“I got pulled over in East Texas, the police wanted to search my car,
They asked if I was an American citizen, I said ‘yes sir, so far,’
They checked my trunk to see if i was smuggling someone in from Mexico,
Someone willing to settle for America, because there’s nowhere else to go.”
(Anni di Franco)
Your average Bush-voting bigot in the USA is in love with the idea of building a brick wall all along the Mexican frontier. ‘Damned Hispanics, they come here to work and don’t even learn the language. Take social security checks and then have babies here. Si, si! Now even the menus in my local cafe are in Spanish…’
The truth is that the USA has huge labour needs to man its farms in places like California and Texas and illegal immigrants make perfect fodder. The Mexicans arrive without knowing the language or their rights and are so scared of being picked up by immigration they can exploited to the full. The employers don’t pay any health insurance, no layoff pay and there’s no such thing as minimum wage or minimum hours.
The work that many Mexicans do once they cross the border is absolutely exhausting but a young, fit person can still manage to save money to wire back home. It may enable someone in the family to get the medical treatment they need or maybe allow them to invest in their own business.
Many of the farm workers will sleep outside to save on rent before working from before the dawn until long after dark. Think of that next time you sit down to a bowl of strawberries and cream. It brings to mind the migrants of Oklahoma in the 30’s of whom Woody Guthrie sang:
“We pick the beet from your ground, the grape from your vine,
To set on your table, your light sparkling wine.” (Pastures of Plenty)
Going to work in the USA is almost a rite of passage for many and it’s not always the employment heaven they dream of. Many Mexicans away from home fall prey to all kinds of vices they simply couldn’t afford back home – drink, drugs and gambling often put pay to any money they manage to put aside and they return home much for the worse.
Of course to get to the USA in the first place Mexicans must first cross la frontera and this is no easy task. The US-Mexico border is long and porous but there’s a token force of immigration police to maintain an acceptable level of supply and demand of illegal labour. Some try to sneak across on their own but it’s all desert here and many end up dying of exposure.
If they get really lucky and don’t look too dark skinned they can get a lift back with some Americans and hope that the cops just wave them through. For the majority though they turn to el coyote, the people smuggler who promises them safe transit for up to $5000. The same day they’ll be in Houston and from there onto family and friends and a job.
The truly evil side of this operation comes when the coyote takes them across on credit, on the understanding that they’ll work off their debt on the other side. Often the Mexican hopefuls won’t have that much education and will agree to anything, not imagining what awaits them. Once on the other side, they discover that they’re put to work picking tomatoes or oranges in Florida.
A dream job turns into a species of wage slavery, however and they never quite escape their debt they’re given somewhere to live and charged extortionate rent they’re given groceries and then given a ridiculous bill. The bosses lie to the workers about the hours and the wages and threaten them with deportation or violence if they make trouble.
And who buys these oranges and tomatoes? Well, about half of the oranges go to Minute Maid which is a derivative of Coca-cola. 21st century slavery – it’s the real thing!
For women the case of often much worse as they’re told to pay back their debts by entering prostitution as a ‘temporary’ measure. They’re locked in wagons at trailer parks and forced to satisfy the needs of American men after some Latin ass. They try to keep hold of the used condoms as a way of keeping their accounts and working out when they’ll be free but their pimps take them away to keep them in the dark.
Those who don’t trust the coyote try other desperate measures to obtain the right to stay in the USA. There are pregnant Mexican women in border towns who wait until their waters break and then make a run across the frontier. They chain themselves to the nearest immovable object they can find and, in the presence of a lawyer, they hope to give birth on American soil before they can be deported. Once the baby has the right to stay then so does the mother.