The first time I met Guillermo Guzman he had just done the butterfly stroke across Crescent Bay and back in September. I had taken his photograph for possible use in the paper and so introduced myself and asked his name.
His thick Mexican accent was compounded by the fact that he was shivering terribly, his teeth chattering, yet he politely entered conversation as if he weren’t dying to get dried off from the frigid lake water.
I’ve had little interaction with him since that 2009 encounter until this spring, when he hit on the idea of raising money for a field trip. He wanted to take his Spanish students to an event where they would be at least semi-immersed in the language and get a taste of Mexican culture as well, a Mariachi band festival in Wenatchee.
His plan was to put his own skilled labor up for donations. He is a certified computer technician, he told me, and he could raise the extra money that way.
As high school students can be, his seemed less than enthused about the idea when I visited the classroom at his invitation. But while there, I learned that he had taught himself guitar and started a Mariachi band while he attended the University of Washington, open to anyone — a couple Mexicans, some white guys, a couple African Americans. They were terrible, his brother told me Monday, but they got much better and eventually got fairly good.
The determination to set goals and see them through despite obstacles speaks to the character of a man. Guzman realized his dream of becoming an educator through hard work, intelligence and incredible energy. He lives very simply so that he can send money to his mother in Mexico, and while he is in jail pesters his brother to not forget to send her money.
Knowing all this made it very hard to listen for hours to attorneys in court hang onto the slimmest of arguments in hopes of negating a police case against a client the police said they had caught dealing drugs on a dark street. Our system prioritizes such efforts ahead of hearing whether a man pleads guilty or not, no matter that he has spent his life overcoming obstacles, earning his knowledge and offering bits of experience and wisdom to children who may not appreciate it, and doing it all with a smile.
Our country needs citizens with such attributes. And yet, 12 years after he initially applied to become one, Guzman found himself waiting again in a red jumpsuit unbefitting such a human.
Our system of laws on immigration needs to be fixed sooner than later. We are wasting good citizens.
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