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Writer-s-Bloc

Family escapes to Canada

By Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel

A threatening letter anonymously sent warned the Gonzalez family that they were targeted for kidnapping. It was the last straw, and so they fled Mexico, where they’d just arrived a year earlier. Arturo Gonzalez and his wife Carmen Cortes were childhood sweethearts and DREAMer’s from the United States. 

Their Hispanic parents had tried unsuccessfully to adjust their legal status in the U.S., but due to the complexity of the immigration laws, they were never able to. Therefore, Arturo and Carmen were considered alien minors. The children were brought to America from Mexico at nine and five years of age, and were American in every way except on paper. The two of them grew up in the same neighbourhood in Orange County, Calif., and went to the same schools and attended the same church where the couple eventually married in 2006. However, they were not fully able to connect with and participate in that society because of the lack of documentation. 

Carmen and Arturo were without social security numbers, and they could not get decent employment, even with a good education. Their driver’s licenses had a mark on them showing that they were foreigners; hence were questioned all the time about why they didn’t have legal immigrant status.

There was an attempt on behalf of the American government to reform the immigration system with a program for young aliens with the Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act, but was not successful, besides which, Arturo did not qualify, as the Act had an age cap that he exceeded.  

The couple, now in their 30s, had three school-aged boys to think about and grew tired of living in the shadows. They saw how their parents struggled without being able to retire. The pair wanted a better future for themselves and their sons, Jacob, 12, Samuel, 11 and Benjamin, 10. 

Arturo was offered a promising position at a Linda Vista University in Chiapas, Mexico, as a bilingual assistant pastor/English teacher and so he jumped at the chance and moved his family there in July 2018.

Upon arrival, however, trouble arose, as it was apparent to the locals that the Gonzalez family spoke and dressed differently, being raised in America. Their Spanish dialect sounded strange to the locals. There was also the misconception that their upbringing in the U.S. meant that they were rich, which was the farthest thing from the truth. 

The children lived in fear because they could only speak English, which couldn’t be spoken in public as it would draw unwanted attention. There was also the intense anxiety felt from being under constant scrutiny. The Gonzolez’ were also cautioned by the faculty at the university to not allow neighbourhood children inside their home, as sometimes kids were sent to spy and report back on things like what kind of furniture they had. The Gonzalez’ were being cased, and soon felt very unsafe being in their country of birth.

The neighbourhood was dangerous, too, and gunshots rang out just outside a store where the family had been shopping at the time.  

Within a month of arriving, there was a shooting, and several months later, a case of mistaken identity happened when a fellow pastor was shot while trying to protect a student from being kidnapped. It was later known that the pastor’s son was targeted. That pastor was (as the Gonzalez family believe) erroneously thought to be Arturo. 

Hence the family fled, but returning to the States was not an option, as once they left, an automatic 10-year ban came into effect, which was instated by the Clinton administration back in the 1990s.

Consequently, they escaped to Victoria, B.C., and stayed with the Gonzalez-Aruizu family for six months. They sought refugee status with the help of a lawyer. The Gonzalez’ had a final immigration hearing on March 4, and because the prosecutor didn’t show up, their lawyer said that it meant that they had a good case.

Arturo had meanwhile applied for an assistant pastoral position at the SDA Rutland Church and was successful. The lawyer gave them the go-ahead to accept it. The Skuka family provided them with a newly renovated three-bedroom 1/2-duplex to rent, and the iServe team got some basic household furnishings set up for them. Another church member donated new pots and pans, along with a couple of dinner sets. 

A hot and delicious full course meal was waiting for the Gonzalez’ on the evening of March 6, when they arrived after a long trip from Victoria to Kelowna in their Mazda, which was filled to the brim with only their clothing and four bicycles that a friend had gifted them in Victoria – the extent of their belongings. 

The children were so excited to get to their new home and said it felt like Christmas to them. Right after eating their first meal there, the boys were anxious to go to sleep in their new bunk beds. They had been through so much at so young an age, and the ordeal left them with a diagnosis of PTSD. 

The boys were terrified of the thought of going back to Mexico and could not sleep with the lights off. They needed a lot of reassurance, but are starting to breathe easier. 

The Gonzalez family is overwhelmed with the generosity of Canadians, in both Victoria and Kelowna, who took the family under their wings. Ten-year-old Benjamin said it was angels in disguise (as Benjamin calls the iServe team) that gave them a place to finally call home. Then there were the spiritual fathers Marian Kossovan and Rodger Estevez in Victoria who were a huge support for Aturo and his family, as well as the Gonzalez-Arvizu family whom they stayed with.  

They have seen God’s hand on everything, including getting them safely out of Mexico and in making the decision to come to Canada. 

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel is a Kelowna writer.

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