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Brick-making villagers are model for residents in need of assistance

June 22, 2002|By AARON CLAVERIE

Staff Writer

MEXICALI — Norma Lisa Aguilar cradled her baby boy, Jose Andres Saldivar, to her breast while standing in the doorway of her village's one-room library/community center Friday.

She is beautiful and, while she is noticeably not well-off financially, she exudes pride and strength.

Aguilar has lived in her small village, Ladrillera La Colorado, on the outskirts of Mexicali's city limits since it was founded by members of her family and other immigrants from Nayarit, Mexico, seven years ago.

The immigrants had moved to this seemingly illogical location, a barren stretch of scrubby desert south of Mexicali off the road to San Felipe, because the area contains the raw material necessary for making bricks.

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And that's what the immigrants do. They make bricks, forming them by hand, burning them in a huge, smoking kiln, as they had in Nayarit. It takes the villagers a couple of days to make 1,000 bricks.

They get $25 or $30 in U.S. currency for each batch of 1,000.

Aguilar said she is one of a few who doesn't work at the kiln. She takes care of the children of those who do or works around the village.

On Friday she volunteered her services as a model.

As she stood, posing with her baby, she was surrounded by photographers and a crowd of people.

One of the photographers works for Mexicali's social services program, Desarrollo Integral de la Familia, or DIF.

Another photographer took pictures for the Tsu-Chi Foundation, a charitable organization founded by a Taiwanese Buddhist nun in 1966. The foundation provides assistance to the downtrodden all over the world as it spreads its message of "love and compassion."

In addition to the photographers, including one newsman, the other people pressed around Aguilar were DIF officials wearing matching white shirts and volunteers or staffers from the foundation, wearing matching blue shirts and white pants.

As the photographers angled for the perfect shot, the volunteers and staffers from both organizations played with little Jose's chubby feet and hands, hoping to coax a smile.

Just as Aguilar brushed the hair from her face, the baby smiled.

Photographers clicked away or videotaped the goings-on.

The images of Aguilar and her boy that were captured Friday will be used in brochures and newspaper articles and displayed at fund-raisers.

Money generated by those brochures and fund-raisers will allow the charitable organizations to provide assistance to Aguilar and others like her in Mexicali, people who don't necessarily need a hand to survive — the brick-making villagers have been doing that for seven years — but could use some help.

Specifically, the villagers in Ladrillera La Colorado need a school teacher and documentation papers, according to Mexicali's first lady Marta Diaz, who is the president of DIF.

Diaz said these particular villagers have it tougher because their colonia isn't located within city limits and without papers they don't qualify for state assistance.

"This is federally owned land," she said.

In cases of emergency the villagers are dependent on the goodwill of others if they can't scrape the money together to get medical aid or medicine.

Diaz, the wife of Mexicali Mayor Jaime Diaz, said her office will help solve the paper problem by sending someone to document the immigrants.

Hearing that news had more than a few of the villagers happy.

About a half-hour before Aguilar posed for pictures in the door jamb, kids playing on the village's lone swing set, a two-seater with rusted joints, chatted excitedly about the prospect of being counted among Baja California's residents.

Gerardo Aguilar, a 5-year-old bundle of energy and Norma Lisa Aguilar's cousin, and his four playmates knew the importance of "papeles."

While they played and chatted, Tsu-Chi staffers and DIF officials explained the nature of their visit to the majority of the village's 80 or so denizens who were gathered inside the library/community center.

Diaz said she wants to keep in contact with the villagers and all of Mexicali's unfortunate. She wants them to know what DIF is and what it can do for them.

"After finding the problems we will follow up and try to solve them. This administration wants to get in touch with the people," she said.

Tsu-Chi staffers said the collection of university students and volunteers, including a few from Calexico such as Gilbert Grijalva, former Calexico mayor and city councilman, were providing food and assistance because it is the mission of their organization, the mandate from Tsu-Chi's founder, Chang Yen.

The residents listened dutifully to the short messages and then gathered outside to pick up plastic bags full of food, including rice and some canned goods.

Earlier in the day, Tsu-Chi and DIF teamed together to pick up hundreds of poor people from various Mexicali colonias, bringing them to a medical clinic in Solidaridad for dental check-ups and brief examinations.

Grijalva, a Tsu-Chi volunteer, said any of the people who need follow up work will get it.

By working with DIF, Tsu-Chi has been able to establish a presence in Mexicali but not interfere with the city-sponsored program's work.

"We try to complement each other," Grijalva said.

In the morning, Tsu-Chi and DIF passed out food and set up a medical clinic in the Lazaro Cardenas colonia.

More than 600 families were helped and thousands of dollars in food were distributed.

>> Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419 or aclaverie@aol.com

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