Dreams of success die with immigrant

Mexican citizen hoped
to earn enough to return home and buy a farm

By clare marie celano
Staff Writer

Mexican citizen hoped
to earn enough to return home and buy a farm
By clare marie celano
Staff Writer

In happier times in Mexico, Fulgencio Sosa Cortes lived with his wife, Eneida, and family in Oaxaca. Cortes, who came to the United States in June 2002, was killed in a landscaping accident on June 12.In happier times in Mexico, Fulgencio Sosa Cortes lived with his wife, Eneida, and family in Oaxaca. Cortes, who came to the United States in June 2002, was killed in a landscaping accident on June 12.

Fulgencio Sosa Cortes came to the United States from Oaxaca, Mexico, with a dream. He wanted to work here for a year and make enough money to go home and buy a farm. His dream died with him one day short of that one-year goal.

In his mind’s eye, Cortes saw the same vision other immigrants saw — streets paved with gold.

That is not what he found once he got here.

Cortes entered the United States illegally in June 2002 with aspirations of working hard for one year and earning enough money to return home and buy a little farm for his wife, Eneida, and their two children, Omar, 11 and Brenda 9. He wanted a place of his own, a safe place to raise his children and maybe a few farm animals. He wanted to make a new life for those under his protective care.

Cortes’ dream died with him on June 12, one day before his one-year anniversary in America, when a felled tree fatally injured him while he was on a job site at a private home in Jackson. He leaves behind a beloved wife, two adoring children and an unfinished dream.

Fulgencio Sosa Cortes was 39 years old.

In conversations with Greater Media Newspapers, Cortes’ wife, Eneida, who remained in Mexico, and his cousin, Salvador Santos, 23, with whom Cortes came to America, the story of one immigrant among thousands was told.

Picked up on Throckmorton Street in Freehold Borough by a representative of Taves Tree Service, Howell, early in the morning on June 12, as he had been for the previous three days, Cortes headed out for another long day of work. This was his first full-time job in a while.

He and his cousin, Salvador Santos, made the trip from Mexico together, entering the United States illegally on June 11, 2002. They had been working at a nursery in Millstone Township, watering and caring for flowers, their first full-time job when they arrived in the States.

Recently, things had become a little slow because of the late spring, and there wasn’t a great deal of full-time work for newly arriving immigrants who were neither fluent in the language nor familiar with the equipment used by the area’s landscapers and farmers.

It took three days of waiting by the railroad tracks on Throckmorton Street in downtown Freehold before Cortes and Santos were hired for a day job. They made do for food and sleeping arrangements until then, and they continued to "make do," finding food where they could and sleeping under the New Jersey sky.

In the late summer of 2002, luck granted them a job with a decent "patron" who owned a nursery in Millstone Township and who provided housing in a trailer on the site of the nursery.

This is not the normal process of obtaining housing and a job for men and women who come to the United States from Mexico, according to Santos. Most times, immigrants take the trip to Freehold from the southwest and are literally dropped off at the railroad tracks on Throckmorton Street. They are then instructed to wait — wait for someone to hire them, wait for someone kind enough to offer them a place to live or wait for someone to offer them a way to feed, clothe and shelter themselves. Normally, by the time they arrive here, they have been without food and water for days.

The incident that took the life of Cortes occurred at about 12:35 p.m. June 12. According to a statement given to Jackson police by the president of Taves Tree Service, Chris Althaver, the company had been contracted to remove 12 trees from the Jackson property. He told police that Cortes was raking leaves on the site when a 30-foot-tall tree that had been positioned to fall in a southerly direction "suddenly fell eastward toward the ground."

According to the police report, Althaver said he yelled a warning to Cortes, who was raking leaves with a co-worker, Christopher Vega, but it was too late. The tree fell on Cortes, causing massive and ultimately fatal head injuries.

Police responded to the property after being called by Althaver. Medics and the fire department were also dispatched to the scene.

Upon their arrival at the home on Maestro Court, officers found Cortes lying on the front lawn with apparent severe head injuries. There was blood behind his head and he was bleeding from both ears. He was unconscious and had difficulty breathing, according to the report. The tree was lying on the ground nearby. Cortes was transported to Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune, with medics in attendance. He died at 1 p.m. June 13.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident. A representative of OSHA told Greater Media Newspapers that a reporter would not be allowed to speak with the investigator but would be able to request the agency’s report when it is completed.

Cortes’ story of immigration is not unique. He is one of thousands of Mexican immigrants who come to the United States illegally every year for what most Americans take for granted: freedom, choice and a chance to make life for their children easier and more fulfilling.

After losing his job in Mexico as a maintenance worker at a resort hotel in Watulko Beach, a job that he loved, he took on various odd jobs to bring income into his household. Soon Cortes came across what he thought would be an opportunity to give his children what he wanted them to have. He was approached by someone who told him he could take him to "the North," as many Mexican immigrants refer to the United States, where, if he stayed for one year, he could make enough money to buy his children everything he wanted them to have. The vision of the farm and the life he saw for his family could be a reality.

The man also said he would arrange housing and a job for Cortes, who saw the loss of his job as an opportunity to take the trip.

The die was cast.

His decision was made and there was no turning back, not for Cortes. He would do this for Eneida, for Omar, for Brenda.

