Picture of Marie-Anne DAYÉ

Marie-Anne DAYÉ

Conceptrice - Rédactrice

The Journey of Guatemalan TFW in Painting

In the offices of the Guatemalan Consulate in Montreal is a work of art illustrating the journey of temporary foreign workers from their native land to Quebec. The artist behind this painting is José Orlando Cajbon, a talented painter who has been working for 14 years for a company in Saint-Michel.

Text Marie-Anne Dayé

Photo provided by José Orlando Cajbon.

The reality he describes in this work is that of thousands of foreign agricultural workers who come to Quebec every year in order to ensure a better future for their families. This journey is not without sacrifices: it involves spending several months away from home, during which time the children grow up.

Jose Orlando, 44 years old, is in his 14th year of packing potatoes for the same company. He currently lives in a house provided by his employer, which he shares with 14 fellow Guatemalans. He works 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and sometimes a few hours on weekends.

 


José Orlando Cajbon, in the house in Saint-Michel where he lives with his Guatemalan colleagues. Photo Marie-Anne Dayé.

 

In Sumpango, Guatemala, his life is quite different. He dedicates his time to his family and to telling the culture of his country through his art. In the past, he has sold several works to European and American tourists. “I had never traveled before coming to Quebec, but my paintings have,” he says. However, the September 11, 2001 attacks affected tourism and led to the closure of several galleries, he points out. But that didn’t stop him from continuing to express himself through art. The work on display at the Guatemalan Consulate in Montreal was created in St. Remi in 2012. “I wanted it to be something very personal about what we live here, our thoughts.”

Each scene represents an element of a Guatemalan worker’s journey: the flight out, the family they leave behind, the agricultural work they do in Quebec, the long-distance communication, the pride of seeing their children succeed. At the bottom right, you can see the church of Saint-Rémi, representing the host community.

	
Photos provided by José Orlando Cajbon.

 

Out of sight, out of mind

What Jose Orlando finds most difficult is being away from his loved ones. He has four daughters aged 9, 10, 14 and 16. The oldest will graduate this year. “From my perspective, I would like to spend more time with my family, but I want my daughters to thrive as well. That’s why I keep coming to Quebec,” he says, mentioning that the money earned here allows workers like him to gradually renovate their homes in Guatemala and pay for their children’s education.

Being far from home sometimes means losing loved ones without being able to hold their hands before they leave. Unfortunately, this is what happened to José Orlando four years ago. His wife passed away under murky circumstances, one day before he was to return to Guatemala. “Everything was going well, we had plans, we were going to meet again the next day, and from one day to the next she was gone, I couldn’t believe it,” he says with emotion. He also had to say goodbye to his father from a distance in December 2022 when he had just returned to Saint-Rémi. These are great human trials that these men must go through while continuing to work hard.

If he has the opportunity – the time and the material too – José Orlando would like to continue painting. He would also like to learn French, this time more assiduously, but the resources to do so are limited, he says. He also aspires to obtain permanent residency in order to open up more opportunities for him.

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