Wednesday, June 21, 2000, 12:00 a.m. Pacific
In Pajacuarán, two houses: one lonely, one empty
By Lynda V. Mapes
PAJACUARAN, Mexico - Two houses were built in Pajacuarán, each the realized dream of migrant labor.
As is the case for many second- and third-generation Mexican immigrants in Washington's Yakima Valley, the United States has become their home. They return to Mexico only to visit, honor their roots and pay their respects to the first generation that started it all.
Jesús Silva, 79, was one of the first from Pajacuarán to go to the Yakima Valley. He worked in U.S. farm fields for almost 30 years, never intending to stay, believing he would retire with his family around him.
Now he is patriarch to a dynasty of 271 people, some still in Mexico, some in California, most in Washington.
His children feel the tug of Pajacuarán, but have land and position in Washington.
His grandchildren grew up on fast food and Nikes and American expectations.
His American-born great-grandchildren are being groomed for college.
Living in two worlds has given them prosperity in both. But it exacted a hard choice from Jesús Silva:
Give up his country to be with the family;
Or retire alone to his heart's home.
First generation: retired to Mexico
Silva has grown frail, slowed by a heart condition. He lives in his four-bedroom house with his daughter, Guadalupe. It is her duty as an unmarried daughter to care for her father as he ages.
Silva first crossed north to America in 1952 as one of the braceros, or laborers, invited to help feed the postwar baby boom in the United States. He worked the pepper and tomato fields of California and ranched cattle in Nevada. From the beginning, he saved for his house, a building project that cost 20 years and $35,000.
After the Bracero Program ended in 1962, Silva returned to the United States, this time illegally. Crossing the border was easier then, before the Border Patrol cracked down on human smugglers.
"I just jumped the barbed wire," Silva said. "Thanks to God I never had any problems."
He landed in Washington almost by accident. He and a friend were following the harvests. The friend was driving one day and picked the destination: the Yakima Valley.
Silva worked there for 14 years, always as a picker, and always illegally. He visited home only twice in that time. For years he used a false name - Cruz - and counterfeit Social Security card.
In 1980, Silva came home for good, to the two-story stucco house he'd built on farmworker wages. A porch opens onto a garden, where Silva's late wife, Mar’a de los Angelos, grew roses and limes. An apple tree from the Yakima Valley was planted there, but died in the scorching Mexican sun.
He bought 15 cows and a small parcel of farmland, where he grew garbanzos and corn.
"We are poor. But not hungry any more," Silva said.
He steps to the head of the table, dressed for company in creased black jeans and polished black leather cowboy boots. The dining room is immaculate, with china in the side cabinet gleaming on white lace doilies.
Guadalupe Silva, 41, serves a feast of tender beef simmered in lime juice and beer. There is freshly made sauce of roasted chili peppers, ground by hand "because that's the way papa likes it," fresh-squeezed orange juice and platters of fresh papaya, cantaloupe and limes on the sideboard.
After prayers, Silva eats the old way, without utensils, folding the meat into tortillas lifted steaming from a lidded basket.
"We used to not even have a table," Silva said. "My pants were so full of patches they looked like a map. So did the sheets. My family would cry from hunger. There was no bathroom. No toilet. Not even a hole in the ground. No running water.
"But we have a saying. La union hace la fuerza - In unity there is strength."
Second generation: U.S. citizen
The Silva name is well-known in Tieton, on the west end of the Yakima Valley. "We fill the church on Sundays," said Evaristo Silva, 55, Jesús Silva's eldest son.
He joined his father in the apple orchards here in 1972. Like his father, he sent money home to Pajacuarán to build a house there for his own family - his wife, Mar’a, and their five children.
And like his father, he fully intended to return.
"I feel so bad when I see it now, sitting empty," he said. The house sits, partially furnished but seldom used, just four blocks from his father's. "I felt the happiest there of anywhere in the world."
But Washington is where the work was, where his children settled and where his grandchildren were born. As deep as his roots run in Mexico, other tendrils took hold in America. Evaristo Silva gained legal residency through a national amnesty in 1986 and became a U.S. citizen in December 1994.
And in 1993, he took out a loan to buy a 30-acre apple orchard in Tieton. His brothers loaned him $20,000 to help make a $61,000 down payment on the land.
"This is a dream for me," he said, looking out over thousands of fruit trees and the homes of two of his children in the distance.
Evaristo Silva says he won't sell the house in Pajacuarán. He rented it for a time, but the tenants didn't treat it as he would. So now it sits quiet and waits for family to visit.
It is a reminder, he says, for himself and his children and his grandchildren, of how far they have come.
Third generation: nonfarm job
The third generation of Silvas is firmly planted in Washington. Childhood memories of Mexico can't compete with a life of opportunity in America.
Even as a child, Evaristo Silva Jr. knew he wouldn't live in Pajacuarán. He was born there, in the house his father built, but moved with his father to Washington when he was 6. He visited Mexico for four months as a teenager.
It no longer felt like home.
"We were used to going to parks and swimming pools and roller skating," said Silva Jr., 29. "We missed that. We wanted to buy Nikes and Reeboks. There were no Levis. We missed the mall. We missed McDonald's.
"Mostly we missed Dad."
He visits his grandfather in Pajacuarán when he can, staying at his childhood home. He remembers where the pigs were kept, and where the roots of a big tree cracked the floor. Returning is bittersweet, he says, remembering how hard his father worked to build a house that's no longer used.
"We are just so used to America," he said. "You have everything you want. And if you don't have it, it's because you don't want it."
He still helps his father in the orchards. And he nods agreement when his father talks of the need to hire illegal Mexican workers - fresh recruits in the migrant pipeline.
"They do a better job, and they don't complain," said Evaristo Silva Sr. "The legal people, they are starting to complain: 'How many breaks are we going to get? How much are you going to pay?' The other ones, they only want to work."
And once workers become legal, or gain an education, they are eager to move out of the fields.
That's how it was for his own son. Evaristo Silva Jr. grew up in the fields, but has worked for five years as a carpet installer, a year-round job with benefits.
"I wanted a job that paid more," Silva Jr. said. "Some day I want to go out on my own."
His wife, Olivier, is a supervisor in a Yakima fruit-packing house. They already are saving to send the fourth generation - daughter Brenda, 6, and son Josue, 5 - to college.
"I want a doctor and a lawyer," Olivier Silva said.
Success is bittersweet
At Christmas time, Jesús Silva hangs a cross woven of white flowers over his door in Pajacuarán - a blessing that graces his grandson and great-grandchildren as they enter his house.
These visits from family in the U.S. are rare and precious; Evaristo Silva Jr. had not been back to Pajacuarán since 1993. His wife had never seen his childhood home. And Jesús Silva had not yet met their children.
That's a lot to miss. But Jesús Silva says he belongs here, where he was born. He wants to live his last years in his own village and be buried next to his wife.
There are many of his generation like him, he says, patriarchs who helped nurture a new life in America, and now watch their families grow from afar. But he made the only choice he could.
"My roots are here," he said. "Your land is your mother. And you want to come back to her."
Lynda Mapes' phone message number is 206-464-2736. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.
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