Here's part of the lead, plus a methods box.
Leonardo’s dressed neatly in black jean shorts and a tucked-in white T-shirt. He’s boxy and built like a linebacker. His hair is thick like a dried paintbrush.
He works in construction. Most of his T-shirts are marked with white paint.
But not this one. This one is clean. He wants to look good.
Leonardo is at the DMV to see if he can get license plates for his car, even though he doesn’t have a driver’s license, and even though he is not in the country legally.
Other Hispanics in the Roanoke Valley pay strangers hundreds of dollars to help them get fake Social Security numbers and driver’s licenses. Leonardo has seen others get license plates some way, somehow. Usually through someone in Rocky Mount, he’s been told.
But he has already spent almost $600 on license plates that didn’t arrive.
Leonardo’s at the DMV in Crossroads Mall because he wants to do it right, or as right as he can under the circumstances.
Leonardo paces near the entrance, looking at the vanity plates on the wall. Man, he thinks, do those vanity plates look good. How about one of those?
Nah, he decides, just something simple. He just needs the plates. Until Christmastime 2008.
By then, he’ll be done working in the United States. By then, he’ll be home. With his wife and daughter in Mexico. With a new truck and a new home.
This is the last installment in The Roanoke Times' "Land of Opportunity" series. In this story, and in some previous installments, we have chosen to not fully identify subjects because such details could increase the risk of their deportation.
In this story, the subject is identified only by his first name, Leonardo. The reporter, Evelio Contreras, spent more than five months following the lives of Leonardo and his roommates in Roanoke. All of the subjects in the story spoke only Spanish, with the exception of government officials. Contreras translated the quotes into English at the time of reporting.
Contreras accompanied Leonardo to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Crossroads Mall to observe if he could obtain license plates. Contreras translated the conversation at the DMV, as well as the described documents, because Leonardo does not speak English or read in any language.
"I did not provide any answers Leonardo didn't have," Contreras said. "When we arrived at the DMV, I didn't see any translators — I didn't ask, either — so I decided to translate for him."
Contreras, 24 and a community sports reporter, brings a relevant background to this story.
"He [Leonardo] reminds me of my father, Evelio Sr., a 63-year-old semiretired construction worker living on the border of Texas and Mexico. He's not a U.S. citizen but a [legal] resident alien. He's from a different generation of Mexican construction workers.
"My father wasn't big on words but work. Leonardo approaches life similarly."