Nada Chance

Page 5 of 7

Maria recalls their first attempt at crossing. She and the kids were in a van that was confronted by an INS roadblock. She took her kids and ran through the desert, trying to escape. After running for about an hour, they were captured and sent back to Mexico. Two days later, they made it to Phoenix and to the trailer where Martín Sr. was waiting for them.

Since their arrival, Martín Sr. has been the only one in the family to work. He's the only one with a forged social security card, which he used to get his current job.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Martín Sr. pours himself a glass of aguita from the ice-capped pitcher. He says Maria wants to work at a tortilla factory but can't because she doesn't have a social security number. A forgery costs about $1,400, he says.

Maria, 40, says she'd like to work. One day, when she's sitting on the sofa watching TV, she confides that she needs to work because the family just barely gets by.

She admits that part of the reason for not working is her lack of self-confidence and fear of getting busted for not having a green card. But she says her husband has been the biggest deterrent to her employment.

Maria is wearing a white Guess sweatshirt stained with several brown spots. Turquoise slacks cover her legs, and worn leather sandals hang from her feet. Her red toenail polish is chipped.

"I was raised in the old Mexican way," she says. Where the man works and the woman stays home to raise kids and build a household, where a woman's opinion matters little in a relationship. This is evident when she's in Martín Sr.'s presence. She will say very little and will not question him.

"He says he's scared that I'll change if I go to work," Maria says when Martín Sr. is not in the room. She says he fears she'll become more independent.

But she's getting tired of dressing her kids with clothes from the segunda -- the secondhand store -- or with hand-me-downs.

Maria has no friends and spends her days locked in the single-wide. She'll occasionally take a stroll to a nearby dollar store or grocery store.

She frequently gazes down at her hands, her left palm sitting on top of her right, and sighs. Maybe it's desperation, the realization that her future is an hour from now or tomorrow, that long-term plans are irrelevant.

One evening, when she talks about work while sitting at the kitchen table, Martín Sr. cuts in and starts talking about how he's heard that American women work, but don't do much cooking. A bit of tension grows at the table. Maria lowers her head. Martín Sr. sips his aguita.

Martín flips through the pages of the newspaper during the first half-hour of his English class. The other teens in his class talk and giggle while Cheryl Cardinal, the teacher, occasionally peeks out over her newspaper.

After a half-hour of reading quietly, she begins a discussion about conflicts and resolutions. Few of the kids are paying attention, but Cardinal continues with her lecture.

"What is conflict?" she asks.

The answers pour out in Spanish. Cómo un problema? A problem? Algo que te pasa? Something that happens to you? One kid says in English, "A mistake?" Another kid jokingly replies, "Un bistec?" "A steak?"

"The fun we can have with words," Cardinal chimes in.

Then a real answer from a voice in the class: "What if you don't have papers and you break your arm?" the voice says.

One student, Francisco, yells out in Spanish, "Te lleva la migra." The INS will take you.

They've come across a conflict. Francisco offers a solution: Go to his church "and they can help you," he says.

The class is then split into groups. They're supposed to write down a conflict and a resolution. Two of the four groups write as their conflict: What if a friend offered you a beer?

But the good discussion doesn't last long. Instead, the class degenerates into the kind of educational dumbing-down that gives opponents of bilingual education some of their most powerful ammunition.

Cardinal puts on a video, Jumanji, the 1995 Robin Williams film where he's trapped in a jungle game. She says watching the film will help the class understand what it's like to be trapped in a conflict.

After the film, they must write a story, with characters, that has a conflict and a resolution. Martín later says the assignment is easy. They've already watched four movies in the class that have been followed by similar assignments. He's not sure if the assignments are actually helping him.

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Caleb Correa