Samuel Cifuentes dreamed of a better life.
He endured beatings, hunger and robberies on a perilous journey through Mexico to reach his American dream: to some day raise enough money to build a house in his home country, Guatemala.
Cifuentes met Florinda Santos in Oklahoma City, married her, and they had a son, Alex. The parents were not legal citizens, Cifuentes' cousin, Octavio Aguilar said.
Oklahoma City is home to thousands of undocumented Hispanic residents, at least 44,000, according to 2010 Pew Hispanic Center figures.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oklahoma City's Hispanic population grew about 100 percent between 2000 and 2010, to just more than 100,038, or about 17.2 percent of the city's population.
The census defines Hispanic or Latino as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Hispanic culture or origin, regardless of race.
Cifuentes worked two restaurant jobs to provide for his family and send money to relatives in La Esperanza, a little village with a name meaning “hope.”
Guatemala is a beautiful country where life is hard, Aguilar said. A civil war that raged for nearly 40 years ended in 1996. Crime and corruption are a part of daily life, he said.
The word from back home is that things in Guatemala are harder lately.
“There is much delinquency, too much corruption,” Aguilar said. “It's everywhere and everybody.”
A strong showing
People from Guatemala are coming to Oklahoma City, part of a greater boom in the Hispanic population, said David Castillo, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Castillo described the growth in the Hispanic population as “incredible.”
While most of the growth comes from Mexico, Guatemalan businesses like Cafe Kacao and Cafe Antigua, grocery stores and other businesses are signs that the Guatemalan community is making a strong showing here, Castillo said.
Claudia Barajas came to the United States 20 years ago from Colombia. She never had seen a tornado in her country.
Barajas, who now works at the Latino Community Development Agency, said she felt lost during her first experiences with severe weather in Oklahoma.
Cifuentes and Santos and their son, Alex, died taking cover in a storm drain, along with a relative and her three children.
“A lot of Latinos, even middle-age and older, don't have that common storm sense,” Barajas said. “They were not born in this country and don't have the basic information or training of how to act, and they just don't know what to do until it's too late.”