Just two years ago he owned a successful construction company in Tijuana that developed real estate projects along the Baja California coast. For more than 20 years he and his family lived comfortably in a Chula Vista suburb.
The recession in the U.S. changed that as investors disappeared amid the financial crisis. Despite many efforts, the Pachecos lost their home to foreclosure and were to vacate the property they owned for 18 years by the end of November.
Although he never worked here, Pacheco was part of our middle-class. He bought a house in 1991, purchased cars for his wife and teenage children, and like many of his neighbors, would often eat out.
Today everything stands in contrast.
“We are living day by day,” he said.
While Pacheco told me his story, I could not stop thinking about my family’s own experience when we moved to the United States.
We were refugees of the 1995 Mexican financial crisis. My father’s construction company had also gone belly up. But fortunately for us, my parents had purchased a home in Chula Vista, where we moved. We were legal residents, but had chosen not to live in the United States.
We didn’t know anybody here.
Like the Pachecos, our kitchen was also full of grocery bags bought by friends and family members who were helping us get by.
Like Pacheco’s wife, Linda, my mother got a job after more than 20 years of being a stay-at-home mom. Still, the checks coming in weren’t enough neither in both quantity nor frequency.
Times were hard, specially for my dad, a civil engineer who was used to developing big projects for the government, and more importantly, providing for his family.
In Tijuana he was the well-respected “Ingeniero Soto.”
In San Diego he was just another person out of work.
When he got to the United States he thought his professional life would be an extension of his trajectory in Mexico. But things didn’t work out that way. Like Pacheco, he spoke little English and he couldn’t practice as a civil engineer.
He felt useless, and although he never admitted it, he was depressed.
He worked filing data for a medical office. He held his head up high when he swept the sidewalks of a government-subsidized housing complex where he came across two former employees.
“Ingeniero, ¿es usted?”, (Engineer, is that you?), asked one of them after my father told a group of people to throw the trash in the can.
“What are you doing here?,” he asked.
“Working, like you,” my father answered.
Pacheco knows he needs to find a job doing anything. His family depends on it.
He applied unsuccessfully for a job at a warehouse carrying boxes. He thinks he didn’t get it because of his age and because he doesn’t have a muscular built. He applied to a gas station, but never got a call back.
While he looks for a job in a new place for him and his family, Pacheco enrolled in English classes and a construction inspection certificate program and a local community college, something my father also did.
My parents endured many sleepless nights and struggled for many years before finally things starting getting better.
Today my dad is a general contractor and he’s vying for a federal construction contract. My mom left her initial job as a office assistant and became one of the most successful real estate agents in her area.
It’s hard to tell someone like Pacheco that everything is going to be all right.
But if history is any indication, sooner or later it will.