­­Only Wakes Upon the Sea

 

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that must never be trod again.

Wanderer, there is no road—
Only wakes upon the sea.

- Antonio Machado

Fragment from Proverbios y cantares (XXIX)


It’s 6 a.m on an icy winter day. The sun is still hiding below the horizon and the streets of Manhattan are quiet. Behind a newspaper, a bespectacled 18 year-old, Etsio Flores, peers over and asks, “Do you know what this means?”

The Fed was discussing an interest rate-hike.

Etsio goes on the explain what that means for the US economy on his and his family's two-hour journey from the shelter where they live in Manhattan to their school in Staten Island.

Etsio is the eldest child of America Mendez, an undocumented immigrant in New York City. Etsio is one of Mendez' three children. He and his brother, Juan, 17, were born in Mexico and crossed the border into the US 13 years ago. In 2015, the two boys received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals which has allowed him to work in the summers between school. Their sister, Xochitl, 12, is an American citizen. 

In 2012, when their abusive father left them, penniless and with no viable income options, Etsio took the role of the patriarch in his family. Because of language barriers, he’s often accompanying his Spanish speaking mother to meetings, or helping her decipher paperwork.

Etsio is a motivated student. He’s part of a mentorship program at his high school for underclassmen and one of the stars of his Virtual Enterprise team, which was one of the finalists in the New York State Virtual Enterpise Business Plan Competition. Juan struggles in school and has been asked to transfer to an alternative education program. Xochitl enjoys learning but because the family travels 4-hours each day to and from school, she misses classes, and is often tired so she has fallen behind in some core subjects. 

This is a story of a family trying to break the cycle of poverty, recover from years of abuse and face the additional challenges that undocumented immigrants face in New York City.