Hearts and Mayans

The men huddled closer together on the apartment floor as another blast of rain and wind shook the two-story building. The roof quivered and creaked overhead. Water streamed from cracks in the ceiling down the bare walls, forming puddles around the men's calloused feet and soaking the mattresses they had drawn around them. These men had survived many storms in Huehuetenango and Jacaltenango, their mountain villages in Guatemala, but here, in the strange land and culture that was their new home, the ferocity of the storm made them shiver with fear. They prayed in Kanjobal, their native dialect, and searched each other's eyes for shared strength.

In times of crisis -- when the crops failed, when the volcano destroyed our villages, when the kaibiles, the army's special forces, carried out their murderous midnight raids -- the village elders always counseled us, the Mayan men whispered. But here, thousands of miles from our homeland, who is our alcalexah, our spiritual leader?

The men lifted the mattresses off the floor and hefted them over their heads. They raced down the apartment steps, onto the street, into the fury of the storm -- and to Mister Yak's house.

A few days after Hurricane Andrew devoured much of South Florida, the men recounted the fearful experience to Jack Leonard -- Mister Yak, as the Indians affectionately mispronounce his name. Today Leonard laughs as he retells the story, savoring his newfound role as an alcalexah (pronounced alcacha).

Because as Andrew brought desperation and chaos to South Florida and its aftermath spread confusion, anger, and frustration, it also solidified Jack Leonard's mission.

The Mayans had journeyed from Guatemala to Homestead trusting no one, least of all light-skinned ladinos like Leonard, who had so often exploited them in their own country. But Leonard's face became familiar. He led English classes and joked with them. He visited their squalid apartments, spoke to them in Spanish, even picked up a smattering of Kanjobal, Quiche, and Mam, their native dialects. He opened his house to them, and he invited some of the homeless boys to live there. And so Leonard's stature grew.

These meek people A many of whom didn't even speak Spanish --needed a voice, a way to access the strange, foreign culture that surrounded them. Leonard promised to be their advocate.

After Andrew, the stakes rose. Money suddenly became available where there had been none before. Everyone, it seemed, was looking for someone to help. And anyone who wanted to help the Mayans turned to Jack Leonard and his Central American Mayan Council. The army sought him out. So did philanthropists and church volunteers nationwide. In September the Catholic Archdiocese appointed him hurricane site director at Homestead's Sacred Heart Church, where he was working as a teacher.

"Jack is a hero," says Denise Kalland of the Heavenly Cause Foundation, which has written several ?$10,000 checks earmarked for the Mayans. "Jack has done a great job; he's a real humanitarian," seconds Homestead Mayor Tad DeMilly. "Jack has a real social conscience. He's a great activist," says State Rep. John Cosgrove. "Jack has stepped in and done a tremendous job," asserts Joanne Schollmeyer, assistant editor at the South Dade News Leader.

Phil Donahue invited Leonard to ride with him when he toured Homestead for a hurricane update on his talk show. CNN interviewed Leonard for news segments in Spanish and English. The Voice of America taped him. Jack Leonard was heard everywhere.

These days a tattered blue-and-white Guatemalan flag flutters over the roof at "Mister Yak's," marking the property like a fortress on the prairie. Unlike the other lots on the street, which remain barren and brown many months after the hurricane, palm fronds and corn plants wave in the sun in Mister Yak's yard. The grass out front has grown back full and green, bougainvillea spill over the fence.

The 13,000-square-foot lot must have seemed huge when Leonard and his long-time companion Ray Heaton first moved in more than four years ago, but lately the place has experienced significant rural sprawl. The house is now a village, and there is barely enough room for one person to crunch his way down the gravel path.

In the first days after the storm, the U.S. Army 101st Mountain Division set up tents in the back yard to house the Guatemalans and other migrants desperate for a place to stay. In early November, the Heavenly Cause Foundation, a Pittsburgh-based organization whose philanthropist chairman had befriended Leonard, replaced the tents with large trailers rented from a local company.

