We are the ones who came here to leave our sweat
I was 17 when I left with my brother-in-law to San Luis, Río Colorado, to the cotton fields. It was a mediocre job because it was really lame, we came because it was said that there was a lot of work and that a lot of people came here. We left with the illusion and the hopes of making more money than back there in town. On the way back I brought 60 pesos with me, my brother-in-law got sick and had little money, we didn't have enough to go back, and so, we hitchhiked on the way back. We only paid the ticket from San Luis, Río Colorado to Ciudad Obregón; from there to Ameca, we travelled for free. We pretended to be among the sleeping ones and, in Tepic, the money collector asked us:
-Your tickets please.
Then, I played dumb and started looking for the tickets in my sweater and I had to lie:
- My tickets were here, I don't know what happened, somebody must have taken them.
It was a lie but it helped us get to our destination.
In November of '72 I came to Tijuana to cross to the other side and go with my brothers who were in Watsonville, California, but, once being there they told me that there was no more work at the canería. I had to wait at the border for four months to cross. From November to February I worked in road construction; I used to live with some relatives that, unfortunately, behaved very badly, even when I was paying them 12 dollars per week for room and board. Afterwards, I moved with some old ladies from Otavalo and there I was very comfortable. I used to pay them the same amount but there were no spiels about:
-What you pay us is very little. Imagine, had you arrived in a hotel and a restaurant, what you would have paid and, then laundry!
In that house there were no problems of that kind.
By February of '73 I tried to cross to the other side. As luck would have it, I was kicked out three times; the first one happened at the end of February. A family from the ranch "El Pasito," close to Majorca, came by, I left together with them in a car, it was in the evening. I remember the coyote was driving so nervous that the car rolled over, ending up with the wheels upside down, and a woman that had fillings in her teeth, lost them all. Nothing happened to the rest of us. Thank heavens, fortunately I am still alive! From there we headed to the hills, we were four the ones in that car, the woman and her brother-in-law left one way, a fellow and myself pulled the other way. At that time I had a little money saved from what I had earned in Tijuana, plus a bit other that my brothers had sent me from Watsonville. We got a lift with an American all the way to San Diego; there we took a bus to Oceanside but, when we were falling asleep, they came and knocked on the door. It so happened to be the migra and....out we were! They sent us to Chula Vista, and from there they kicked us out to Tijuana at about six in the morning.
The second time that they grabed us was at night. We climbed a hillock and, on the way down, the migra was already waiting for us. That one time we didn't walk much, only ten minutes and, right away they shouted at us:
-Where you go men? hands up or we can shoot you.
They were saying that only to frighten us....out we were again!
The third time we crossed by the train tracks, in the evening; it wasn't dark yet, and right away, we didn't walk much, we were about to walk into a hotel when they stopped us and....all the way out again!
The fourth time was when I finally made it. I crossed by the train tracks, but during the morning. I think they hadn't slept well, the migra guys; it was the very same coyote who had helped me cross the third time (obviously that was the only way he knew), he told me:
-You're gonna go with Mr. So-and-So, they already know where to take you.
We left straight to the hotel, five minutes later a car arrived. We got in, six people and, let's go! From there we came to San Diego. They had us three days without crossing because they wanted to smuggle 200 people in a very big trailer, so I got nervous and escaped. They had us in a pen, like cattle; the bathroom had its window facing a street, with a fence, but you could open it, that little fence could go to hell. I did some figuring and, since I've always managed on my own, I said:
-Well, it's my turn for the good one, I've got some experience now, they've kicked me out three times, this won't be the fourth.
I got into the bathroom, I locked the door, I got out little by little through the window, and I began to walk on the street, being careful that the polleros wouldn't see me; I remember I found two girls that were walking by and I told them, all shaky:
-Excuse me, do you know where's a hotel around here?
Then, one said:
-Oh daddy, look, there's one.
They were flirts, what I wanted was to get to a damned hotel. I couldn't pay attention to compliments or anything. I was a kid, I was 21 at the time. An American received me, I told him:
-Do you have rooms, sir?
-With how many beds? How many rooms you want?
