Almost 90% of the workers come to the CLRC to find work are from Nebaj, Guatemala. While the scenery in this mountainous area is beautiful, the poverty is deep. One of those workers from Nebaj is Lucio, who grew up on a small farm in the rural countryside making barrels from scratch with his father to sell in the market. Lucio never intended to migrate to the United States. Although life in Nebaj was difficult he was content. He thought that life anywhere could be enjoyed if a person was willing to work hard for it. But, as is the case with most people who come to the United States, work in Guatemala became harder to find, the cost of living soared and crime followed. Lucio came with the mentality of working for two or three years to save just enough money to return to his family and possibly build a new house. However, two years turned to four, and four years turned to seven. “Everyone comes with the same idea,” he says. “Work hard, make money and go back home. But the years go by fast, and you put off leaving for one more year. Before you know it, going back home becomes harder than staying. The thing is, you work all day and you’re tired and miss your family. But there is work. In one week you can make more than a month’s salary in Guatemala. It’s hard here and it’s hard there. I’m stuck in the middle,” he says with a laugh.
Lucio commonly spent his mornings standing outside the Centreville library, hoping to be picked up for work. He found out about the Centreville Labor Resource Center one day in 2012, when a volunteer walked over and asked what she could do to help people better their working situation. When the Center first opened, he recalls not many people wanted to give it a chance because they were skeptical of the group’s motives. Yet he was curious about the organization and is glad he gave it a chance. Lucio likes the Center because it is orderly and efficient. He says waiting for work by the library can be very disorganized, chaotic and unfair. When a truck pulls up looking for workers, people scramble from every direction and rush the employer. People push and shove without hesitation. One person, he explains, could be waiting for hours, but if he doesn’t run fast enough, he won’t get work because someone who’s been waiting for ten minutes can make it to a truck first. As an older gentleman, Lucio feels uncomfortable competing for work that way. That’s one reason the Center really appeals to him. The “first come, first served” system makes it fair for everybody. On average, Lucio earns around $500/week since joining the center, or about $26,000/year according to a recent tax report. He takes English classes on slow days but says he doesn’t really retain much of the information. His plan for the upcoming year is to continue to work hard, support his family, keep studying English and eventually make the decision to return home.