Geneva resident grateful for opportunities city has given him
– By Gabriel Pietrorazio
Thanksgiving is that time of year when we reflect upon what we are grateful for and Antonio Gomez shares his thanks for coming to Geneva nearly 25-years-ago after fleeing from Guatemala and crossing the U.S. Mexican border as an undocumented immigrant.
In a sit-down conversation with FL1 News, Gomez recounted his long route, both good and bad, from growing-up as a child in Guatemala until reaching Geneva and becoming a fieldworker.
Considering his own life journey as a story of grace, gratitude and thanksgiving, Gomez hopes that others can learn from and share his trials and tribulations during this holiday season.
In preparation for Thanksgiving, Gomez calls for all to “go back to where you came from” and count those blessings.
“I think you have to be thankful that you are alive,” Gomez said.
Celebrating his first Thanksgiving holiday in 1995, he was embraced by the Hansen family even when he was unfamiliar with this American custom.
“Thanksgiving is nothing that we celebrated in Guatemala. My first Thanksgiving here was just warmth, just having a family. To me, that was the greatest thing. It wasn’t anything to do with the food, which that’s what everybody wants to make it like, but it’s more like getting together and being thankful for what you have,” Gomez added.
Even after being included with a seat at the Hansen family table, Gomez admitted that it took him a few years to figure-out the true meaning of Thanksgiving, but now, virtually 25 years later, Gomez continually reflects upon and celebrates this season of grace while thinking about others.
“As I reflect on Thanksgiving this year, I want to think about others that don’t have what I what I have, and just be a family to them, and just reach out to them with a meal,” Gomez said.
While Gomez celebrates Thanksgiving in the warmth of his home with a hot festive meal, surrounded by his wife, family and children, not all times were as peaceful for Gomez while growing-up in Guatemala, as he shared stories from his early childhood years where uncertainties in food and housing were commonplace for him.
“So, as I became a little older, because I was a troublemaker, I always love to fight, even as a child. My mother says you can stay home anymore. So I remember my mother picking me up and taking me to the cotton fields very early in the morning, five in the morning; and I would go and stay with her all-day-long, picking cotton and the field just to make my mother make money just to actually have food for us. There were times where there wasn’t any food,” Gomez continued.
Gomez also opened-up about being sexually abused by his aunt on his distant father’s side, which prompted him to channel his anger and rage by engaging in criminal activities as a youth.
“But on my father’s side, from my grandmother and my grandfather, I had an aunt that she, we would go they would ask me also to go to their home and she was the one that attended me, and this is something that I had talked to my mother later on. What really entered into my heart was that she abused me as a child, sexually abused me. So, I can say that there was a door that was open; and there was an anger that one right inside of me. So that’s one of the things that I think that’s what opened the Pandora’s box when it comes to me getting into the criminal activities of being wild and didn’t really care about life, being angry,” Gomez said.
As a teenager leading-up to his eventual departure from the country, Gomez mentioned that he witnessed many traumatic experiences, especially among his friends.
“I saw a lot of drugs on the streets. I thank God that I never got hooked on any of that; I only got hooked on alcohol. A lot of my friends that at that time they were friends of mine that got killed just for some little bit of pot or a little bit of cocaine that they got, they got killed; and so those memories really affected me,” Gomez added.
At the age of 15, Gomez ventured by himself on his first attempt to reach America, and he failed after a coyote smuggler brought him past a northern Mexico immigration checkpoint where his accompanying migrant caravan was ambushed by thieves and robbers.
“So, we got caught and everybody got robbed and I was the last one at gunpoint with a .45 on my head and with a machete at my neck. They asked me for my money, one o’clock in the morning. Here I am 15, they could have pulled the trigger and just take the money, but they didn’t. So, I prayed and I said, God help me; and he did,” Gomez said.
After conversing with the pair of robbers about his situation and how far away home was for him, Gomez persuaded them to give him 70,000 pesos from their total spoils.
“So, they gave me 70,000 pesos and with the 70,000 pesos, I was able to go back. I was able to get back from where I was to the border of Mexico. It wasn’t not a lot, but I went there. I got to the border, but they didn’t see that I was carrying a necklace,” Gomez stated.
This gold necklace that Gomez wearing was sold a pawn shop, which allowed him to buy a ticket to reach the Guatemala-Mexico border.
With his dreams dashed, it was as if it was just another day for him in Guatemala following his first border-crossing attempt.
“It was like 15 days it happened. So, I just went back home like nothing happened. Nobody knew and I just went back to school and just like nothing. I was devastated but I knew I was going to try it again,” Gomez recounted.
It was not until two-years later when it reached the breaking-point for Gomez to leave Guatemala as the guerrilla wars were heating-up and “grabbing kids off the street” for their rebel cause.
“I was the scrawny little kid, you know back then I weighed probably 90-pounds wet and I was 17; I was so skinny. So, I was working. I was a shoe shiner. I had my own spot and the officials came and they grabbed me, and they were going to throw me in the truck,” Gomez added.
As they were planning to bring Gomez to boot camp, he shrugged both soldiers off his arms and escaped capture from military forces that were coercing him to serve.
For his second crossing attempt, he was joined by his stepfather named Marcos, who was the only one in his family to reach the ‘land of the free’ and return. On this journey, Gomez admitted that he was afraid of swimming across the Rio Grande because of its reputation.
“My scariest moment was that I was thinking about was swimming the Rio Grande; that was the thing that I was thinking about the most because I heard a lot of stories about people losing their lives right there,” Gomez said.
Fortunately, the riverbed emptied at that time and his fellow crew of migrants simply walked across the river.
After arriving to San Antonio, Gomez saw this moment as a fresh start, which led him to Fort Myers in Florida, a short stint in Maryland until he settled in Geneva, New York.
“Well, all I can tell you is that I wasn’t even thinking about Upstate New York. I don’t think that was ever in my mind. I think there was something that it was a divine appointment to live and to be in this area,” Gomez said.
But their beginning of a new life in Geneva for Gomez and his stepfather was difficult after being dropped-off by a bus heading Upstate one night around 2 or 3 a.m. “The bus didn’t even come to Geneva, because they have a bus station and Geneva. It would stop at Exit 42 by the Copper Inn. So, we were able to stay at the Copper Inn where they have no money. And so, we stay at the Copper Inn at the lobby,” Gomez said.
After becoming a fieldworker at Hansen Farms in Stanley, New York, Gomez was acclimating to his new life as an American despite not possessing the proper legal papers to prove his new national affiliation.
“But the best thing that ever happened to me is that the farm where I worked, got raided, and I was the first one that got picked up by INS,” Gomez continued.
Gomez alongside 10 Mexican nationals were transported to a jail facility, where he paid his bail, obtained a worker’s permit and eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen with dual citizenship in Guatemala ten years later in 2005.
But most of all, Gomez is grateful for becoming a U.S. citizen after overcoming many obstacles and challenges on his long and tiring journey to this nation; and he hopes that born naturalized citizens recognize their privilege by being born in what he calls “one of the greatest nations that has ever existed in the history of the world.”
“So, and reflecting on Thanksgiving, you know, this is a good thing that people should be thinking about that they live in one of the greatest nations that has ever existed in the history of the world. The United States has been a beacon of light for many other countries and including me that needed a hope needed a miracle and here I am. I am a miracle and living the American dream,” Gomez concluded.
Gabriel Pietrorazio is a senior at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He’s written for the Town Times of Watertown, Connecticut, the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, New York and currently serves as a reporter for FL1 News. Feedback, tips, and story ideas can be sent to [email protected].