Dreams, but not of gold

Posted on 08. Dec, 2009 by in Uncategorized

By Almudena Toral

Gold is everywhere surrounding Juan Garzon. It is in the chains he buys, in the carats he counts, in the nameplates he carves, in the rings he puts diamonds in. Gold is also in the watches he cleans, in the earrings he repairs, in the bracelets he polishes, in the jewelry he sells.


But Garzon, 57, really doesn’t care about gold. All he cares about is his family.

He picked up his cell phone lightning quick. “Hi, my love, how are you?” he said softly, in Spanish.

“Hi, Daddy, how’s your day going?” said his daughter Daysi, 27, at the other end of the line 3,000 miles away.

In the minute-and-a-half conversation he called her “my love” four times; they have not seen each other in 15 years.

Then he resumed his work. His sturdy hands cleaned a white gold nameplate with the help of a machine that made a low buzz. He was silent and focused.

There are more noisy tools in his jewelry shop, a three-foot wide, ten-foot long hall inside a Mexican varieties shop. Its stall and black and red trays of jewelry look out through clean display cabinets.

He is here seven days a week, 12 hours a day. No holidays.

Gold is instrumental in seeing his dream come true. Being a successful jeweler means having enough money to help his four children go on to successful careers, he said.

“After my spiral-notebooks business was robbed in Ecuador 15 years ago, I decided to come and learn the trade,” Garzon said, “so I could pay for the higher education of my children.”

“Before I left I told them, ‘Would you give me that as a gift?’”

Three of them have. Daysi and Margoth, 29 and 27, are engineers. Juan Carlos, 25, is a dentist.

He hopes to bring them to the United States someday as he can’t return to his homeland.

“I came here like everyone else — through Mexico,” Garzon said. “When one is in a desperate economic situation and has a dream, to fight for one’s family, one forgets about fear.” He has not been able to visit them in 15 years because of his immigration status.

The ring of his cell phone filled the air again.

“Ciao my love,” Garzon said to his oldest daughter. He stretched his legs in his cramped workspace.

“Did you have fun? Did you pick up Clara?” he continued with a fatherly tone. The conversation went as if they had seen each other a couple hours ago. Then he asked if they were home. “I’ll call later, OK?”

A client waited for him next to a cabinet that contained bracelets. She’s Margarita, a regular costumer who buys about $300 worth of jewelry from him every week.

Garzon is one-man band who is in charge of the whole process. He shapes, prices and sells his gold. After years of training with mentors across Bronx and Brooklyn, he opened up his own jewelry in one of the commercial veins of East Harlem.

He started two years ago but he already has loyal clients like Margarita and Zacarias, a big-boned Mexican with a moustache who likes heavy, expensive jewels.

“I’ve got good clients because I sell gold, gold, gold,” Garzon said. “I don’t like misleading people, I’m honest.” New clients like Julian Ruiz, 17, come often. Ruiz showed him a piece that he had bought cheap in a nearby store but lost color weeks later. Garzon has become a sort of jewelry guru.

He earns enough money to send $1,200 to Ecuador every month and still manages to save. He keeps that money in a safe in his bedroom, just in case something unexpected happens, he said.

Four years ago, his youngest daughter, Paola, 22, was kidnapped in Ecuador. Garzon put up the $20,000 ransom in less than a day to save her. A girl kidnapped with her was killed, and Paola said that if she opened her mouth about her captors and the ordeal, they’d go for someone else in their family.
“It was the only two days I’ve not gone to work since I’m in New York,” Garzon said with a frown. “It was the worst day of my life.”

“Suffering, suffering, imagine, what else?” said Jhimson Cabrera, 28, Garzon’s son-in-law who also migrated to New York City.

Garzon called his family when the shop was quiet and he had a few minutes to sit and chat in his tiny stall. He calls them an average of four times a day; they call him an average of another four and then they talk for free on the Internet at night.

His family calls him directly on his cell phone with Internet software similar to Skype. Garzon’s cell phone bill never exceeds $50 a month, he said. When he calls Ecuador he uses a telephone card called Increible that gives cheap rates to call Latin America. He buys a new $2 Increible card every day, which gives him an average of 20 minutes to talk.

The kidnapping brought the family closer, he said. Since then, he has paid for his wife and daughters to see psychiatrists, installed the Internet in his apartment and called his family long-distance more often.

“I had to pretend I was strong. I am strong,” he said.

His daughters really value his effort. “It has been very difficult. He never wanted to leave but the situation, what brought us to bankruptcy forced him to do so,” said his daughter Margoth in an email. “My father has supported us not only economically, but also in the good moments and in the bad moments with his pieces of advice. Those have made us value him even more.”

While he packed up his trays of jewelry for the night, he said if he could have a wish in life, only one, it would be to hug them all again. It would make him cry.

“I just beg to God that we can be together soon,” said Margoth.

His daughter Paola got a Visa approved and she’s arriving in New York City before Christmas. She will stay for three months with his father, and she’ll be learning English and cuisine. She will finish her gastronomy studies in Ecuador next year.

“I wish my dream could come true, bring them all here,” Garzon said. He thinks it’s easier for them to get here –they’re educated and can get Visas– than for him to go back.

“If I return, how can I pay for their expenses? A school teacher earns $300 a month there,” he said.

Being surrounded by gold is nowhere near being close to the ones he loves. “Even the birthdays, we do them in both places,” Garzon said. “We turn on the computers. They have the cake — I have the candles.”

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