Now some 50 Guatemalan men and a handful of women and children live in the three trailers that stretch across the back lot. A fourth trailer is used as a classroom. A tinge of the Port-O-Lets behind the trailers wafts through on the breeze, and the air is filled with the sound of warbling birds and the voice of a man singing a Spanish song behind the curtain of a jerry-rigged shower. One army tent remains -- the provisions center -- its shelves stacked with Isomil infant formula, Pampers, gallon cans of "Chef-made Chicken Chili," and ready-cooked beans. Washers and dryers sit atop a deck next to a freshly planted garden. Outside, a new Radio Shack satellite dish beams soccer games from Mexico to the large-screen RCA television set in the house. A clothesline billows with flowered T-shirts of all sizes and hues, white crew socks, and blue bikini underwear.

The closed-in back porch of the house itself serves as camp headquarters and doubles as a post office for the 400 Guatemalans who receive mail here, and an ersatz town plaza for the 50 trailer residents. It's also the dining room and lounge for the six boys who share the house with Leonard and Heaton. Hundreds of W-2 tax forms are stacked on a table; Guatemalans who have worked in Oregon, California, New York, and Florida have listed this as their home address. A new computer, donated by a migrant-advocacy group in San Francisco and used to compile data about the Guatemalans, sits amid the forms.

The front rooms have been converted into extra bedrooms, where the boys sleep two to a bunk. Everyone in the house shares the single bathroom. Only Publix boasts a wider selection of shampoo.

Pasqui, a dark, handsome Mayan teenager, is out watering the plants in the back yard. One of the six Indian residents of the house, Pasqui comes from Huehuetenango, in mountainous western Guatemala; he abandoned his birthplace more than six years ago, as the Guatemalan national army was intensifying its campaign to exterminate rebel resistance. His father still lives in Guatemala, Pasqui says. His mother is dead. His brother stayed for a while at Mister Yak's, but he has moved on.

In a voice so soft you have to lean close in order to hear him, Pasqui describes how he left "Huehue" with a group of friends who made their way through Mexico, across the border, and into the States. For a time, Pasqui bounced from migrant camp to migrant camp, following the temporada, the season. Two years ago he had reached the end of another tomato harvest in North Carolina when he and a half-dozen companions piled into a jalopy, hoping to reach Florida in time for the next temporada. Pasqui doesn't remember exactly what took place that black Georgia night. He only knows that the driver somehow lost control of the car, which smashed into a tree. Two of his friends, he says, were shipped home to Guatemala in cheap coffins. He remained in a rural Georgia hospital, with both his legs in casts, for the next year. When he was finally able to travel, he was put on a bus to Sacred Heart Church in Homestead. From there he moved in with Jack Leonard.

Pasqui says life is good here, but he is reluctant to elaborate. He doesn't mind sharing a room with three or four other boys; unlike most teenagers in this country, Mayan youths don't have to deal with culturally imposed hangups about closeness among males. Here, thousands of miles from family and close friends, their only intimacy is among themselves.

Pasqui is glad to have left behind the war in Guatemala; he says he has no plans to return. "Here we are like Mister Yak's children," he adds, his voice flat and emotionless. Then he looks away again, the thoughts behind his placid expression retreating back into the Guatemalan mountains.

Drops of dew still bead on the bougainvillea, but Jack Leonard is already tilting at windmills. Dressed in Levi's Dockers and a sport shirt and puffing the first of the day's many Vantage cigarettes, he stalks the porch, portable phone in hand. His Irish temper is riled. The Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator at the other end of the line wants to evict a Guatemalan teenager from one of the agency's trailers several blocks away. Leonard has no patience for rules or regulations and even less for people who don't want to help "his" people.

"I know them and they know me, and you don't even know who you're talking to," he fires into the phone. "If you want to know, you're talking to the hurricane site director of the Archdiocese of Miami. If you think the Archdiocese would put me in charge and let people run circles around me, then I don't deserve the job. Your attitude is way off, and you'd better get some sensitivity."

Out on the porch steps, a Guatemalan woman has arrived with two small children. As the sun rises higher, she waits quietly to speak to Leonard. Soon another woman arrives. One of the women taps timidly on the door. "Un momento, Se*ora," says Leonard, and looks around for Ray Heaton. "Uh, Ray, could you find out what she wants?"