He spoke a little Spanish.
-I want one with one bedroom, for me.
It seemed that he was straight, he was not discriminating, I stayed in the hotel. I had some telephone numbers written on the belt so I called the coyote that smuggled us the first time. He was such a crook and a scoundrel, even though he was also from Otavalo, but from another ranch, he told me:
-Where are you calling me from? Where are you?
-I'm in San Diego, imagine that I escaped from those who were going to smuggle me, the reason being that they are smuggling many people, they have 200 people, waiting because they want to get more to smuggle them all in a trailer, like cattle, that's a mess.
-You know what? I'll go get you, but I'm gonna charge you the same. I don't care that you're in, to me the difficult thing is to cross San Clemente, not the borderline and, blah, blah, blah...
He charged me 225 dollars. He smuggled me inside the spare tyre compartment; we went all the way to Pacoma, California. I stayed with some friends for one year working in a factory where they assembled trailers.
By '73 my brother José Ruvalcaba had left to Lake Tahoe, Nevada. When he saw that it was a virgin place to work, he came to pick me up to Pacoma; when I arrived everything impressed me, because here is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I was impressed, from the lake, the casinos, and primarily, the cocktail waitresses, they're almost naked, since I hadn't seen them before, that's the attraction that makes one come back again to these places.
My brother found me a job at the hotel Tahoe Motel, there I worked making the beds; I lasted eight months. At that time my brother helped me get another job at the Casino Harris, a small casino, where I did a bit of everything: dish-washer, busboy, sweeper. I had two jobs, at the Tahoe Motel in the morning and at the Harris at night. I slept very little and I almost lasted four months that way.
In 1974 I married a gabachita and, seven months later, I emigrated. Once I fixed my papers, I told her "good bye." The idea about marring a gringa was to see how she came out as a woman, but early on I began to see that it was not worthwhile, that she only wanted to be hanging out in restaurants and casinos, she didn't want to work, she didn't do anything to have money, only to please herself, that bothered me; so I started to get the intention of leaving her, because besides she would go to the parties with her sisters, because she said that was life in the United States, but that was all a lie, that's exactly why it happened to her what happened to her.
One day I went with my brother to have a drink at the casino Harveys and we met an Argentinian who got close and told us:
-Where are you from? Are you Mexicans?
-Wouldn't you want to work as busboys?
My brother said:
-I have a good job as a busboy at the casino Sahara's theater, but my brother has a modest job, I think that if you gave him a chance, he could be a busboy.
He had a captain's job, he would sit and hire people, besides he had very good connections in that casino, he told him:
-Tomorrow come talk to the big one, I'll give you a hand to get in.
I left both jobs and I became a busboy earning the same amount as in my two previous jobs, together; I lasted, more or less, six months. I left because I wanted to work as a helper to a barman but they told me that my English wasn't good enough for that job. I felt offended and so I left, but thank God, I've always had good luck. I started working at the Sahara casino as a dish-washer; I took a lesser job to then jump to a better one, three months after I moved to the buffet, as a helper to the waiter, making 6 or 7 dollars per day, aside from my salary, that's what the waiters would give me, damned thieves! In that same department when I reached two months I moved to the theater, as a helper to the waiter, making 60 or 70 dollars per day, it was a very good job, here I managed to last two and a half years, five as a waiter. I left because they closed down the theater and they wanted to move us to another department where we were going to make less money. As a waiter they gave me tips with everything and the salary was 150 dollars, I managed to make up to 300 dollars, but, where's all that? Everything stayed at the casinos, in the gambling, that's why I give out my advise: that everybody who comes to places where there are casinos and who likes to gamble, it's better to not even try to come, or, if he comes, be it only to take a look, but no to stay 'cause his life is going to be unhappy.
I married once again in 1980, with a girl from the ranch of Lagunillas, in the same municipality, six years younger than me, with her I have two children, a 13 year-old girl and a 10 year-old boy, they were both born here.
