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Emigrating to the USA Means a Lot of Work

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We soon arrived at San Pedro after a laid back ride on the top of a Lake Atitlan passenger boat. I found myself to be a little talkative on this journey, and I chatted it up with my fellow Guatemalan passengers. Met a diminutive, though very friendly, couple of men, who were enjoying the journey as much as I from their vantage point in the boat’s bow. They were smiling as I explained to them how my name “Mario” is really short for Wade.

“Wade” sounds like the sound a cow makes to the Latinos. So I call myself Mario as a shortcut away from listening to people make odd, animal sounds in my face for five minutes as they try in vain to pronounce my birth name.

Guatemalan friends that I made on the boat journey from Santiago Atitlan to San Pedro, Guatemala


So with the impromptu name of ‘Mario’ I also became known to the boat conductor that I previously ran a hard bargain with on the shore, prior to getting on his boat for a decent price. He turned out to be an alright guy, though he was still wrapped in the delusions that many men in this part of the world seem to harbor until their final rest on the death bed: that someday, somehow, he was going to find an American woman to marry him and take him back to the USA, so that he could live out his days in riches. I did not want to dilute his fantasy by letting him know that the only thing a Central American immigrant in the USA is going to find is a whole lot of hard work. I grew up in farm country USA, most of my neighbors were Mexican migrant workers who labored hard from dawn till dusk. They came to my country with dreams, they found a shovel and a sore back, but I never heard them complain. I do not think that this boatman working the leisurely job of making change, cheating foreigners, and riding the blue waves of Lake Atitlan could know the lack of spoils that would await him at the end of the rainbow. I have known many Latino immigrants who have made it to the USA – some even by marrying an American woman – who have tucked their tails and returned to the childhood homes after six months of hard labor.

Boat on Lake Atitlan with the San Pedro Volcano presiding over all.


The USA is full of working men who work hard. This is difficult to explain to people whose dream is to live the easy life of the Norte Americano. The USA is a beacon for the hard working, as well as the lazy, of Latin America. Some want to go there to receive the spoils of their labor – and they work their fingers to the bone for the slender remittances they are able to send back to their families. Some want to go there because they think they can get something for nothing – and they come back home disillusioned, haunted, and dreamless. I have a harsh suspicion that this Lake Atitlan boat conductor was part of the latter group. He was living the easy life without knowing it, as his mind ventured off to think thoughts of the easy life that he falsely believed awaited him over the Rio Grande. His dreams were the fantasies of the poor, and I did not wish to tip over his pot of gold and reveal that it has always been starkly empty. I have learned that the possession of dreams is often times more joyous than their actualization. Truth, reality, and my words are nothing against a brick-walled dream. Let the pot of gold stand shining, it is more valuable that way.

“Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” . . . if your back is strong, your hands are calloused, and your mind is that of a machine. From my observations, this is the reality of immigrating to the USA.

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Filed under: Guatemala

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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