Immigrant veterans see themselves in Garibay
By JIM HINCH, VALERIA GODINES and BRIAN MARTINEZ
Rubin Ruiz was born in Texas to Mexican parents. He served in Vietnam
and "saw things an ordinary civilian
over here doesn't understand," he said. He retired in San Clemente, where he reveres his country and his
Mexican heritage equally.
Two weeks ago, he stared with a mix of emotions as the face of 21-year-old
Marine Cpl. Jose Angel Garibay of
Costa Mesa, Orange County's first combat casualty, flashed on the television.
"I saw myself in him," Ruiz said.
Gary Arabian was born 73 years ago in lower eastside Manhattan to parents
who fled Armenia and landed on
Ellis Island. He "spent years overseas guarding dinky little islands" in the Marines. In a New York accent
undimmed by years in Orange County, he explained his feelings when he learned of Garibay's death.
"I saw myself in him," he said.
Many saw themselves in Garibay, a young man whose complicated but hardly
unusual life - immigrant, restive
teen, eager soldier - allowed a glimpse at the melting pot that Orange County has become.
Garibay was a Mexican immigrant and a patriotic American. He loved ranchera
music, but may have loved
Marilyn Manson more. His high school friends called him "Hozer." His mother called him a respectful Mexican
son. He liked to stuff fries in his McDonald's cheeseburgers. One of his last letters from Iraq asked for Mexican
His death spurred reconsideration of immigrants, and reminded some of the county's diversity.
"It made me stop to think," said Esther Bohnstadt, who said her Santa
Ana mobile-home park is populated
largely by Mexican immigrants. "It surprised me because I thought if they were going to fight for our country that
they would have to be a ... citizen, but I guess I was wrong. ... That man from Costa Mesa served and died for
our country, and he deserves to become a citizen."
Three elderly white ladies went to Jose's home with a translator because
they wanted to pray with his mother,
Simona Garibay. An elderly Japanese man removed his shoes before entering the home to offer his
condolences. Young, tattooed white friends stopped by to pay respects. Many, it seems, recognized something
in the worlds Jose straddled.
Jose came to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico, in the arms of
a stranger when he was 2 months old. His
mother had tried to make her way into the country through the hills east of Tijuana, but it was so cold, she
prayed immigration officers would catch her.
They did, and deposited mother and child in Tijuana, where Simona hired
a couple to carry her baby across
the border. Growing up, Jose wished his mother could accept his hard-rock music, pined for the father who
dropped out of his life, and lived like a typical teen at the home of his friend, Aaron Maher, whose father,
Richard, took Jose in when relations with Simona grew tense.
"He wanted his own room. We all lived in one room because we were so
poor," Simona said. "He also wanted
to take his girlfriend over to their house. He would never bring her over here because he respected me. They
don't do that in Mexico."
Jose was 11 when he told his older brother, Pablo, he planned to join
the military. "No!" Pablo cried out. If the
United States and Mexico declared war, the two brothers would have to fight.
"When we fight, we will recognize each other" on the battlefield, Jose replied.
In the Marines, Jose was surrounded by a growing number of immigrants
who enlist to get on a fast track
toward citizenship. An order issued by President George W. Bush last summer shortens to months the time it
takes immigrant servicemen to apply and become Americans. The government posthumously awarded Jose
citizenship last week.
His position - fighting or an adopted homeland whose culture he had
absorbed - shocked, fascinated and
ultimately won over the world.
Bohnstadt spoke for many when she voiced initial surprise, then acceptance,
of Jose's dual status. Soon after
his death, she sent the Garibays a card with an inscription that began: "You don't know me, but I'm
sending my love, and you are in my prayers."
A French documentary filmmaker, Thierry Gaytan, turned up at the Garibays'
house soon after Jose's death to
capture footage for a film on Latinos in the military. Gaytan said he was fascinated by the United States' use of
citizenship as an inducement to serve. His camera became a fixture in the sea of mourners, neighbors, friends,
family and journalists that swarmed the Garibay home.
Arabian saw in Garibay his own rise from an immigrant childhood to a
desire for overseas adventures and a
future in the military.
Arabian was a teenager when he left home and joined the Marines in search
of a life his immigrant parents
could hardly provide. An Armenian in a unit unused to ethnic New Yorkers, Arabian's immigrant background
stuck out and drew "a little bit of stick" from fellow Marines, he said.
He admired Jose for serving in a war he said reminded him of Vietnam:
billed as a liberation but, he said,
really waged "for Wall Street and Standard Oil."
When he learned of Jose's death, Arabian immediately rounded up fellow
members of the Armed Forces
Retirees Association of California, who raised $2,000. Arabian delivered the check to the Garibay home, even
calling back days later to make sure the card didn't get lost in the shuffle of other condolences.
"We heard the mother couldn't get time off" to mourn, Arabian said. "Jose gave his life for this country."
"My parents came over the same way," he said. "They came on a boat and
got off on Ellis Island. We made out
in this country. If this kid had come back alive, he would have made out, too."
Rubin Ruiz, who sent the family $100, said that Jose was simply a 21st-century
version of every immigrant
who has chased American success.
"He saw the Marines as his way up," Ruiz said. "I joined the service
when I was 17. I wanted to get out of Texas
and see the world and come to California and I accomplished my goals. Whatever I have right now, I owe it to
the military. I live in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean. I drive an Infiniti. I have a pension from Southern
California Edison and the Navy."
Jose "can be an All-American hero, of course. ... He died for the U.S.,
he didn't die for Mexico, so why not? He
died for this country because he knew this country would give him everything he wanted."