Arnoldo Borja, a community organizer with the Northern Virginia office of the Legal Aid Justice Center, says when he started working with Annandale’s day laborers four years ago, there were about 100 to 150 in the area along Little River between the 7-Eleven at the Hummer Road intersection and Duron Paints and Wallcoverings near Markham Street. Now, there are about 200 to 400. Borja estimates about 50 to 60 percent of the day laborers in Annandale are from Guatemala. Others are from El Salvador and Honduras, and to a lesser extent, Peru and Bolivia.
|Borja, Contrera, and Maroquin|
Most day laborers come from rural areas and are lured by the American dream. “They see American TV shows where everyone has a big house and they want to live like that,” Borja says. “They originally plan to stay for a couple of years. They think they will make enough money to go home a success, but it turns out to be harder than they thought. They come with dreams and end up homeless.”
When they find out how hard it really is here, “a lot of people think they made a mistake,” here, says. “But they don’t want their family to see how they live here. They don’t want to be seen as failures.” But, he adds, “What is the amount of money you can make compared with the separation from your family?” He believes it is more important for children to have their fathers at home with them and decries “this big pain we carry with us—being away from our family.”
“They don’t know what they got until it’s lost,” adds Alfredo Maroquin, a day laborer born and raised in Texas. “Now I understand how much I love my mother.”
Maroquin has done apartment maintenance for 28 years, but says “I’ll do anything I can.” Since moving to Annandale in May, he has had a hard time getting work. “We’ll get a job once a month if we’re lucky.” He’s worried about coming up with his rent and might have to double up with a friend for a while. Meanwhile, Maroquin has been working for his church, the Iglesia Monte Los Olivos in Springfield, giving Bible lessons and teaching literacy.
Borja’s goal is to promote communication and understanding between the day laborers and the community, although he notes, “day laborers are part of the community.” He had been a science teacher at a college in Michoacán, Mexico, and left in 1991 after two of his friends, who had been working against corruption, were killed. His first job in the United States was picking oranges in California.
Borja would like to establish a community center for day laborers in Annandale to provide such services as English lessons, advice on nutrition, and social services. He doesn’t want it to be a “day laborer center” that just focuses on employment though, which has a negative stereotype resulting from conflicts in other communities. “We have to have a good memory of who we are and a long-term ambition of where we need to go,” he says.