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day in his locker he found a typewritten message slipped through a slat. “Well, now,” the anonymous note began. “You can be sure that we are keeping you under observation all the time, and there is no use trying to hide, since we have already warned you and you chose to die. your time has come, YOU POOR DEVIL!” Such a warning was not unusual. Sometimes there was more than one; in Luis’s case there were three. Victor Corzo and others believe the message came from army intelligence via an informant inside Rafael Aqueche. “The school had a militant reputation`all Communists,'” Victor says. “We knew G-2 had a representative there.” \(In Guatemala, the government considers all student acWithin a week or soLuis does not recall exactly how much time elapsedhe found another unsigned calling card, crudely handwritten, in his locker. “Remember that we already told you!!! Get out of the way you are going with the CEEM or we will not be responsible for what happens to you. You S.O.B.!!!” And then another, typed, in capital letters: “DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND? YOU ARE AN S.O.B.!!! YOU ARE GOING TO GET YOUR ASS BUSTED.” Luis wanted to believe the threats against him were empty. Plenty of people were threatened and nothing had come of it. But after school one day, about a month after the kidnapping, he noticed the car parked outside the school on Ninth Street. He knew by the darkened windows it was the same white and yellow sedan. He did not see the car again for a few days, and then it began reappearing, not daily, he says, “but with enough regularity to scare me.” Finally, too nervous to continue his studies, he left school one day in September 1991 in the company of classmates. He never returned. He stayed home for two weeks and then got hired at a Levi’s garment factory at the western limits of the city. He sewed Dockers pants, a job he’d held previously between school terms. Within a few weeks, the same car appeared, the driver apparently watching for Luis at the end of the block nearest the plant. For three days running the car was there, idling, at shift’s end. On the fourth, Luis quit work. On October 29, 1991, with about two hundred dollars stashed on various parts of his person, he said a quick goodbye to his family and caught a bus from his home to the teeming main terminal in Guatemala City. There he hopped another bus, bound for the western highlands, the Mexican border, and a life of uncertainty. He crossed illegally into Tapachula, Mexico, on foot, another anonymous Central American swept up in the current northward. “I just followed people,” Luis says. “When you get to the border, you find a lot of people who know what to do. I was following, because they said they were going to the United States.” Luis had been warned, presciently, that Mexico was unfriendly to Guatemalans. He hopped a boxcar, and at the first stop the train was boarded by men who flashed badges and identified themselves as Mexican Federal Judicial Police. The federales robbed Luis and the fifteen others on boardmen, women, and children. Luis lost $120. Three weeks later he arrived at Nuevo Laredo, on the TexasMexico border. He was out of money, doWn to the clothes on his back, when he convinced a construction foreman that he was a Mexican and could dig ditches. “I wanted to work for a week and go to the United States, but they didn’t pay us for four weeks.” So Luis slept in the train yards for a month. The day after payday, on January 3, 1992, Luis followed a group of Mexicans across the International Bridge. “The bridge was full of people, and I just kept on walking. Nobody checked. And that’s how I got here.” Ten days later, confused, alone, and with three dollars in his pocket, he was sitting in the plaza in Laredo, Texas, where a Border Patrol agent arrested him. He was placed in an Im migration and Natural ization Service jail for underage illegal aliens. On February 5, two days after his eighteenth birth day, the INS released Luis to an employer who owned a stable in Austin. Under a supervisory program with the INS, the man agreed to provide Luis and two other detainees with room, board, and five dollars a day in exchange for cleaning stalls and feeding horses. “We worked twelve hours a day,” Luis recalls. “We got food, but not enough, and no pay.” The manager of the sta ble, Vanessa Jackson, maintains that Luis was paid five dollars a day. She acknowledges, though, that the INS gave her free reign with her indentured laborers. “Their attitude toward Luis and the others was that they might as well have been livestock that had come across the border. ‘Are they working hard for ya?’ they used to ask.” By the beginning of March, Luis decided he’d had enough shitshoveling. He told his tale of woe to a Spanish-speaking rider, who spirited him away one day when the owners were off the premises. She took him to a Catholic church whose parish priest referred him to Casa Marianella, an east Austin sanctuary for refugees. “I remember looking up and seeing this scared, bedraggled kid with these big glasses sliding down his nose,” says Terri English, then the Casa Marianella director. “He was scared, but he was smart and determined to get that education he was denied in Guatemala. That got my attention.” Not long after Luis moved to the shelter, an Austin homeowner called Casa Marianella in search of someone to do yard work. Terri English arranged for Luis to meet the prospective employer, a man named Rudy Martinez. Luis told him of his past, of his recent border-crossing ordeal, and of his desire to get an education. Martinez agreed to “sponsor” Luis, offering him and another Central American refugee a room at his modest but comfortable ranch-style house in northeast Austin. By then Luis was enrolled in Johnston High School, where he became an excellent student”a bright, shining star,” recalls Benita Kolmen-Solomon, his English as a Second Language reading teacher. Casa Marianella also put Luis in touch with the Political Asylum 1987 to assist indigent refugeesprimarily Central Americans fleeing persecution in El Salvador and Guatemalain their efforts to win political asylum in the United States. Asylum is the United Nations’ noble notion of granting protection to refugees with “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political “I JUST FOLLOWED PEOPLE,” LUIS SAYS. “WHEN YOU GET TO THE BORDER, YOU FIND A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO KNOW WHAT TO DO. I WAS FOLLOWING, BECAUSE THEY SAID THEY WERE GOING TO THE UNITED STATES.” 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 8, 1996