Notes & Quotes: The miracle of mentioning ‘Kansas’ 


Sunset. (Photo by Matt Phillips via Unsplash)

Tom Morrow

Since my early days on this planet, I’ve always looked to the West for my destiny. From my very first family vacation as a youngster, I’ve always wanted to “Follow the Sun.”

After arriving in California during the late ’70s, one of my first journalistic triumphs was a series of feature stories I wrote as a reporter for the old Escondido Times-Advocate. My recollections while following the sun in future columns will be told in no particular order. The account I’m relating today began in 1979. You might say it is still a story that is alive and well. Let me explain:

Like some 43 years ago, the ongoing saga of illegal aliens (today known as “undocumented migrants”) was a constant news story. Historically Speaking, since the mid-1800s, migrant workers have come across our border from Mexico to work. Today, it’s a toss-up whether many of the people arrive here to do the jobs we won’t do or pose as mules to feed the pockets of drug cartels.

Notes & Quotes by Tom MorrowThis story is about a young man who came here to work. I found him toiling on a Fallbrook farm. At that time, I didn’t use his real name to tell the 20-year-old’s story. The T-A’s chief photographer, Dan Rios, accompanied me for the interview. We found (I called him Juan Doe) as he was preparing himself a modest evening meal primarily consisting of vegetables from the soil he worked that day.

His story of traversing the border was typical. He was on his third trip. Juan was using his dad’s Social Security card. The father was more or less retired, living in Mexico. Juan spoke passible gringo lingo that migrants use on this side of the border. I was curious about Dad’s Social Security card … how did he know the card was valid?

“My father was born in Kansas,” Juan told me.

The story suddenly took a sharp turn into a new direction. If his dad was born in America, that meant the old man was a legal citizen and Juan could be eligible for “green card” residence status.

How did he know Dad was born in Kansas?

The young man walked over to a small box on a shelf and took out a tattered, faded, folded piece of paper. It was, indeed, a 1922 birth certificate issued in Topeka by the state of Kansas.

Oceanside News logo“My father gave this to me. He said his mother told him never to lose it as it was the most valuable thing she could leave to him. Mi padre didn’t know what she meant, but he gave it to me thinking it might help somehow.”

The road ahead was a long one and, little did I know at the time, was far from easy. For the next year, there would be countless phone calls and letters written to officials in San Diego and Washington, D.C.

Juan returned to Mexico to explain to his father about the birth certificate; he was to go to the Consulate in Tijuana. He did and in fairly short order received documents identifying the old man as a legal U.S. citizen.

After the father got his citizenship papers, he crossed over and back three times to the U.S. He was amazed at the ease access was granted by U.S. immigration officers. Obtaining his son’s green card would not be so easy.

That pursuit of the elusive residential green card often was a frustrating process, but eventually achieved. There was a lot of advice, help and plenty of frustration along the way. It finally came down to a short session before a federal immigration judge. What began as an appearance before a grim-looking magistrate quickly transformed into a big smile when told a newspaper reporter was in the courtroom as a witness for the applicant.

It’s been 43 years since those many months took place. With his green card in hand, the young man didn’t waste any time. He became an entrepreneur, owning a food truck to provide sandwiches and snacks for field workers throughout area fields. He eventually operated 12 trucks, employing nearly 20 workers. Juan sold his business a few years back because of health concerns. Now 65, Willebaldo Leon, aka Juan Doe, is married with four children, six grandchildren and mostly pleasant memories of those many challenges nearly half a century ago. Today, he has his own piece of paper designating him a naturalized U.S. citizen.

As for Kansas? “I wouldn’t want to live there … it’s too cold in the winter and hot in the summer,” he laughed.

We hadn’t seen each other for more than a decade when we met last week for lunch. His 96-year-old mother has invited me to her 97th birthday party in July, and I’ll make every effort then to meet his family.

It, indeed, was a far, far better thing than anything I have done during my many journeys following the Western sun.

Tom Morrow is a longtime Oceanside-based journalist and author who contributes to OsideNews.

Columns represent the views of the individual writer and do not necessarily reflect those of the North Coast Current’s ownership or management.

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