Nothing in the room hints at any pre-Mayan past for the house's owner. No personal or family memorabilia, only Mayan calendars, wall hangings from Jacaltenango, and posters of Guatemalan peace activist and Nobel Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu.

Freed from having to deal with the Guatemalan woman's concerns, Leonard picks up a folder and digs out a story about the Mayans that was published in the Los Angeles Times, and another from the South Dade News Leader about how he purchased guitars for the Guatemalans. When Channel 10 called and wanted to do a story about slum landlords after the hurricane, Leonard says, they asked him where they should look.

"Living with 50 Central Americans in your back yard for over six months A this has been an experience you couldn't buy," Leonard proclaims, dumping a Vantage ash into his hand. "What textbook could give you this?"

"My life was no different than millions of Irish-Catholics in New York during the Thirties and Forties A easy and comfortable," Leonard says, recalling a childhood spent in Riverdale in the Bronx. "There were no glitches, no traumas. But there were always masses of relatives around."

John Terrance Leonard was born July 29, 1932, the youngest of two sons of John Leonard, a career New York City police officer, and his wife Gertrude, a university secretary and an active church volunteer. "Jack was always good-natured and easygoing. He led a very happy, sociable life," remembers Leonard's mother, speaking by phone from New Jersey, where she now lives. He attended church schools and went on to graduate from Manhattan College, a Catholic institution, she adds proudly.

Leonard says his father, who died several years ago, was rarely around while he was growing up. When he wasn't working, Leonard recalls, John Leonard was usually off at a boxing match at Madison Square Garden or making use of another of the many free tickets he received as one of New York's finest. He didn't miss his dad, Leonard says; he did, however, appreciate his knack for acquiring perks.

Never a dedicated student, Leonard drifted after graduation. He enjoyed writing, he says, but showed no particular flair. Then an uncle who worked at Hearst Corporation in New York offered him a job with the communications conglomerate. "I've never looked for a job in my life, and this one was a hack job, handling accounts, working with numbers. I didn't last long," he says.

Instead he got a transfer to the public relations department, where his good nature and gift for gab served him well. "If someone in the Hearst family was throwing a gorgeous party in the Hamptons, well, we had to get that in the home-and-design magazine," recounts Leonard, clearly relishing the opportunity to name-drop. "If Paloma Picasso was staging an exhibition of Indian art in New York, there was a Hearst newspaper in the Southwest that wanted to know."

Leonard says his work caught the attention of John Clements, who would later become director of public relations for Hearst. "Heavily involved" with the Eisenhowers, the Nixons, and the power elite, as Leonard tells it, his new mentor opened new doors for him, teaching him "life savvy" and taking him on trips to the Hamptons and Palm Beach. "I was there on the expense account," Leonard says, "but I was there."

Then Angelo Bottani, a sophisticated, elegant, and very rich Italian entered Leonard's life, spurring a shift in gears and continents for both Leonard and his friend Ray Heaton, a two-decade European odyssey whose particulars are as fascinating as they are difficult to verify.

Bottani owned several dozen Italian companies. He bought castles belonging to Mussolini, dipped snuff from ornate Ming dynasty boxes, and had a soft spot for shiny new Buicks. He visited Hearst, met Leonard, and took a liking to the gregarious americano.

Leonard is vague when it comes to pinpointing exact facts and dates ("I don't keep a journal"), but he says the next several years were spent in Italy, where he and Heaton worked on a Bottani project that involved an MTV-like manipulation of color TV, and on revamping the Italian version of Fortune and setting up a translating office. "I don't know why, but Angelo trusted me with everything," Leonard says. "I was his americano friend, traveling with him for 'lunch' to Paris and to New York to interpret lucrative business ventures."

After about half a dozen years in Italy, Leonard and Heaton moved to France, still under the patronage of their Italian benefactor. They put in a stint at a perfume factory Bottani owned, taught English classes in Nice, and traveled from Paris to Biarritz to the Algarve in Portugal to San Sebastian in Spain.

