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Columns

Migrants risk it all for runaway daughter

By ANDREW SKERRITT
Published February 2, 2007


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Hector and Eva Perez grew up in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, a hard place to live.

About nine years ago, they risked life and limb to come to America with their daughter Lizbeth. Working on farms, no matter how hard, beat rural Mexico.

They settled in the Tommy Town neighborhood of Dade City like so many migrant farmworkers. They kept a low profile but dreamed of a better life for Lizbeth.

She's a very American girl. She loves reggaeton music; she loves to write; she did well at Weightman Middle School.

But on Lizbeth's 13th birthday Jan. 10, she took the bus to school but never arrived. She didn't come home that night. She hasn't come home since.

Hector and Eva faced a dangerous prospect. Finding their daughter might mean contacting authorities - leaving the shadows that protect undocumented workers like them. But they felt they had no choice.

Dade City police searched for some leads, and a few days later the worried parents got a call from their daughter. She had run off with her boyfriend. The family believes she is in the dirt poor southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

All her life, Eva and Hector had told their daughter how difficult it was back home. This country would afford her the best opportunity to succeed, yet now she was running away. And because her parents tried to find her, they risked joining her in the place they fought so hard to escape.

Still, doing nothing wasn't an option.

In addition to seeking help from police, they have contacted the Mexican consular authorities. They've also asked their relatives in Mexico for help.

"She's a little girl," said Eva Perez in Spanish. "She doesn't know what she's doing."

I met Eva and Hector at the Farmworkers Self-Help office in Dade City. They had left work early that afternoon so they could meet me to share their story, hoping somebody might read it on the Internet and help them get their daughter back.

She's 29; he's 31. They've been married for about 13 years and have lived in Dade City most of that time.

They speak little English. Ana Limas of the Farmworkers Self-Help office served as our interpreter. Limas is all too familiar with this tale. She ran away from home and got married when she was 12. Now 30, she tries to counsel teen girls in the neighborhood. Take your time, she tells them. Don't grow up so fast.

Eva and Hector tried to keep Lizbeth close to them. They said no when the 17-year-old boy asked for permission to date their daughter. When Lizbeth was on Christmas vacation, they took her to the plant nursery where they work so she would be safe, and so she could watch how hard they labored each day for her freedom.

Now, because they cared so much about her, it is their own way of life that is in jeopardy.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is askerritt@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 2, 2007, 05:33:17]


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