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Because they care

Brightly colored textiles, beaded items and wood figures are among the handmade items from Guatemala sold at Elsa Ortiz Online. JOLINE GUTIERREZ KRUEGER/JOURNAL

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Four days before their trip to Guatemala, Randy and Tina Carter read a story in The New York Times that enraged them.

That story changed their lives.

It also changed the life of a little boy and those who love him, especially his mother.

Albuquerque couple Randy and Tina Carter traveled to Guatemala to visit with Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez, whom they assisted in getting back her son, Antony, after he was separated from her at the U.S./Mexico border in May 2018. From left is Ortiz’s sister Sayra, Randy and Tina Carter, Antony and Ortiz. COURTESY OF TINA AND RANDY CARTER

The article, published on June 17, 2018, was about Antony, 8, and his mother, Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez, who had made the perilous journey to the United States from their impoverished and dangerous home in Guatemala, only to be caught up in the treachery of the U.S. policy of separating families at the border.

The article, written by reporter Miriam Jordan, detailed how that May the 25-year-old mother and son had been taken by the Border Patrol to a detention center in South Texas and separated – he to a shelter for migrant children, she on a plane back to Guatemala, sobbing and frantic and ignored.

Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez takes a selfie at an open-air market in Guatemala where she searches for handmade textiles and crafts to sell in the United States. COURTESY OF TINA AND RANDY CARTER

Argue the merits of such a policy if you will, but what the Carters saw was a little boy ripped away from his mother.

That, they said, was just wrong.

“We were both angry, furious that our government would do this,” said Randy Carter, who like his wife is a retired professor in Albuquerque. “Since we were going down to Guatemala, we thought maybe we could help.”

They started researching and reaching out to people they thought could help – including Michael Avenatti, the flashy Los Angeles attorney who formerly represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her legal battles against President Donald Trump.

Randy Carter said he read that Avenatti had vowed to help families affected by the administration’s immigration policies. Carter decided to hold Avenatti to that vow.

Elsa Johana Ortiz Enriquez and son, Antony, were separated at the U.S./Mexican border but reunited 81 days later thanks to the efforts of an Albuquerque couple. COURTESY OF TINA AND RANDY CARTER

The Carters also enlisted the pro bono help of Ricardo de Anda, a Laredo, Texas, attorney with experience in family separation cases.

Other contacts they made helped them track down Ortiz to her father’s home in Guatemala City. In four days, they had managed to bring together a legal team and arrange a meeting with Ortiz in Guatemala City.

It took more than 2½ hours to get Ortiz to trust them enough to allow them to help her. It took 81 days to bring Antony home.

But the Carters weren’t done yet.

They came to know Ortiz as a brave, smart woman, despite having little education, little family support, little of anything to eke out a life for her and her son.

“They are so poor, you can’t imagine,” Tina Carter said. “Elsa has been abandoned by every man in her life, from her father to her son’s father.

Once again, they thought maybe they could help.

They decided to try their hand at business, forming a limited liability company selling handmade textiles and other crafts from Guatemala. They hired Ortiz as their buyer.

They named the business Elsa Ortiz Online and adopted the company motto, “We care.”

Because they do.

This month marks a year since the business went online, and the Carters say they’ve had modest success with selling vibrant textiles and traditional Guatemalan clothing like jaspé-style dyed drawstring pants and brightly embroidered dresses and blouses called huipils, wooden puzzles, animal figures and masks, beaded jewelry and ornaments.

The items are sold in small shops such as Great Harvest Bread in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, a website and Facebook page, craft fairs and an open house in their foothills neighborhood.

“We’ve never done anything like running a business and never imagined doing this,” Randy Carter said. “But it’s kind of fun.”

Ortiz receives $350 a month for her work, which in Guatemala affords her a middle-class lifestyle. She and Antony can now afford to live in a nice home close to Antony’s private school, his tuition paid for by the Carters.

In addition, the Carters are paying for Ortiz’s two younger sisters, ages 18 and 22, to attend school to obtain the equivalent of a GED.

As you might guess, the retired professors see education as a way out of poverty. That’s especially true in a country where school is free only up to sixth grade and rates of illiteracy range from 33 percent to as high as 60 percent in rural regions.

Recently, the sisters sent a photo of them proudly displaying certificates for completing a typing course. They looked happy.

And so are the Carters, who channeled their rage into a force for good, all because they thought they could help.

“We’re retired, we have a nice pension, so we thought, let’s just do this ourselves,” Tina Carter said. “You just have to have the nerve to say ‘I’m going to do it.’ ”

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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