Mexico Trek!   Trekkers DISPATCH: September 21 Silvia's Log


What would YOU do to feed your family?

Today is our first morning back in San Diego at Monica's house. We woke up early to try to find the Mexican migrant workers who often stand at the stoplight waiting to be picked up for work, usually construction or landscaping jobs. We didn't see any, and it was almost 7 a.m. already. "There used to be groups of them," says Monica, "but now I don't know if they moved to another area." When we spotted a single male walking along the sidewalk, I jumped out of the car to introduce myself and ask him about where the others could be. He was surprised they weren't at the light. "We're here from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., and if we're not picked up by 8, we leave. I don't know why they're not here already." We only had an hour left to go.

For a great article describing a Mexican's experience crossing into the US without documents, check out this article from the Hispanic Link News Service.

For general information on the issue of immigration in the US, as well as arguments pro and con on numerous topics, check out Policy.com.

For information about human rights abuses of undocumented workers in the US, check out this Amnesty International Report, or this Human Rights Watch Report.

For a very strong anti-immigrant perspective from a US point of view, visit the US Border Control homepage.

Further down the road we found two men leaning against the side rails. Monica and I asked them if they would share with us about their lives so that we could understand their story. We wanted to hear their stories in their own words, if they are undocumented Mexicans looking for work. We sat next to them and tried to initiate a conversation, but they seemed very Looking for workwary of speaking and looked away. A pick-up truck full of gardening tools rolled up and the driver spoke with one of them. I could only catch the seņor's responses: "For one of us or for both of us?" I guessed he was being offered a wage. I don't think anything happened because the driver pulled away, and we were left alone again. I told him we had spent a month in Mexico City and were speaking with people about their lives. They are from Mexico City, too. "I'd like to know why you are here, what it's like for you to be in another country living in a different culture all so that you can support your family." (Of course, those are my assumptions.) "You wouldn't understand," was his reply, as he looked at me for the first time. And then he wouldn't speak any more.

I was startled by his response. We didn't want to be intrusive so we thanked them, shook hands with them, and walked away.

Why wouldn't we understand? Why don't they want to speak with us? I try to imagine what it is like to be in their shoes, in a different country, and to be approached by complete strangers that want to know about my life. I am probably here illegally, having snuck across the border and in fear of being deported (sent back to the country I came from) by the Immigration Authorities. I'm only trying to find work and stay out of trouble. I see how I would be quite hesitant about speaking with people I don't know.

After that we stopped by a local parish to find out about their outreach work at a nearby migrant worker camp Parrish PosterMonica knew of. There are pictures and a poster about Sunday outings to celebrate mass, to visit, and to share a meal. The deacon explained to us that "Most of the single men live in sleeping bags in the hills. About five years ago their camp was torn down by county bulldozers. There's no 'official' camp anymore. The wealthy who live in $750,000 to million-dollar homes in the hills didn't want to look out their windows and see the immigrants, citing crime, drugs, and thievery as their fears. At the time Harry Mathis was running for political office as councilman, and his motto was something similar to 'elect me and I'll get rid of the migrant workers', masking outright discrimination as issues of health and fire-hazards. The Health Department came in and declared the area unsanitary, and the workers' dwellings were destroyed.

"Since then, an organization called 'Esperanza' (meaning 'Hope') has relocated many of these immigrants to apartments, helping pay their first year's rent and utilities. Unfortunately, only nuclear families have opted to participate in this. The single men continue to live in the canyons in their sleeping bags, and at night you'll see fires here and there. They'd rather save the rent money to send back to their families in Mexico. There's no specific place you can go to find them and speak with them, and the reaction you will get most often is that they won't want to talk with you. They are very distrustful, and you must understand their situation. They don't know you," the deacon explains.

Even the deacon preferred that we not take his picture. The situation is a "touchy one". They're dealing with issues of undocumented workers, a difficult subject in an area where the border patrol is very active. The individuals working with these "illegal" Mexicans try to maintain a low profile, just to protect the identities of all involved and to not draw publicity to their outreach campaigns.

Juan and his uncleNear Monica's house, we found two workers, Juan and his uncle, who were willing to speak with us a little. "I'm from Oaxaca and have been here for 2 months," Juan tells me. "There aren't any jobs there." Having just been in Mexico City, we know that American dollars go a long way there, especially for food. For example, one can eat hot restaurant meals - lunch AND dinner with drinks included - for $3, which here in CA is the price of a burger. I asked Juan, "do you stay here to work for many months and then go back to live with your family for a while, or do you come back and forth regularly to find work here?" He didn't want to answer, but they let us take their picture.

Juan only says that he likes it here and has gotten used to missing his family.

-Silvia

Related Dispatches: 
Silvia - What would YOU do to feed your family?


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