Notes to broadcasters
Content: This is the story of Juan and his family who decide to leave their village and move to the city to start a new and better life. Once in the city, the family finds poor living conditions and a shortage of jobs. Life in the city is not what they had imagined
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Dear Uncle Silvio:
I am sending this letter to let you know that I am thinking of coming to live in the city. My wife Claudia and I have come to this decision after much discussion. We started thinking about it one month ago when Felipa Cabezas and her sister were here in San Rafael visiting their cousins. Do you remember the Cabezas family? They moved to the city when I was still in primary school. Felipa was in my third grade class. Now Felipa is a medical doctor and her sister Norma has a very good job as a secretary with a furniture company. They drove here in Felipa’s own car, and Reuben says they are both married and live in nice houses in the city. After listening to their story, my wife and I decided that moving to the city is the only way we are going to better the lives of our children. We feel they can get better schooling there. I intend to get a job so that my children and Claudia do not have to work for wages.
Uncle Silvio, I value your opinion and would like you to tell us what we must do to move to the city. For example, is it easy to find a job? And what about a place to live? I know land is in short supply so we do not expect to be able to plant crops the way we do in San Rafael.
We are in the process of harvesting our crops. This year we did very well with our tomatoes, corn, and beans. The squash should be ready in another three weeks. I think we could make some good money with this crop, so we will have enough to make the move to the city.
Please write us soon and let us know your opinion.
Juan and family
I received your letter today and was very surprised to hear that you and the family want to come to the city. I believe your cousin Gilberto went out to the village a few weeks ago. Did he tell you that things were wonderful in the city? Juan, life is not pleasant here. Gilberto does not work at all. We don’t know where he gets his money. He is not the same person who left San Rafael. His mother and I believe he is up to no good. The police have come to our house looking for him several times.
Juan, jobs around here are hard to find. I feel you should stay home rather than come here. I have lived here for fifteen years and still do not have a permanent job. We have lived in El Toro for all this time and will be here all our lives. Many new migrants today sleep in the large city parks or camp outside the city until they can find a better place, but others live all their lives in the same place they first came to.
Juan, there is no spare land here. Every piece of land in the city seems to be owned by someone. We seldom eat fresh vegetables and we have to buy most of our food.
I feel badly that my children will never know what it is to plant and harvest their own food. They don’t care about trees and nature at all. Juan, stay in San Rafael. I know what I am talking about. I have not had a happy day since leaving San Rafael, but my pride prevents me from returning.
Dear Uncle Silvio:
I received your letter today through Reuben, our bus driver. I was upset that you should advise me not to come to the city. After all, you have lived there for years. I think if it was so bad you would have returned to San Rafael.
My wife and I are more determined than ever to come to the city. We are both young and healthy and know what it is to work hard.
I cannot understand why so many of my own relatives don’t want to see us make a better life in the city. My parents and my brother Pedro are also against me for wanting to leave the village. Instead of encouraging me and trying to help me move to the city, all I get is criticism and opposition from everyone around me. I have not had one person wish me good luck or best wishes since I began planning to move to the city.
I am happy to have a strong wife who stands with me and believes, as I do, that we can make it on our own.
Uncle Silvio, I am not asking you for money. In fact, I will be glad to pay you to help us find a place to live. Please help us. I know I am making the right decision. I really want a better life for my family.
Please write us soon.
I am sorry to hear that my advice to you was so upsetting. I was only being honest and trying to help you avoid making a mistake. I know I must sound like someone who doesn’t follow his own advice when I tell you not to move to the city, but Juan, I let my pride get in my way. I have really wanted to return home to San Rafael ever since I came to the city. I was trying to help you avoid making the same mistake I did.
I was young and ambitious and felt the city could offer me everything I ever wanted. As each year passed by I failed miserably to gain what I had come here for. I came to the city for a better life and school for the children. I had the same dreams that you have now.
I had sold all my land when I left San Rafael and so I had nothing to go back to. Your grandparents begged me to return, but I went against their wishes. Too much pride, you know! It is this false pride that keeps me here. I feel ashamed to come back to the village.
Juan, I cannot help you find a place to live. Our home is a small two-room shanty made out of tin and tar paper, and there are six of us. Juan, I cannot offer you a place to stay. Most new migrants usually spend their first few months sleeping in a park until they can find a place to live. Many never leave the park!
Juan, do not come to the city. I beg you to reconsider. It is not a good idea to come here. I know you will regret it. Please write us soon.
Dear Uncle Silvio:
I am coming to the city. My mind is made up and nothing can change it. We will be coming on the bus on Friday with Reuben. He will drop us at the Parque Bolivar. Can you meet us there? We don’t want anything from you except to see you.
We are almost packed and ready for Friday. The children–at least the two younger ones–are excited about moving to the city. The two older ones are not as thrilled, but I think they will change their minds once they get to the city.
It is too bad that we have no one giving us support on our move to the city, but I intend to show everyone who tried to discourage us that we will be better off. I do not intend to fail. Believe me Uncle, I will work very hard.
I am looking forward to meeting you very soon. Say hello to my aunt and cousins. I will bring you some fresh vegetables from the village. If you would like anything special, please send a message with Reuben.
Well, now that Juan has actually moved to El Toro, we have copies of five letters that were exchanged between Juan and his older brother Pedro.
This is the first chance I have had to write to you since we arrived in the city. How are the family and all our friends and neighbours back home? I hope all is well with Mama and Papa.
We arrived at the city by bus one morning at about four o’clock. Reuben, our bus driver from San Rafael, helped me and Claudia with the four children and our possessions. We were dropped off near a large park in the city. We spent the next month there.
