New Voices: Silvestre Gallegos

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(Host) Vermont’s cultural landscape is changing. This week, VPR offers a personal introduction to some of our newest neighbors. We’ll hear them tell their stories, explain the challenges they face and share insights into their new lives in Vermont.

Among these “New Voices” is Silvestre Gallegos – Sly for short – of Saxton’s River. No one in town suspected Sly was an illegal Mexican immigrant until a few years ago. In this edition of “New Voices” Sly Gallegos tells his story as he works behind the grill of his restaurant, The Golden Egg.

(Sound of grill scraping, sizzling.)

(Gallegos) “In 1989 I came to Chicago illegally. I said to my father, I’m going to go experience something different.’ Ha ha. His response was you’re crazy,’ but here I am in Saxton’s River.”

“I came from Chicago in 1999 after going thru a divorce with my ex wife, she was here legally. We have an eleven-year-old son right now. So we were looking for a place to raise him. She found this place. She move here. I came after she came.”

(Restaurant sounds)

(Gallegos) “Vermont is different from any other city or place that I’ve been in. It’s small. Everybody knows each other People are friendly. So I never felt out of place. I feel welcome.”

“When I came here I saw a little business that was failing. It used to be called Rosie’s Restaurant. And I talked to the lady; I said, listen, I’m familiar with the restaurant business. I think I can turn this around and make it a good business. And if it works and if I get you out of debt, we’ll become partners in the business.’ And we did that.”

“I know I was here illegally but I never felt it was a big problem until after 9-ll when they start checking people. They came, asked if Silvestre Gallegos was there. I said yes I am…and they said you’re under arrest basically.”

“And I think people react to that in a way. Because if they come and say you have to be in court, I’ll be there. But for them to handcuff you and put chains on your legs and … I think it’s an extreme.”

“So in the meantime the people of the community gathered the money to get me out. They did that. They gathered letters, probably hundreds of them, saying about character, what they thought of me.”

(Paper sounds)

(Gallegos) “This is one from Senator Jeanette White: he is well respected, has befriended many, provides employing …so Okay…Sylvestre is a law-abiding productive member of this community. He is also a good parent – Oh that’s from the headmaster of the school.”

“And all of that did the difference really. So I feel that this is a special place for me. Because how many people goes thru the same thing without being noticed. And I saw the same thing in jail. People who’d been here years and working, they were going to be deported, their kids were here and families were going to be split.”

“I don’t know, I think if they could do something different about it. I don’t know what the answer is. Working hard in this country is what built it. It’s what this country’s built on: Immigrants. So I think it’s a strength, the blend of all different kinds of people, I’m pretty sure is what makes it strong.”

(Mexican Guitar Music plays)

(Host) Gallegos spent three weeks in jail and two years pursuing his court case. He was granted resident alien status and will be eligible to apply for citizenship in 2009. “New Voices” continues tomorrow morning with Bosnian Aida Halilovic, now settled in Burlington. You can find faces to match these voices, and text for all the essays in this series, on line at

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