This is the story behind the story of how Lucio Villa, a photojournalism fellow at The Chicago Reporter, was there the night undocumented immigrant Jorge Mariscal got his long-needed kidney transplant. Mariscal’s story, and others, will be featured in a photography exhibition, “Issues Visualized,” opening Thursday, June 20. See the Facebook page for more details.
By Lucio Villa
I met Jorge Mariscal in June 2012. I had just started my summer internship at The Chicago Reporter, and I was assigned to follow the hunger strike in Little Village. A group of mothers, including Sonia Lopez, Mariscal’s mother, were demanding organ transplants be allowed for the undocumented.
Mariscal had just lost one kidney to cancer, and his second one was malfunctioning. But he could not be put on the organ transplant list because of his immigration status.
I was going back to the Little Village church at least twice a week to check up on the hunger strike and document the process. After a while, everyone got to know me and referred me as “el joven de Los Angeles,” or “the young man from Los Angeles.”
After going three weeks without eating and submitting letters to hospital boards, Lopez got her wish. Loyola University Medical Center agreed to cover the costs of Mariscal’s kidney transplant.
On Dec. 5—the day before the surgery—I took the Metra to Mariscal’s house. I asked him if I could document the surgery. He agreed.
We met at Tilted Kilt, a restaurant in Schaumburg, where two of his good friends invited him for dinner. His friends joked around with the waiter, saying they wanted to wish Mariscal a “Happy Surgery Day.” A group of waitresses gathered around the table with a slice of cake and sang to the tune of “Happy Birthday.”
Back at Mariscal’s house, his mother and aunt were getting ready to go to sleep. When we returned, they offered me the couch. It was about 10 p.m., and Mariscal was nervous. We had to leave the house at 4:30 a.m. the next day.
In the morning, I rode along with Mariscal, his mother, an aunt and a family friend. It was cold, and the streets were empty. Inside the vehicle, no one said a word. Everyone was nervous.
I was at the hospital until 9 p.m. Family and friends arrived throughout the day. I was the only photographer, and I felt privileged to document Mariscal’s struggle to receive a new kidney.
It was a long day for me, but what kept me going was the will to tell a story and my passion for photojournalism.
Before I left the hospital, I thanked the family for allowing me to tell Mariscal’s story and fist-bumped Mariscal before I left his room.