Source: Vancouver Province (Canada)
Pubdate: Fri 28 Aug 1998
Author: Adrienne Tanner


The plea from a mom who says her boy isn't dealing

SIRIA, Honduras -- Virginia Consuelo Calis Arteaga comes to the door in a
tattered T-shirt and bare feet.

Her tiny house is exactly as her son in Vancouver described -- a simple
two-room adobe casa shaded by three palm trees.

It stands beside the school in this dusty village three hours north of

When I met Rudolpho at the Metrotown SkyTrain station, he agreed to tell me
his real name so I could visit his mother. I agreed to call him only
Rudolpho, the street name he has adopted in Vancouver.

Virginia's eyes light up at the mention of her youngest son, first with
excitement, then fear.

``Is he OK? How did he look?''

I assure her that her handsome, green-eyed son was healthy and seemed a very
polite young man.

I don't have the heart to say I picked him out of the crowd at the station,
dressed in designer jeans and quite likely selling crack cocaine.

Vancouver police believe most of the estimated 200 Honduran boys and young
men who have arrived in the city since Christmas are part of an organized
drug-trafficking ring.

A trip along the SkyTrain route with stops at Main Street in Vancouver,
Metrotown in Burnaby and finally New Westminster suggests they are right.

Young Hispanic men hang around on every corner, some so brazenly cutting
crack deals that a local television station was able recently to film a buy.

In Siria, Rudolpho's older brother, Marvin, says he has heard that some
migrant workers in North America have turned to selling drugs.

But Marvin and his mother do not believe Rudolpho is mixed up in the drug

``He is not a guy who would do anything wrong, who would leave the country
to get into hanky-panky,'' Virginia says.

At 19, Rudolpho stands a lanky six feet tall, his body not yet filled out.
He is friendly in the cautious way of all the Honduran boys and young men
who have come as ``wetbacks'' to Canada in search of work.

Rudolpho insisted he was not working, that he was looking for a job. But he
asked if I could take his mother some gold.

I declined -- and later, when I meet her, feel a twinge of regret. She could
use the money.

Rudolpho was three when his father died, Virginia says. A single mother, she
has struggled alone for 16 years to raise her five children.

She scratches out a living on a small plot of land, growing corn to make
Rosquillas, doughnut-shaped crusty crackers. They're a popular snack in
Honduras and she hawks them on the buses that travel the gravel roads near
her village.

``As you can see, our situation is pretty bad,'' she says, pointing to the
dirt floor where her grandchildren pester a few chickens and a small pig.
There are no phones here, no running water and no mail service.

Still, there are reasons to be thankful. The family is healthy and all five
children graduated, which in Honduras means they have had six years of free

Rudolpho was itching to go north the day he finished school, but held off
because Virginia begged him not to go.

She'd heard the stories from illegal migrants who'd been caught, slapped in
jail and finally sent home. Often, they are worse off than when they
started, having spent their meagre savings on the trip.

``I said, `We are poor, but we can handle it.'''

But when the best job available at the local lumber mill pays only $2 US per
day, the temptation was too great.

Virginia says Rudolpho left four months ago and has yet to send any money

``He says he can't get a job. That he eats and sleeps and that the
government helps him.''

Like all the Honduran youth I met in Vancouver, Rudolpho was happy to
describe the 5,000-kilometre journey from Honduras. Bus from the capital,
Tegucigalpa, to the border of Guatemala and Mexico, across the dangerous
Mexican border on foot, then hopping freight trains north to the edge of the
United States.

Rudolpho walked across the U.S. border; others claim they crossed in a

After that they're home free -- the crossing into Canada is famously easy.

``It takes about 20 days, unless you get caught,'' Rudolpho said.

What he and the others never say is who showed them the way. And it's
obvious someone must.

One young Honduran in Vancouver didn't even know which direction his village
was from Tegucigalpa.

``You just get on the bus,'' he said.

Nor will they talk about where they live in Vancouver, or how they earn the
money that buys them thick gold chains and rings, baggy designer jeans, Nike
runners and slinky soccer jerseys.

Rudolpho told me he hoped to find a job.

``I'm waiting for immigration to get my papers in order, and then I'll work.
I also want to learn English,'' he said.

Virginia begs me to help her son: ``I would like you to help him find a job.
He feels he can't come back, that there's nothing worthwhile here.''

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Checked-by: Don Beck