From 1986 on, the otavaleños started arriving very rapidly, it wasn't a slow thing because my brother helped out the brothers-in-law and they are very gossipy, when they would go to Otavalo they would say that there was a lot of work in Lake Tahoe and the story kept spreading, in fact my brother and I even ended up bringing people from Los Angeles, that we were going to take them to Reno, once here we would find then work. My brother was the one who did a lot for those from Otavalo, in fact the people from Nayarit is here because of my brother. That is, the chain exists because of him. We helped a buddy that was very ungrateful called Félix Medina; that dude after we helped him, he would get drunk and would say that he was the first one to have gotten to Lake Tahoe, he wouldn't say it here, but he would go to Los Angeles and say:
-No, there, the one to discover that gorgeous place was me.
He would talk nonsense, I don't care who got here first, who cares if he had been here alone for five years, and then, after those five years, I would have arrived and started bringing people to this place.
When the theater closed down I looked for another job at the same casino, but in the restaurant, as a waiter. I lasted nine months there, to move then as an assistant to the barman, two years after I was promoted to barman where I made more money than at the theater. In that department I lasted three more years. I was going to reach 13 years at the casino when I lost my job. They fired me because I was being dishonest, because I used to give away wine to people and sometimes I wouldn't charge them. They were already keeping an eye on me. I would give away drinks to my friends so that they would leave me more tips, but they didn't really fire me because of that, but because the Union came in and I was a very active member in it, in turn that was not convenient to the casino, but I made a mistake for being an active member of the Union, because they are very tricky. The Union is really good when they all unite, but unfortunately people are afraid and, since there's a lot of undocumented people, then they are afraid that the same companies are going to fire them, that they might check their documents, or that they might call the immigration department. As long as we Latinos don't unite, the Americans are going to have us grabbed by the neck.
I've always hated the gringos' discriminating ways, I hate that they step on Latinos, in this country, us Latinos, we are being 100 percent discriminated against; there was a little bit of this at work, not so because the supervisors appreciate very much the Latino, but because we work very hard, and the Americans want the things well done. Americans think they are very smart but they are not what they think, because in reality they are not as well prepared as Japanese, who are so disciplined, or the Germans. There are a lot of Americans, a great majority who are drug addicts, hippies, slackers who don't want to work, who only want to get easy jobs and sometimes they don't know how to carry them out. In fact, I was the only Mexican Latino to be a waiter at the Sahara theater where Elvis Presley and other famous artists would perform. There were other people who were Latinos, pochos born here, but legitimate Mexican, only myself. There were a lot of Americans that wanted to get it but they couldn't deal with the job, I didn't feel good against them, I felt good by myself, because as the hermit would say: if I can do my job not being American and they cannot do it in their own land, then I'm no more a fool than they are; I always thought of myself as one of the best in this job. After they fired me I went to the Caesar's casino, I worked for three months as a helper to the barman, and one year and nine months as a barman. At the same time I opened up a clothing store with a money we had saved my wife and I. The story of how we started the store was that we bought forty tablecloths in the supermarket of San Juan de Dios in Guadalajara, we payed fifteen dollars for those tablecloths, we sold them here at 40 dollars each. For us, this was a wonderful profit, so I told my wife:
-We can make money here, we can go to Mexico, bring clothing, and sell it to make money.
When I became an employee at Caesar's we already had the store, it was just starting and I was doing well, I said:
-Well, this is it for me and work, why should I continue when we're making a living with the store.
On one ocasion we went shopping to Mexico, we were also on vacations, a very sad adventure happened to us, because when we opened up the store we bought clothing from Mexico. We thought that clothing from over there was going to be a success, and it was a disaster. That one time we bought about 10,000 dollars in merchandise, they stopped it in San Francisco and sent it back to Guadalajara. The merchandise was confiscated for three months in San Pancho, in the customs office. We had to smuggle it illegaly because we didn't have a permit, they told us:
-You don't have a visa to import, because here it says how many pieces you must bring, how many kilos, what factory made them, and blah, blah, blah...
We didn't bring anything of that.That bribe, we had done it twice before and nothing had happened, we were already hooked on it.
