I ran into Bernardo on Monday.
He was one of the day laborers who sat in my living room, brainstorming what we could do to revive the Job Center a few years ago. Although we have not been successful at opening a new center, several of us developed friendships and have kept in touch.
Bernardo is one of the guys I see from time to time, and this week he was definitely down.
His wife is ill in Mexico. His son has dropped out of college. When things were good here, and work was plentiful, he was able to support them.
He was able to pay the rent, buy the medicine and pay his son's tuition. The sacrifice and costs of being separated seemed to be worth it. But now there is little work, and his wife's health is declining.
Bernardo feels like he is failing them, and the added stress of being so far away was a visible burden I could see as he spoke of his family's situation.
Families being separated because of economic hardship is not a new narrative.
Some of the best blues music was born out of this harsh reality. After emancipation, millions of African Americans migrated to where there was work, often having to be separated from their families. The common refrain, "Since my baby left me" wasn't about a woman walking out on the guy.
It was about the socioeconomic reality of being separated by necessity to find work. She left to work in the North.
The blues are great because it gives voice to the authentic pain. The pain of being apart from those you love. The pain of making choices in desperation. The pain of the social realities that led to the situation.
I wonder what gives voice to Bernardo's pain. Perhaps that is why I write about him here — to give the pain of his separation a voice.
I understand that he had a choice. I understand that, for generations, many people who migrated for different reasons had choices. But I am not sure how much of a choice "starve here or leave your family and find work" really is.
I have heard poverty described in terms of the availability of choices. If those are your two choices, I suppose you are quite poor.
What would you do, given those choices?
It is easy for me to judge the choices of others. I consider myself resourceful and creative, sure that I could come up with some solution. But I have not had to face the choices that many of my neighbors have.
I do not live in the same realities. I do, though, live in the same place and I ask these questions as we work to build a new, shared reality that will hopefully be plentiful in choices for all of us.
As Father's Day approaches and I look forward to spending time with my dad, I can't help but think of the thousands, even millions of "Bernardos" out there — dads separated from their families because of severe economic hardship.
CRISSY BROOKS is executive director and co-founder of Mike Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.