Then, in 1987, the two men returned to this side of the Atlantic.
Blood has flowed often in Central America, and freely. In Guatemala it has flowed for longer than in any other nation. There civil war has raged since 1972, and with peace talks stalled once again, it continues. After a military coup in 1982, the national army levied a genocidal campaign against guerrilla rebels and anyone suspected of collaboration. Hundreds of thousands of Mayans, crushed in the vise of the conflict, fled the country. Most settled over the border in Chiapas in Mexico; the first groups are just now being repatriated. Others, lured by the promise of farm work, trekked further north into the United States, to California and Oregon.

Some moved east, enticed by word of an "Indian town" in Florida, where the land was rich and work was plenty. In about 1982, the first Guatemalan workers found Indiantown, just east of Lake Okeechobee. Hundreds would follow in the years to come. Today more than 5000 Guatemalans live there, in the heart of the Florida citrus belt. Migrant workers move with the seasons, and some Mayans eventually moved further south, to Immokalee, a rural area just north of the Big Cypress Swamp in Collier County, and into the Lake Worth area.

Migrant workers first came to Homestead in 1912, when boll weevils destroyed acre after acre of precious cotton throughout the South. Mexican workers arrived several decades ago, followed by Puerto Ricans, Haitians, and, most recently, Central Americans.

By the time the first Mayans straggled here in 1986, the economic plate already had been scraped clean. They kept coming, anyway; as long as there were crops, there was always the promise of work. And at least there was no violence. Now an estimated 1500 to 1800 Mayans live in South Dade. Most can neither read nor write; many speak no Spanish, let alone English. Ignorant of U.S. laws and culture, they are terrified of authorities. In their homeland, asking questions most often met with grave consequences.

For the thousands of migrants who keep Homestead's tomato and bean fields picked clean season after season, C-Town Square is the first stop of the day. A block off the brick-lined sidewalks and antique stores of Krome Avenue, the supermarket lot serves as the transportation depot where capetazos, or work supervisors, choose their daily work crews.

Roosters crow in the distance and nighttime shadows still linger as the first workers arrive. They come from all directions, like ants in file, from the rundown apartment complexes that surround the market, from sagging, smoke-belching station wagons, up Northwest Second Street past the whitewashed El Calverio Pentecostal Church.

One gaily painted school bus cruises to a stop. The horn honks and a neon "Breakfast" light appears. Workers scurry to the window to fuel themselves for the morning's labor with steaming white-flour tortillas stuffed with shredded beef.

Within the hour, the lot brims with workers dressed in sweatshirts and work boots. Some are resident laborers who work the South Dade fields twelve months of the year. But most are migrants, following the harvests from Florida to the Carolinas to New York and back again.

In this daily lottery, two young Guatemalans, Higenio and Nicolas, hope to cash in today and find work.

His brown face spotted with renegade whiskers, Higenio arrived in Homestead several months ago. There is work here, he says, especially after the storm, but eking out a living has been harder than he'd imagined.

The first capetazo skids to a stop in a sporty white pickup. A blast from the four shiny silver horns on his hood announces his arrival. That one has a bad reputation, Higenio explains; most capetazos skim a portion of a worker's salary, but this one takes more than most and mistreats his workers, to boot. Yesterday Nicolas cleaned toilets in Kendall, earning the average daily wage of $40. His boss deducted eight dollars for Social Security. Nicolas thought it was strange that no one asked for his Social Security number, but he didn't say anything. Mayans never do.

The boys have heard of Mister Yak but they're not quite sure what he does.
"People go to his house if they have problems," Higenio thinks.
From across the lot, an engine sputters to life. It's the americano, a good man to work for. The boys bid a hasty goodbye and disappear into the dawn.

"When you're away from the States so long, you don't know where you are when you come back. My idea was to work within something like this," Jack Leonard says, waving a hand toward the trailers, the army tent, the village in his back yard.

