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I was impressed by all the stories, all 33 of them. But the one that made me stop in my tracks was the story of Carlos Mamani. He’s the bolivian miner. He has been in Chile about four years and married a Bolivian emigrant named Veronica, who was there waiting for him along with their 18-month-old daughter and his in-laws. He was the fourth rescued miner, based on his abilities as a worker and on his physical condition, rather than his tenure or citizenship.

Carlos had been on this particular job site for only five days. Then the mine collapsed and he was trapped for 69 days. When he saw the light of day again, his wife and more than 2,000 people were there to welcome him back to life. Cameras from around the world transmitted his image as he waited for the president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, to greet him. While we all waited for the rescue, President Morales had given a heartfelt thank you to the people of Chile for rescuing “our bolivian brother,” and said he was hoping Carlos would return to Bolivia in the presidential plane. Housing and employment would be provided by the government of Bolivia, no questions asked.

Tempting as that sounds, Carlos and his family decided to…stay in their new home: Chile.

According to The New York Times, Carlos Mamani is the eighth of 10 children; the parents passed away. His family survived by cultivating potatoes and herding cattle and sheep in Bolivia. Like many impoverished indigenous compatriots, he moved to Chile in search of work. He worked in mining before he went to San Jose, where the mine collapsed. He was rescued. He sang the Chilean anthem with his fellow miners. He was greeted by the presidents of the two countries where he has divided his life.

How would a situation like this play out in the United States?

What if we had to rescue 33 workers out of the earth in the Arizona desert?

What if some of them were not Americans? Would we display the humanity and efficiency of our southamerican counterparts?

Would they send up a message saying, “we’re fine, all 33 of us”? How would we respond? Would we be able to convey solidarity and unyielding support? Would we rally to get them out as safely and efficiently as the Chilean government did? (Or as the Pennsylvania workers who built the drill bits for the rescue?)

To compound things, think about the fact that Chile was the aggressor country that took away coastal access from Bolivia. They have consuls in each others’ countries, not ambassadors, because the governments are not that friendly. Chile news crews described Carlos as “the bolivian” or “the immigrant” in their profiles of the trapped miners. Carlos’ in-laws reportedly came to Chile to pick grapes. They haven’t lived in the lap of luxury while working in Chile, and they probably won’t in the future. The presidential plane is waiting for them to take them home, yet they decide to stay. Bolivians woke up to this headline on 10/14/10: MAMANI SE QUEDA EN CHILE (Mamani stays in Chile). 

Choosing a place to live is a personal decision that should be respected. People from the United States make those decisions every day, mostly based on employment opportunities and quality of life. Yet, some seem to take those decisions for granted, and think nothing of denying that right to others who have invested sweat equity and money in their economy, and sometimes worked under deplorable conditions on behalf of priviledged citizens. Carlos Mamani is emblematic of the tough decisions emigrants all over the world must make. I commend him and his family for their courage in making a tough choice. I have no doubt they’re thinking about their future and the future of the little girl. Let’s hope San Lorenzo, patron saint of miners after whom the rescue operation was named, will continue to guide Carlos and the other miners who accepted him as one of their own.

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