding for people who have NO LEAGL RIGHT to be here; in the hope such empathy and understanding will result in a political ground swell leading to their legalization. As such, Mr. O’Brien’s agenda is not well hidden and all too transparent in its political bias. And as such, this series does not deserve to be called “journalism”. There are appropriate places for such biased Opinions. This is why News Papers have Editorial and Letters to the Editor sections. At best Mr. O’Brien is guilty of shoddy journalism. At worst, he’s a mouth piece for Marxist ideology echoing the old discredited slogan: “To each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities”. The “haves” (tax payers,) are obligated to support the “Have nots” So Mr. O’Brien would require those of us who have the ability and obey the law; to take responsibility and support with our taxes, those who have no right to be here. Yes, a minority of Illegal Aliens are productive and not a social burden. FACT: The MAJORITY ARE a DRAIN. FACT: NEITHER deserves to be here. And neither deserves our support or the politically biased support from news media. For a newspaper to print such a transparent political agenda isn’t journalism: it’s a tedious, week long POLITICAL RANT.

    Mike DeMontoya

    cc Publisher – John Armstrong
    Exec Editor – Kevin Keane

  • tubeboy

    I agree with Mike DeMontoya, these articles does appear to be one sided with a political agenda. I wanted to see if Matt O’Brien would ask any of the Guatemalans in the articles if they thought they were breaking any laws coming to the United States.

    Should the US allow everyone from anywhere to immigrate into the US? I don’t think our infrastructure can handle it. That is why we have immigration laws. We can’t have people come in without any control, no matter how sad their stories maybe.

    If Matt does not like the current immigration policies as they stand, then ok. These articles does not belong on the front page. These series of articles belong in the human interest section or the editoral section.

  • Kim Santos

    I will take this opportunity, as an editor who worked on this series with Matt, to answer some of the issues raised thus far. There was no “agenda” to this series, other than to use Matt’s hard-earned World Affairs fellowship to shed light on what is happening and who is here in Hayward. There is a story behind every person, legal or not, and to not tell people’s stories is to suggest that we ignore they even exist. Are you saying we should muzzle ourselves and select only the stories we want to report — only the stories we think you would like? That truly wouldn’t be journalism.

    Nowhere in Matt’s stories does it even slightly hint that he/the paper does not like — or has any feeling about — current immigration policies or immigration itself. That’s not what the series is about. Its intention is not to invoke empathy, but to give you an informed look at who these people really are and where they come from — and even why. It is true that illegal immigrants have no legal right to be here — and our stories said just that. Is it your opinion that the front page of the newspaper is not for human interest stories, even though you lament that we did not run feel-good fuzzy stories, which in themselves would likely have to be human interest? There is no “human interest” section of the paper because the whole paper is human interest. The Guatemala series does not belong on the editorial page because it is not opinion. Nor should it be entirely credited to the Contra Costa Times, because while it is a sister paper and did run the series, Matt O’Brien works for the Daily Review.

    I’m not saying you have to like the stories. I’m not even saying you have to agree with them. But to call Matt and Ray’s work “shoddy journalism” and to discredit it for reasons that are untrue is a shame. These stories are well-reported and were months in the making — they are not something we just threw together without any forethought. We ran them for you to develop your own opinions and feelings, whatever they may be. Our job, as journalists and as the hometown newspaper, is to show you what’s out there. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing our job, would we?

    I invite all readers to write letters to the editor for publication. We only require that they are 250 words or less, and include a city of residence and a phone number where we can reach you to verify authorship. Mail them to me at ksantos@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Kim Santos

    P.S. If you prefer regular mail, send them to:
    Kim Santos, editor
    The Daily Review
    22533 Foothill Blvd.
    Hayward, CA 94541

  • The first question I see here is from Tubeboy, who asks:

    “I wanted to see if Matt O’Brien would ask any of the Guatemalans in the articles if they thought they were breaking any laws coming to the United States.”

    Yes, of course. I think I made it clear that most everyone I wrote about is here illegally, and they certainly are aware of that. The chief exception is Vicente (Tuesday’s story) and some of his family members, who are legal residents because they received political asylum. (Although, in a lot of cases, many asylees entered the U.S. illegally before applying for and obtaining asylum).

    For more about what asylum means, you can visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website:

    http://www.uscis.gov/ (Click on “Services and Benefits” and then on “Humanitarian Benefits.”)

  • My story today described what happens to Guatemalan deportees when they return to Guatemala from the U.S. The number of deportees keeps growing every year, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cites increased worksite enforcement as one of the reasons.

    This week, the Washington Post reported on how the increased enforcement measures are working, according to a year-end tally.

    ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley also sent me this link to a recent factsheet on the agency’s fugitive operations and worksite enforcement.

  • monica ruiz

    I disagree with Mike DeMontoya and Fact: most people do not agree with his anti-immigrant sentiments.

    Thanks for the series.

  • Fernando Hernandez

    Monica: I too take exception with Mr. Montoya’s statement that “FACT: The MAJORITY ARE a DRAIN. FACT: NEITHER deserves to be here.”

    Mr. De Montoya- Labeling something a FACT does not make it so.

    This nation expanded westward by braking treaty upon treaty. If you were to ask Native Americans, European folks don’t deserve to here either.

    Illegal immigrants are indeed a necessary cog in the machinery of this economy, and I quote Mr. Robert Reich, 22nd US Secretary of Labor and Professor at UC Berkley, who wrote in his blog:

    “Remember also that most of us born here are descended from immigrants. What we’ve learned is that people with the guts and gumption to leave their country of birth and come to America are almost by definition ambitious. And we also know something else: The single most important asset of this economy and society is ambition.

    I’m not arguing that we throw our borders open. No, we need better border security. But to think immigrants are our enemies, or to believe that they’re taking more out of the economy more than they putting into it, is pure baloney.”

    To read the entire text I quote, go to http://www.robertreich.org, it is one of his blog entries from late december (22nd?)

    I enjoyed the story on the Mayan perspective quite a bit, particularly since my wife and I visited that area of Guatemala almost 20 years ago.


  • Today is a big day in Guatemala. A new president, Alvaro Colom, takes office, as reported here by the Associated Press.

    Also this month, a UN-sponsored commission begins its effort to fix Guatemala’s court system. Report here from the LA Times.

    Tuesday update: Here’s a post-inauguration story in the Houston Chronicle.

  • kathy super

    It would be wonderful if the changes in Guatemala’s politics filter down to the poor who must come here to work to support their families. I am sure that if you ask any first generation immigrant from south or central America if they would go back if they could earn a living wage, they would return in a minute. I also agree that this is a land of immigrants, From space, there are no borders, no walls, how quickly people forget. Kathy Super