Ray Heaton's brother Bob lived in Homestead, and when the two friends returned from Europe, they chose this agricultural center of 20,000 for a temporary stop. The original plan was to travel on to Texas, where Leonard had heard that William H. Crook, whom he'd met in Italy through Angelo Bottani, had set up a number of advocacy organizations. "Maybe it's egotistical, but after all the experiences I'd had, I thought I might have something to share," Leonard explains. "Besides, Texas sounded kind of fun, another adventure."

Crook, an ex-U.S. ambassador who directed the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program during 1967 and 1968, confirms that he traveled to Italy in the early Eighties to investigate investment opportunities. "Jack showed my wife and I around Milan," Crook recalls in a phone conversation from his home in San Marcos, Texas. "He was a regular, nice guy. I knew he was a business associate of Bottani's, but it was never clear what his job was."

After he and Heaton rented a house on 15th Street in Homestead, Leonard visited the recently opened South Dade Adult Center to see if they needed teachers. An intelligent man versed in several languages, with teaching skills and the will to teach the migrants? Principal John Hendricks's decision was quick. "Jack had very good qualifications: a desire to work with our most needy students and good teaching experience," says Hendricks, who has since retired. "I know in a short time if an applicant has what I'm looking for, and Jack did."

Leonard began teaching part-time at the center A GED classes in the morning and migrant education at night A but soon moved on to outreach centers around town. He introduced himself at Sacred Heart Church, the spiritual center for Homestead's migrant population, and met Father Dan K. Dorrity, who, as it turned out, had worked with Leonard's uncle at Hearst.

"We needed a teacher, and Jack was well trained and liked kids," says Dorrity, who now heads a program to assist AIDS victims. "I never saw a resume. I didn't worry about details like that." Dorrity turned over the Good Samaritan Club of the church to Leonard. The next summer, the church employed him to teach a fifth-grade class.

Leonard began to meet people in high places and make some important friends. Like then-Mayor Irving Peskoe, recently deceased. And State Rep. John Cosgrove. "I was impressed by Jack's social conscience and activism. We shared common concerns," recalls the ten-year veteran South Dade state legislator.

During this time, Leonard was becoming increasingly incensed at the plight of the local Mayan population. "I saw people were coming to English class because they didn't know what to do," he says. "They weren't coming for English; they were coming to find the link, to find how they could get a decent apartment or apply for jobs."

On July 27, 1988, Leonard signed a $43,000 deed for the two-bedroom, one-bath house and lot at 410 NW Tenth Avenue in Homestead. He and Ray Heaton moved into the house, just blocks from Little Guatemala, the area off Krome Avenue where most of the Guatemalans live in desperately overcrowded apartments.

"I started to get to know these people. They were so kind, so nice. I thought to myself, 'Good God, they're so docile, they're just taking and taking all this,'" Leonard says.

After a 1991 visit to Guatemala, he returned to Homestead all the more eager to help these passive, troubled people.

This morning Leonard is scheduled to supervise the unloading of a Daily Bread Food Bank truck at Sacred Heart School. Everybody knows Jack Leonard. He stops to chat with all the church volunteers, then breezes through the center. The volunteers have arrived early, and everything is in order. Mothers with children, elderly, handicapped, black, Anglo, Hispanic stand together patiently in the morning sun.

The truck is late. When it finally arrives, there's a problem: The driver has forgotten to pick up the television reporter who was to film the food delivery. In halting English he explains to Leonard that his instructions are to wait for the TV crew before distributing the donated food. Leonard demands that the truck be unloaded. The driver doesn't understand what he's being told, but he understands the tone, and he doesn't like it. He stands firm.

Leonard stalks away to phone the driver's supervisor. Minutes later he is back, issuing the man new instructions. But the driver remains adamant, and angry at Leonard's insistence. "You treat me with respect as I do you," he says in Spanish. A half-hour later, the truck still unloaded, Leonard orders the man to leave. The people standing in line watch in wonder as the truck pulls away.

Thirty Central American teenagers, their faces freshly scrubbed and smelling of sweet cologne and eagerness, mill outside the back door of la casita de Yak. They wear baseball jackets and jeans, and their jet-black hair is carefully combed back. These boys have spent the day working in the fields, just like every other day. Language class with Leonard is a special treat, a social event.

