September 14, 2008
By Thacher Schmid
Juventino Romero and Tako Torres started drinking alcohol with their families at age 15. It took decades, but heavy boozing eventually led each to rock bottom.
Romero, 51, of Longview quit his job and went on a three-month drinking binge that led to blackouts and paranoid delusions.
Torres, 45, of Vancouver, had three alcohol-related car accidents - luckily, no one was hurt - and four arrests for driving while intoxicated. He lost his drivers license, and a judge sent him to Alcoholics Anonymous.
"Unfortunately, in our country, even a lot of siblings and parents drink together and with their children," said Romero, like Torres a Mexican immigrant.
Alcoholism in the fast-growing U.S. Hispanic immigrant population is posing special cultural and legal challenges here, and that's why the new Spanish-language AA group that meets Fridays at St. Rose Catholic Church in Longview is a lifesaver.
The Longview group is only a few months old, Torres said, and grew in part from Spanish-language groups in Woodland and Vancouver that have been around a decade or so.
Such groups can play important roles for Latinos, who often come from cultures where alcohol is treated and regulated very differently.
"You come from Mexico or any other Latin America country where they really don't have any laws on alcohol, and you come to a country where there are strict laws," explained Uriel Iniguez, executive director of the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs. "So that criminalizes some of the act that they thought was not criminal."
Iniguez said his commission recently met for the first time with the state Liquor Control Board to talk about Spanish-language information and outreach to Latinos.
"That's what it's really about, is lack of information," Iniguez said. "That goes to lack of programs, services, it just kind of trickles down. There's less information in regards to health and all that."
At a seven-hour AA meeting at St. Rose Aug. 31, emotional stories rang out from the podium from a group of 20 men attending what they call "Doble A" or "Alcoholicos Anonimos."
"Buenos dias, compays," said one participant, continuing in Spanish: "My name is Marcelino, and I am an alcoholic."
The men wore argyle socks, cowboy boots, new Nikes. Speakers came close to tears, or made jokes, and their tales were answered with shouts of encouragement, laughter, and clapping.
"Mi mujer tiene cancer," said one man: my woman has cancer.
A second recalled the tingle he felt when his family showed him how to add cane alcohol to coffee as a folk medicine "remedio" at the tender age of seven.
"The excuses were over," said a third.
Torres said his family "is not just a beautiful family" but one with problems. Alcohol took him away from the problems, temporarily, but even after the accidents and arrests, he refused help until a judge gave him a stark choice: a year in prison or mandatory attendance at the Vancouver AA group, El Nuevo Dia (The New Day).
"The problem is in the head and the heart," Torres explained. "You don't have a medicine for the head or the heart. And you have a big friend that you call alcohol. So I finally said goodbye to my good friend because my good friend had many problems for me."
The members of his group explained to him what they were like before, during and after booze.
"They said, 'Welcome, do you think you have a problem? If you don't, welcome," Torres remembered. "'And if you do, welcome.' Finally, one day, Torres said, 'Me too! I have a problem too!'"
Torres said he finished the one-year program and stayed on six more years. "This is my place."
Key words of recovery
Mixed in among the camaraderie at the Aug. 31 AA meeting were more than a few colorful swear words.
"Here in AA there are different ways of expressing yourself," Romero said. "We come more or less from the lowest places. The mode of life of the street leads you to the most vulgar ways of expressing yourself."
Recovery is based in the group and some key words, Romero said: Unity, service and recovery. "It's all about love, compassion, caring."
Women were conspicuosly absent from the meeting, although they are welcome. Why was the group all male?
"Sometimes women are afraid to express themselves publicly, and all the more when they're talking about alcoholism or drug addiction," Romero said.
Romero has been sober for 18 years with the help of AA. Along the way, he's survived trials such as the kidnapping and ransom of his daughter Ana Paola in Tijuana, Mexico, after she was mistaken for another woman.
The kidnappers wanted $250,000, but Romero could only scrape together $15,000, he said.
"She was kidnapped for three days," he said. "For me, that was an eternity. But luckily, thanks to God, she was able to escape."
"I really feel very good, very motivated, very prepared for anything. Thanks to God and thanks to the help of all these people, I've been able to continue forward."
'Today, before coming, we feed our families'
Torres, who has been sober seven years, said recovery helps the family and the whole community, not just the alcoholic.
"Not so much for the immigrant, but more for the family of the immigrant," he said. "The alcoholic doesn't destroy himself as much as he destroys his family. ... In other places, we were smoking, drinking, spending all the money of the family. Now, today, before coming, we feed our families."
Torres now has his own job in landscaping and says his family is much better off.
"Now I have a new child, only 11 days old, that was born outside alcoholism, outside drug addiction, tobacco."
Both said they know others in the community, immigrants or natives, who might benefit from support.
"If, through drinking, you lose your family, you lose your job, or you hit your family, or don't go to your job, if after a binge you don't have your paycheck, if you've accosted someone physically or verbally, you might have a problem," Torres said. "Come to AA."
Source: The Daily News Online