Here is where his story begins. The story of just one of thousands of immigrants who come to the United States to see what lies on the other side of the border, and in the case of many Mexican immigrants who come from small backward villages, what lies on the other side of the moon.

What is unique about Cortes’ immigration story is this: He found he could not make it here. He did not rake in gold. He hardly got work at all. Barely bringing in $350 a month, Cortes tried to live on $50 so he could save the rest and put it toward the debts the trip to the States had incurred. It would be a very long time before he would actually get an opportunity to save for the dream, to put money toward the new way of life he so desperately wanted for his young children.

First he had to pay back his family, friends and neighbors in Mexico who helped him to bridge the gap between the money he and Eneida had saved and the money demanded by the person who would take him on the long and dangerous journey across the border to the golden streets of America.

The price tag for the trip: $4,000, with $2,000 up front and $2,000 to be paid after settling in and finding a job. It would need to be sent back to Mexico to pay for the lien on his apartment back home, along with money owed to his friends and family members.

Cortes had no idea how hard the trip would be, what perils and pitfalls he would be exposed to on the way to his dream — and he never realized how difficult it would be to be separated from the family he left behind.

Cortes and Santos stayed in the trailer at the Millstone Township nursery most of the time when they were not working. They had little contact with other members of Freehold’s growing Hispanic community; therefore, the loss of the feeling of "home" was magnified to both of them — even more so to Cortes, who had left his family behind.

Santos had no real family at home in Mexico that he was close to. His parents were dead. He had two brothers but had severed ties with them. For him, this was a new beginning.

When things at the nursery got tough and their hours were reduced to two days a week, the men searched for work to fill the other five days in their work week. They headed for Throckmorton Street in Freehold Borough, a place where they heard there was work available for a man who was willing to work hard.

The street is the location where immigrants have gathered each day for more than a decade to be hired as day laborers by area businessmen.

When Cortes and Santos were lucky, they got a ride; otherwise, they walked the long distance from the nursery in Millstone Township to the center of Freehold and waited along with the other immigrants who were working on their own dreams.

The job at the nursery provided stability, but not enough for Cortes to accomplish what he had come to the States for. The dream was always one step ahead of him, but he wasn’t giving up. He would work and work and work until he made enough money to do what he set out to do.

He never got the chance to complete the dream.Cecilia Reynolds of Freehold Township, publisher of the local Spanish-language newspaper Nosotros, is an advocate for the Hispanic community. She knows the life of the Mexican immigrants and sees it every day. Not only does she run the newspaper, hoping to inform Hispanic residents about the ways of America and Americans, but her office door in Freehold Borough is open all day to those in need.

Because of her kinship with the immigrants, Reynolds finds herself in the center of much of what goes on around them.

As such, she also found herself enmeshed in the center of Cortes’ story.

Santos was the first person to be notified about Cortes’ injuries. Officials called the nursery. At a loss as to whom to call and what to do, he found his way to Broad Street in Freehold and walked into Reynolds’ office, bewildered and frightened by the tragedy that had befallen his cousin.

He knew no way to get any information about him. All he knew was that Cortes had been taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center.

Quickly, Reynolds arranged to have her son, Carlos, take Santos to the hospital, where, she said, they were denied any information about Cortes.

Frustrated and more worried, the two returned to Freehold, at which time Reynolds called local attorney Jonathan Friedman, who escorted the men back to the hospital.

At that point, hospital officials told Friedman that Cortes had died.

Not know­ing how Santos would react, Friedman gave the news to Reynolds, who then had to break the tragic news to Santos.

Reynolds took Santos to the Higgins Memorial Home in Free­hold Borough, where Nolan Higgins was able to help. Higgins arranged a viewing and took care of transporting Cortes back to Mexico — to Eneida, to Omar, to Brenda, and back home to his native country.

Reynolds also took it upon herself to tell Eneida that her husband had died. Santos had already told Eneida that Fulgencio had been seriously injured, but it took two days before she received the call that her husband would be coming home to be buried on his native soil.

Reynolds said the phone call she made to Mexico was a horrible experience. She re­counted some of the details of that con­versation.

"Please just don’t tell me he died," she said Eneida sobbed. "I can deal with anything else. Please just don’t tell me he died."

"Yes," Reynolds said in a whisper. "Yes, he died."

"In the background, all I could hear was the children crying and screaming for their father," Reynolds said in a voice that could not hide her own pain.

"What shall I do?" Reynolds said Eneida asked her. "I want to come there to be with him! I want to take him home."

"No, no, there is no way you can come here," Reynolds kept repeating.

Through sobs and Reynolds’ compas­sionate understanding, Eneida accepted the fact that Reynolds would take care of Fulgencio.

"I have no money. I cannot even pay for him to come home," Reynolds said the woman cried.

Reynolds assured her that somehow she would take care of it.

True to her word, Reynolds, who is well known as a friend in the Hispanic community, scanned photos of Cortes into a computer, attached them to cardboard boxes and sent community members around the area to take up a collection to pay for funeral expenses for one of their own.

The resulting generosity from members of the community who had never met Cortes filled large plastic bags full of dol­lar bills which Reynolds delivered to Higgins. She also notified Althaver, the president of the tree service, of the need for funeral expense funds, and he brought a check to Higgins for $1,500 to help with the cost.

Cecilia Reynolds, publisher of the local Spanish-language newspaper Nosotros, contributed to this story with reporting and translation assistance.