When the instructor breezes out a few minutes late, no one seems to mind. Like a scene from "The Piped Piper," they fall in step behind Leonard, following him to the donated trailer that serves as a classroom. Every seat is filled.

"Buenos noches," Leonard begins in flawed Spanish. Though he spent twenty years in Europe and is described by many as "bilingual," his Spanish is a rudimentary hybrid of Romance languages, his accent often confused within the same sentence. These boys don't seem to care, however, and they laugh at all his jokes.

"I put the yellow spoon in the large cup," Leonard says and waits for the boys to repeat the phrase. He elucidates another phrase, and the boys repeat. He goes around the room, one at a time, and they answer his questions.

He types phrases onto a computer keyboard, and the boys laboriously copy down the words on paper.

The hour passes quickly and there is plenty of laughter, though it's hard to say what, exactly, is being learned.

Emilio and Santos, two of the boys who live in the house, are chattering away in the kitchen. A pan sizzles, the smell of frying chilies permeates the air. As if for a cookout in the woods, the boys have set the table: paper plates and cups, plastic utensils, gallon jugs of donated raspberry and orange soda.

The family sits down to eat, with Heaton and Leonard at one end of the long wooden table. The food is served A pork chops piled high, a heaping bowl of rice and beans, salsa picante, and steaming tortillas. The boys chatter, half watching a science-fiction thriller on the large-screen RCA.

"This place runs like clockwork," Leonard laughs as his housemates whisk away the dishes. "I don't know, but the boys know who's being picked up, who's doing the dishes and the cooking."

"Who's making coffee?" he yells out, reaching for a Vantage.
In his native Guatemala, Juan Diego worked for several years with the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), promoting grassroots development. In Homestead, while scratching out a living for his family, he has tried to organize and educate Guatemalans through community meetings.

"Jack has done a certain amount of good, but in my country paternalism is strong," Diego says. "Many people claim they know what's best for the Guatemalan people, and in Homestead Jack has assumed that same role. We need a contact person here, someone to explain to us the aspects of the law and to provide access to the community. Two years ago Jack promised that we would meet with the City Council. It's been two years of promises."

After the hurricane, Diego worked as a volunteer for FEMA. He says Leonard rebuked that agency's efforts to assist the Mayans. "When we tried to help through FEMA, Jack didn't recognize some of our needs. He felt like we were trying to take away his authority by helping. We're not trying to take away from what he's done, just add to it," Diego says.

Dr. Danny Moran, a physician at the University of Miami Medical School, met Leonard in the first days after Hurricane Andrew, when the medical school sent mobile health vans into West Homestead, the largely migrant area where Leonard lives. They used Leonard's house as their base of operations. "There were clients everywhere," Moran says. "There were a lot of problems -- the language, the understaffing -- and Jack thought he should do it all himself. That's kinda his style. Jack talks a lot and comes at you with all his barrels loaded. He's very emotional about what happens with the Guatemalans."

Dr. Walt Lambert was part of the same UM medical team. Like anybody who knows the problems migrant workers face in Homestead, Lambert hesitates to question anyone who appears to be helping. "Without Jack, a lot of people wouldn't have gotten help," he offers. "But there was something wrong. And there were lots of problems: Jack wanted to be the boss. It became an issue if he was interested in what was best for the Central Americans or not. I felt uncomfortable with the situation there."

A frustrated Lambert finally insisted that the UM health vans be moved to another area.

Arturo Lopez is the executive director of the Coalition of Florida Farmworkers Organization (COFFO), a state-funded group that advocates migrant worker rights across the state. Lopez has worked with and for farmworkers since 1967, and he directed an association in Illinois before moving to Homestead. "Jack stops by once in a while," Lopez says. "I see him at meetings and extend our services to him. I always make sure he knows we have emergency-care programs available for the Guatemalans. But Jack keeps pretty much to himself."

