Samuel is betrayed by Faith and Hope
“Is this Faith?”
“You mean Hope?”
“Ah, yes, Hope, sorry. Is Hope there?”
For a long time, I asked for Faith when I meant Hope. When your first start living your life in a language that’s not your own, trivial things like people’s names have to be filed systematically: What’s the equivalent name in my language? No equivalent? OK, what does the word mean? Nothing? Ok, what does it sound like? Got it? Done!
Of course, Hope meant something, but that something was pretty close to Faith, and that’s what caused the constant mix-up in my mental filing system.
My name is Samuel and I think that’s very easy to remember. If I met me, I would think: Samuel is exactly the same in English and Spanish, so there you go - Samuel! Or I would think of Samuel L. Jackson and voila - filed.
Hope was adamant — “I’ve done everything I can,” she promised me. She told me this on the phone, not in person. I was sitting in the lotus position in my roommate Andrew’s TV chair, browsing through pretty pictures in an old bible, the phone tucked between my left ear and shoulder. “Esperanza” is Hope in Spanish, but that didn’t occur to me when we were introduced. In my mind, I saw her, twiddling her blonde hair with her thumb and index finger, getting black ink on it perhaps, as she obliterated my dreams. “Victor says your best bet is to get into a school and get a student visa.”
“Well, thanks for nothing,” I said and hung up. I had a knot in my throat all night but I didn’t cry.
Victor Diaz was my lawyer and Hope Reid was my “Senior Case Manager”. By the end of my relationship with Diaz & Edberg Legal Services, she was just an aggravating hidden fee.
Victor had personally taken my first call. “You’re in luck” is how Hope put into perspective the rarity of such honor. The son of immigrants himself (“my parents are from El Salvador — ‘buena gente’, good people just like you”), he promised to fight to the death for me, though he was sure we had a strong case here, so this was a “done deal”. I wasn’t familiar with the expression back then but it sounded encouraging. It felt good to be in the hands of someone who understood and loved “buena gente”. He sounded quite “buena gente” himself.
That first call with Victor was free of charge. Then the first and only “consultation” was a hundred and seventy-five dollars. I had asked for the morning off at the school where I was working as a teacher’s aide during my first year in the US and took the bus Downtown like Hope had instructed. In a plastic blue folder I swiped from the supply room at the school, I brought every scrap of paper I deemed potentially useful to my case: transcripts from the two years of college I attended in Colombia, my score from the Colombian equivalent to the SAT, my social security card. “Bring everything, we’ll take a look” was Hope’s suggestion.
Hope was tall and blonde and shaped like a bowling pin. Her face was chubby and young, tense, and her midriff narrow and thin, framed by also thin long arms and lacking any evidence of breasts, and supporting all this bodily imbalance, a hunk of hips and thick legs in silvery stockings contrasting with her dark grey business suit.
“Well, hello Samuel,” she greeted me enthusiastic in her high-pitched, nasal tone. When we first spoke on the phone I thought she had a cold. “Would you like some coffee, or juice?”
I asked for coffee.
Diaz & Edberg occupied the top floor of a lemon green Dutch Colonial style house near Downtown St. Paul. The downstairs was a children’s bookstore. All the staff I saw going about their business was made up of young women, all of them more attractive than Hope. There were no signs of Victor Diaz or whoever Edberg was, except for a large photo of what appeared to be the entire staff of ten or so standing in the front lawn of the house, front and center was a short Latino man with a big white smile and graying hair with his arm around a beautiful brunette. That would be the only glimpse I would ever get of Victor Diaz.
“What do you got for us there, Samuel,” asked Hope, glancing at the folder in my lap.
“These things hopefully will help,” I said and proceeded to methodically extract and explain each of the documents I had in the folder, my treasured history of academic achievement, gainful employment, and obedience of the law.
“Great,” beamed Hope. “Let’s Xerox all this good stuff.”
At English school they only thought me the word “photocopy” for what she was going to do, but I understood what she meant.
After she came back with my folder and her stack of Xeroxes, we spoke for no more than fifteen minutes. She asked me all the same questions Victor Diaz had asked me on the phone and I was glad Diaz & Edberg was being thorough and I was pleased to have the opportunity to fill in my Senior Case Manager on my life story personally. I explained to her that someone high up in the ranks of the school district wanted to hire me permanently because of my academic background and language skills and was willing to sign any kind of sponsorship if that were necessary for immigration purposes.
“OK,” said Hope, slamming her hand down on the stack of papers for emphasis. “I’ll get working on your application”.
And she did. For the next six weeks, I received several calls from Hope, mostly filled with professional formality — we’ve submitted your application, Victor thinks we’ll be doing paperwork with your sponsor by month’s end, things are looking good. She never offered any specific evidence on which these updates might have been based, but I felt I was in good hands and her calls were often the highlight of grey and uncertain days for me. It was March and I had become weary of the grey and frigid Minnesota winter that only a couple of months before had been a beautiful white novelty; stuff I had only seen in movies.
One time she called me at work and much earlier than usual.
“We’re closing a bit earlier today for St. Patrick’s Day,” she explained. “I wanted to give you an update before we close.”
“Oh!” I said, unable to hide my confusion. I didn’t know who St. Patrick was and it struck me as odd that businesses in what I understood to be a secular country would close for a Christian Holiday.
“Are you familiar with St. Patrick’s Day?” she asked me and I said no. “It is a huge celebration of Irish heritage. And St. Paul is a seriously Irish town so the streets are gonna be packed around Downtown.”
“Ah, that’s nice,” I said, still unable to put the information into context.
“I’m an Irish girl myself,” Hope added giddily.
“What? You’re not American?” I asked, again confused, and that made her laugh.
“I am American, but my ancestry is Irish; I’m a Reid, it doesn’t get any more Irish than that!”
The whole Irish thing left me confused and it annoyed me to a surprising degree. It seemed like a crass inaccuracy to call yourself something you’re not. I never went around telling people that I was Spanish because my last name was García (it doesn’t get any more Spanish than that!). I only wanted to hear that my application had been accepted and that I could remain in this country that I so intensely wanted to make my home. The work permit I had was set to expire in the Summer and all my chips were on the sponsorship application that Hope was handling (“All your eggs in one basket” is the idiom they thought me at school for the situation I was in).
There were a couple more calls from Hope with inane updates that told me nothing about my prospects or rather, made it ever more apparent that Diaz & Edberg was simply going through the motions and using Hope Reid as their emissary. I became increasingly frustrated and disappointed; I was short with Hope (“shooting the messenger”) but she remained professional and always tried to reassure me.
“I understand your frustration, Samuel,” (but I knew she didn’t) “I promise you we’re doing what we can”.
That last call came in late April. My roommate Andrew had already convinced me that if the sponsorship idea didn’t pan out, I should just stay illegally. The endorsement of that option from a native son of Minnesota gave me some relief. Andrew and I had been watching TV the entire afternoon on Friday until he had to leave for work. When he wasn’t in the house, I sat on his TV chair, which was and old red mammoth that gave off a musty smell, but I liked that it was cushy and soft.
“Samuel, we received a note from the INS”. I knew what was coming next. “Unfortunately, it seems like you have all that it takes, except a college degree. If it weren’t for the fact that you don’t have the degree, I’m sure this would have been approved.” Her tone was sweet and maternal, she sounded genuinely disappointed. But I was angry.
“You and Victor knew this. You knew this wouldn’t work,” I said, making sure it didn’t sound like a question but a statement.
“No, Samuel, please believe me, we did everything that we could.”
“You did everything that you could to get my two hundred dollars!” I said, deflated, almost in a whisper.
“Samuel, I truly understand your frustration. We truly believed we had a good chance.”
“No, you don’t understand,” I said, now on a rant, “Hope, you are not Irish and Victor is not Salvadorian. You’re both Americans. You don’t understand, and you don’t care!”
When Hope brought up the idea to apply to a university and get a student visa, I felt insulted, or “duped”, “jerked around”, like Andrew later put it. The impossibility to afford an education in America as a lower class Colombian was the catalyst for me to seek other avenues; that fact was the very reason I was considering staying in the country illegally. So I hung up the phone. “Thanks for nothing!”
Hope had left me with four months left to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.