At the end of every week, Ricardo Lopez walks through the streets of Fruitvale to a nearby bar. He soaks his mop in soapy water and pushes it across the tile floor. After a quick restock of the counter and a porch sweep, the lounge is ready to welcome guests arriving later that evening.
Lopez, a day laborer and Oakland resident of nearly 30 years, once lived a comfortable middle-class life in Mexico, working as an accountant for the Mexican department of finance. 
“It was a really good job,” Lopez said in Spanish, with a smile on his face. “It’s the government, so you have your office, your chair, and your check.”
But in 1994, after the Mexican government devalued the peso against the U.S. dollar, the country fell into a period of economic decline known as the Tequila Crisis, with high unemployment and poverty. With inflation driving up the price of basic necessities, Lopez’s salary could no longer support his family, and he left for the United States to search for work.
People in Mexico were desperate, Lopez said. “Those who didn’t kill themselves left.”
When his son was young, Lopez noticed he was different—he loved school. He remembers one of the primary reasons he left was to purchase a computer his son needed for his education. Lopez wanted to ensure his son had the best opportunities for his future. 
From the United States, Lopez watched his family grow and change through photographs and handwritten letters. In those days, Lopez said, phone calls were not really an option; they were too expensive. He saw his children grow into adulthood. And in time, he became a grandpa to children he had never met.  
“It hurts me because what did I achieve? Money? But in exchange for what? Family?” Lopez said. “You lose everything for the money.”
Before the pandemic, Lopez joined Teatro Jornalero, a community theater project of Peralta Hacienda Historical Park, to share his story. Members of the group, day laborers from Mexico, Central America, and the United States, act out their personal experiences to shed light on the unseen costs that immigrants pay for financial stability.
Ricardo Lopez recounts his migration story journeying from Mexico to the United States in front of an audience at FLAX art & design on Oct. 15, 2022. Credit: Florence Middleton
After the pandemic delayed their performances, in Oct. 2022, Lopez and his colleagues finally took the stage at the FLAX art & design building in Oakland to perform their show, directed by the Oakland Theater Project.
“The family thinks that everything is okay here. They say, ‘The United States is the number one power. Pure happiness,’” Lopez said from the stage. “There are things they don’t understand. What life is really like here.”
Being separated from his family and missing all of the intimate moments, Lopez grapples with feeling alone. But he found a sense of belonging and community within Teatro Jornalero among others who have made similar journeys. They gather to rehearse, eat together, share laughs, and celebrate birthdays as they support one another. 
“The way you enter is different,” Lopez said. “But once you are here, it’s the same life for everyone.”
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