Friday, March 7, 2014


Although the characters in “Mateo’s Map” are fictional, they were inspired by my ESL (English as Second Language) students. Years ago I taught in Reagan’s amnesty program. It was one of my all time favorite jobs, no paper grading and the students were a joy. The program required immigrants who wanted a green card in order to legally stay in the US to spend 40 hours in the classroom learning English, US history, and citizenship. The majority of students kept coming to school long after 40 hours. They ranged from ages 16 to well past 60; fathers, mothers, siblings, mostly from Mexico but some from Central America, Sudan, Russia, Vietnam... And they came for reasons unique to them, to earn money to support a parent or entire family, to educate their children, to escape conscription in the army, religious freedom, even adventure. For most of them getting here wasn’t easy. One young man from Central America swam across a river known for crocodiles, then hacked his way through a snake infested jungle. One of my meek middle-aged students had to hire a coyote and cross with a group of strange men; she was the only woman. A Vietnamese student came over on a boat after he escaped from a “reeducation school” where they “changed his mind”. He hadn’t yet learned the English words for prison or torture. It takes a lot of guts and often a certain amount of desperation to leave your home, risk capture and other dangers in order to build a new life in a strange place. I admire them for that.

In the 1980s, a Tzotzil native from the Mexican highlands leaves his family to search for work in the US, but first he must cross a treacherous border fraught with violence.

"Mateo's Map" is available on for free. You can also get it at Amazon, but it's priced at $1.29.