Every day our eldest son Raul and I looked for work. After a week here our eldest daughter, Paula, found a job doing house work for a local family. Claudia and the two smaller children stayed in the park.
Pedro, after a month we found a place to stay in a part of the city where a lot of people who come in from the countryside live. Paula stayed on with the Villa family doing house work. Here in El Toro we have built a small shed to live in. It is made of cardboard and tin we found in the city dump. We have no latrines or water. There is a tap about a mile down the road where we collect water for drinking. Rats are a problem here. It seems there are more here than in the country. Since we came to the city I have worked for about a month at several different jobs. Our money is running quite low and the two younger children are not very well. However, we will not give up easily and will keep trying to make a better life for ourselves.
Juan and family
Let’s listen now to Pedro’s reply to that letter.
We received your letter today and decided to write back at once. We are all well but everyone is concerned about you and the family. Juan, maybe you should consider coming back home. Since you left, things are not the same. We all miss you a lot. Besides, there is always a lot of food here for all of us. I am teaching full-time now at the school now.
Planting season is coming up soon and we could use the extra help, since our parents are not getting any younger.
Today Rosa and I decided to send you some money to help out a little.
Ramon says he misses his cousin Raul a lot at school, when he works in the fields and when he goes fishing. He is doing very well in school despite the hard work.
Are Paula and Raul not going to continue studying? Juan, please write to us soon. I hope this money helps and we hope to see you all soon.
Pedro, Mama, Papa, and family
We received your most welcome letter today. It was good to hear all is well. Thank you for the money; we will use it for food and clothes. I am glad to hear you are teaching full-time now.
It has been a disappointing time for us. Paula is not working anymore. The Villa sons were beginning to bother her, so Claudia and I asked her to come back here to live with us.
Raul and Paula have decided they are going to try and sell chewing gum and soft drinks in the city. They are starting today. We hope it will help with the expenses.
Pedro, my one hope for these children was to go to school, but so far this has been impossible. I know that Raul and Paula are very smart and both are interested in learning more about farming. I think it is very hard for them to understand why I brought them here. However, I still think that we should keep on trying.
Claudia has planted some tomatoes and coriander in an old bucket she found in the dump. We should be harvesting the coriander very soon, and the tomatoes will be ready in one month. However, with no land and not much water it is very hard to plant much of anything.
The two younger children, Miguel and Miguela, are both better, but spend much of their time playing in the garbage dump with other children who live near us. There is no school close by for them. Claudia gets upset seeing them playing in the dump, but there is not much for them to do here.
Pedro, we all miss the countryside and are beginning to think coming to the city was a mistake. However, I was promised a job working in a factory and will hear about it tomorrow.
Meanwhile, we will see if the chewing gum and soft drink stall works out.
Please write to us soon.
Juan and family
All is well here but we are still concerned about you.
I am sorry to hear about Paula’s job. It was a good idea to make her leave that job, under the circumstances. I hope the older children will do well in the chewing gum and soft drink business. But Juan, you should try to keep the children away from the garbage dump. You know it is a place where they could catch a bad disease. Reuben, the bus driver, told us that Claudia is expecting another baby. Well, congratulations from all of us.
We have started clearing the fields for planting the next crop. Most of our villagers have come back from working for the big land owners and are also clearing their own land.
All the children have done very well in school this year, and hope to continue. Juana, our oldest daughter, is hoping to teach in the local school some day. She is going to write the special exams next year to become an apprentice teacher. I think she will make a good teacher.
Ramon says he will continue to study about agriculture and he hopes to plant some crops this season on his own. Paco and Violeta will both enjoy a break and work with our parents in the fields. I think they both like working with animals.
I was talking to Reuben in his bus the other day, and he says you are thinking about coming back to San Rafael. Juan, we know it will be the right decision. If you need money or any help to come back, please send us a note with Reuben and tell him what day you will return. If we know when, Rosa and I will go and clean up the house for your return, and we will have supper waiting for you. Juan, everyone here hopes you will come back. We all wait to greet you with open arms.
Pedro and all of San Rafael
This is going to be the last letter I write to you. Things have not improved since I wrote to you the last time. Claudia and I had a long talk with the children and we are now convinced that we should come home.
We came here to make a better future for the children. Today we are a lot worse off than when we left San Rafael. The children have not yet seen the inside of a school. Our clothes are wearing out and we have lost the hope we had when we came here.
I know we still have the old place in San Rafael, so we have something to return to. Uncle Silvio was right after all; city life is not what I thought it would be.
Pedro, I do feel a bit ashamed about returning to the village poorer that I was when I left. However, I know that you and our parents and friends are on our side. That makes returning to San Rafael easier. Reuben has shown me people other than Uncle Silvio who came to the city 10 years ago and still sleep in the park.
Pedro, I didn’t want to be in this position. I guess we will come home on Reuben’s bus next Friday when he returns from bringing the farmers and their produce to the city. We have already started packing the few belongings we have. The children and Claudia are very happy and are looking forward to coming home. Tell our parents that we will be home in time for supper and can help with the next planting.
Pedro, I now feel free of this desire of wanting to live in the city. I guess, as the wise people say, experience is sometimes the best teacher. I only wish I had had more respect for Uncle Silvio’s advice, but I have learned the hard way.
I hope anyone who hears our story will believe me and realize that life can be very happy in the countryside. I also feel that there is no need to be ashamed if someone has tried the city life and wants to return to the country. As I said, I feel free at last.
I will see you soon.
PS: Don’t tell the others, but Uncle Silvio is coming home with us too, to try to start over. He wants to surprise everyone.
These letters were written by Indira Ganaselall, who grew up in a village in Trinidad, West Indies.