Immigrant Voices: Jorge Avila
Jorge Avila considers himself an orphan. He knew his father and mother growing up in Mexicali, Mexico, but he didn’t have a close relationship with them.
And then, at age 11, he was abandoned by them both.
“They moved away; they left me,” Avila said. “I lived with grace from the neighbors.”
He sought shelter in the backseat of a car for a few months until he eventually moved in with his sister.
“I just tried to survive,” Avila said. “Always I had it in my mind I wanted to live here in the United States.”
Since Mexicali is a border town, Avila said he spent a lot of time in California, traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico.
“It was easy back then to cross the border,” Avila said. “You could go spend a few months and then go back. I got a passport and visa when I was 1.”
During the years, Avila said he tried to reconnect with his father, who was living in Los Angeles, but each time, Avila was rejected. In 1993, Avila reached out to his father for the last time. After once again getting no response, Avila decided it was time to move from California to Steamboat Springs, a place where his father’s wife had family.
Avila lived in Craig for a few years, moved back to California, and in 2002, relocated to Steamboat permanently. For two decades, he has watched the Latinx population grow. When he first visited Steamboat in the early ‘90s, he said there were just two Hispanic families living in Craig and none in Steamboat.
“In 1995, a lot of people started coming here from the state of Chihuahua (in Mexico) because of jobs, opportunities,” Avila said. “We live in a town with a lot of rich people, and they’re not going to the jobs at the hotels, the restaurants, the resort. That’s why we came here; there was a need.”
He and his wife now operate a small property management company here, but Avila is better known as an author and playwright. He has written several books, including the novel, “Maricopa: An American Border Tale,” which details acts of discrimination and harsh treatment of Latinos in Maricopa County, Arizona, and the children’s book, “Book Suriana Lugo y el Mago Eskeleto.”
“Maricopa” was adapted into a musical, and now, he and his friend Michael Staley have written a screenplay based on the book that they’ve entered in several film festivals, including Sundance and Big Break.
Asked if he feels welcome in Steamboat, Avila said, “absolutely, 100%.” He credits that to his attitude.
“I see Hispanic people, sometimes they don’t speak out,” Avila said. “If they see something wrong, they keep quiet, and that’s a problem.”
He also has worked to share the culture of his home country with the community, and he thinks that openness has made a difference. He and his wife brought the first Day of Dead, or Día de Muertos celebration to Steamboat, and he also was able to produce “Maricopa: An American Border Tale,” a play based on his book, at the Chief Theater.
“We did the play for one night, and it was a success,” Avila said. “In the end, it was a good idea, but sometimes you have to break barriers. I try to keep myself active and try to help in the community whenever I can.”
Avila also remembers fondly the time he was asked to read his book, “Book Suriana Lugo y el Mago Eskeleto,” to second-graders at Strawberry Park and Soda Creek elementary schools. He read the book in English, and as he started to tell the story, he noticed the brown children in the back of the group of students who had gathered around him.
“When they started hearing the story of this little brown girl that tried to save the skeleton from Dia Muertos, the little brown boys in the classroom and the brown girls, they moved forward,” Avila said. “It was something beautiful. The white kids, they made room so those brown kids could fit. So suddenly, I got 25 kids all around me, all together – brown and white, all the colors — listening to a story about a brown girl. We need more of that.”
Avila said immigration reform is at the heart of making Steamboat and other communities across the U.S. and the world more welcoming to people of color.
“Immigration is in the human nature … it’s deep inside of us,” Avila said. “You talk about the Mayflower ship with puritans and pilgrims coming to America — they were looking for the same thing as people who came here two years ago. They were looking for a better way to express themselves and be happy. They were running away from religion and economic problems. When we immigrate to a new country, we’re doing the same thing — we want to find a better way to progress.”
To reach Lisa Schlichtman, call 970-871-4221, email lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @lschlichtman.
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