Next door to COFFO, Lisa Levine directs the South Dade Immigration Agency, a federally funded liaison that provides explanations of immigration procedures and rights to the undocumented workers in Homestead. For the past five years she has headed the center, whose staffers meet with 60 or 70 Central Americans every day, helping them negotiate the morass of immigration law. Levine says she attempted to counsel Leonard about how to help the Guatemalans file claims. "Jack didn't want to be bothered with the facts," she remembers. "He has done a lot of good things, especially after the storm. But I just hope he hasn't set himself up as the Great White Hope."

For five years, Jonathan Fried has served as director of American Friends Service Committee of Undocumented Workers, a Miami-based advocacy group. "It's an objective fact: the Guatemalans in Homestead have no voice," says Fried. "Leaders should be developed from each community as the project evolves. There's a natural evolution. Jack appointed himself head of the Guatemalan community. He's the leader, because that's what he set himself up to be."

"Nobody ever told me I was head of the whole thing. But from day one after the hurricane, all the volunteers, the agencies, everybody just gravitated to me. It's not that I went out looking to be head honcho, I don't need titles. I'm a very strong person if I don't think something is right, and I can take flak, because I can give it," Leonard responds.

Before Andrew struck, he asserts, his hope had been to open a cultural center for the Mayans. To that end, with the help of Rep. John Cosgrove, he set up the nonprofit corporation Tenango, through which he planned to help the Guatemalans make and sell wares. But in the aftermath of the storm, housing, medical care, food, and trauma and immigration counseling became the paramount needs.

Leonard admits he knows little about negotiating the bureaucratic logistics associated with such issues. That task he would prefer to leave for others. In fact, while millions of state and federal dollars were made available for hurricane relief, Leonard asserts A proudly A that he wanted nothing to do with the monies. He considers the government bureaucracy too meddlesome. "How could I access federal funds? Am I going to sit down and access those funds? No. That's the federal government's job: to make those funds available. Why should I have to go out and fight for federal funds?"

No paperwork exists for Leonard's Central American Mayan Council. No 990-PF forms, which the Internal Revenue Service requires every nonprofit entity to file in order to document assets, liabilities, and administration. Nor has Leonard officially registered it as a nonprofit corporation with the Florida Secretary of State. That process is under way, he says, but he has no idea about its status.

Besides, Leonard adds, the Mayan Council has no cash flow. "Sure, there's been donations in the form of supplies, computer, TV, and other things," he says, but all money is channeled through Catholic Community Services at Sacred Heart Church. He won't provide any financial figures.

While he admits the hurricane overwhelmed him, Leonard is disturbed that people might consider him uncooperative and prone to putting his leadership role ahead of the needs of the Guatemalans. "I'm not important. On a ruler, I'd be about a sixteenth of an inch," he says. "These people need more help. I tell all the reporters that come down here, 'Put these people on camera, they need help.' I wish we could find a leader. God, have we tried. I have had meetings and meetings to try and find a leader. Where are they?"

In the tradition of his mentors Angelo Bottani and John Clements, Leonard considers himself a can-do person. Unlike those men, however, he lacks the millions needed to bypass red tape or buy one's way through chaos. "I'm so concerned about things. I try to get as much stuff out as possible, to pick up the phone, go to all the meetings and open my mouth. But I'm better working on the outside," he says, tapping a Vantage into an ashtray filled with butts. "I walk around town thinking, 'Where will I get help? Who is going to help these people? Who will listen to me?'"

No English class was held at the trailer this evening. The boys waited, but the teacher did not arrive. Later, on the porch steps, Leonard runs into one of the teens. He apologizes to the boy for missing the class. "Lo sento, ha hablando con un reportero. Te veo manana," he says in pidgin Spanish. He's sorry, he's been talking with a reporter. He'll be there tomorrow.

The boy is missing an eye. His scraggly, home-cut hair stands straight up on end. He smiles at Leonard. "No, no se preocupe, por favor," he says deferentially. Don't worry at all...He is used to waiting, accustomed to promises.

His father still lives in Guatemala, Pasqui says. His mother is dead.
When the first Mayans straggled into Homestead in 1986, the economic plate already had been scraped clean. They kept coming, anyway.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >