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From civil war to Wisconsin

By Keenya Hofmaier | April 19th, 2010

Gerald and I celebrating New Year's in Spanish HarlemWhen I first met my best friend Gerald three years ago, I was surprised when he told me he was Nicaraguan. We met at a lounge and our attraction to each other was initially romantic. I remember asking him if he pulled his “Puerto Rican” moves on every girl. He quickly corrected me and told me he was Nicaraguan. In Milwaukee, the Latino population is considerable but composed of mainly Mexicans and Puerto Ricans so I was surprised to hear that he was from a country I barely even heard of.

Though our romantic relationship faded, our friendship grew. My interest in his native country became an obsession as I began to spend more time with him and his family. I bought travel books about Central America and watched movies about the rich, yet violent history in Nicaragua that he rarely talked about. I visited Gerald’s house every weekend to eat home-made Gallo Pinto and Maduros or brush up on my Spanish.

One evening, Gerald led me down to his basement, which basically served as a storage compartment. He dug through old boxes to find a few photo albums from his youth in Nicaragua. The pictures were breathtaking; his old house sat next to a small lagoon with palm trees and flowers blossoming around its breach. Gerald was always photographed splashing around in the water or climbing trees. I understood why in his 20 years of living in Wisconsin, Gerald still gets depressed by the winter weather.

While searching for more photos, I stumbled upon a frail passport that read: Estados Unidos Mexicanos, with a picture of 10-year-old Gerald on the inside. I asked Gerald why he had a Mexican passport. The answer was not easy but it gave me the story of Gerald’s migration to the United States.

Gerald was born in Nicaragua in 1978, during a period of civil unrest. The dictatorship of Anastacio Somoza was under attack by Sandinista rebels. The Sandinistas eventually took power but instituted a communist regime that Gerald characterizes as “even more corrupt” than the former government, with kidnappings and public executions a common occurrence.

After what Gerald describes as “years of fear and unrest” under the Sandinista regime, Gerald’s parents decided to flee the country.

Remembering a favor owed to her by an official at the American embassy in Managua, Gerald’s mother was able to secure a visa for herself to the United States. She worked for a year in California before she earned enough money to send for her family.

The family was told to take a bus to Mexico and stay with a friend for three weeks while learning to speak Spanish with a Mexican accent. Once Gerald was able to speak it well enough, he was given a falsified Mexican passport. Gerald entered the United States in 1989.

When I met Gerald, I would never have guessed he lived outside of the United States. Gerald does not have an accent, loves video games and eats plenty of fast food. But when you get to know him, you can feel the Latin rhythms pulsating from his heart.

After watching Gerald fly back to Nicaragua every summer, I summoned the courage to go . I’ve only visited El Salvador, Costa Rica and Guatemala. I told him I won’t go to Nicaragua unless he accompanies me.

Gerald, I have nothing planned this summer.

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