In 1992 I opened up another business, a store with Mexican groceries, that was the business of my brother Filemón, and since he didn't know how to manage it, he failed and gave it to me. He wanted to sell it to other people, but they were not willing to give him what he was asking for. We kept it because it was right next to the one we had already.
We all know that the United States is better than our homeland to make money, but let's be honest, we don't have to become passionate, we all love very much our homeland, unfortunately there it's not possible 'cause there's a lot of corruption in the government; and the customs officers are such barbarians, they're always trying to find a way to make money out of you. The most corrupted Mexican city that I've known is Mexicali; one time that we went back that way, in 1989, I was going to take my father and my mother to Otavalo, we crossed the line, with the Mexican immigration, one dude tells me:
-Let's see, I want to see what you've got there.
-Boss, they're only three suitcases with clothing, one is my mom's, the other is my dad's, and the other is mine.
You know, that's a lot of clothing that you're carrying, that's going to cost you 40 dollars if you want to get through.
-I'm not going to give you a penny, why would I have to give you, if I'm not carrying guns, I'm carrying my own clothing.
-Well, do what you want, but if you don't give me 40 dollars you don't get through, do whatever you want.
-How nice you look with that suit, I wished you could take it off so that I could smash your face in!
The Mexican government is very dangerous, it's as barbarian as you can get.
-In any case, I haven't asked you for your ID, let me see who you are, I want to see your ID.
I showed him the tin and he snatched it from me.
-Now you're gonna go with those assholes, and we'll see what you have to say.
-He sent me with the American immigration, thank God I speak a little English, he thought I was green. I went with them and the immigration guy said to me:
-What's up? What's the problem, man.
-The problem is that these men want 40 dollars, or else, they won't let me take this clothing with me, that's all, it's the clothing my father, my mother, and I use, because it's not even new.
-And what they did was shake their heads, and he said:
-We can't do anything, unfortunately that's the way they carry out their lives.
Why does that have to be the only way to carry out their lives? Why can't they work more honestly, or charge taxes? Say: here we charge taxes, that's it and get going. Why does one has to be bargaining?
-Look, the only advice that we can give you is to go where they cross on foot, leave your truck close to a parking lot. I turned back, when I was crossing with the suitcases, other custom officers were waiting for me, they said:
- Hey you, come over here, you cannot come first through that line and then cross through the one for those on foot, because you had a fight up there and you have to go fix it, go cross up that way, we don't want problems with them.
It was the same corruption up there and down there, wanting to scare me and charge me on both sides. So I told him:
-I want to talk to the boss from down here.
-You want to talk with him? Go ahead, he's inside.
-Boss, here's a fellow who wants to talk with you.
The damned old man was drunk.
-What's your problem, man?, Why aren't you behaving?
He was playing fool.
-Look, the problem is that up there they're asking me for 40 dollars, I have them, but I'm going to a very remote place and, don't blow it, boss! Give me a hand, how is it possible that he has to cling to the idea that one has to give them certain money one cannot give.
-Well, how much can you give?
- I'll give you 20 dollars, boss.
- All right, but don't tell the rest 'cause later on, everybody's gonna want to give the same.
I gave that to him and we passed the suitcases walking, I turned around on the truck and I put them back up. When we got to the airport it was another corruption, worse even. We got to the airport and they told me:
-Let's see, bring your suitcases to weight them, they're a little heavier but just loosen a bit and give us something for the coffee and there's no problem with us.
So I said, that's not bad, I gave him $20,000 pesos.
- All right, now there, where that conveyor belt goes, put them up there, with those guys there.
Another aduanal tells me:
-Don't you know you have to carry no more than 25 pounds maximum?
-That's what they allow to carry in the plane, the rest one has to pay excess baggage, right?
-Don't try to be a smart-ass, here you have to slip 70 bucks, otherwise nothing goes through.
-Well, you know what? I'm not going to give you anything, they fucked me over on the borderline, they screw me over here where they weigh the luggage and, now you too! Here where you're poking around, and, then what? This is the most corrupt place there is in Mexico.
- Then a guy that was coming with us, the one that was going to bring the truck to leave it in Mexicali saw a tall man who, it seems, was a member of the cardenista party, and told him:
-Hey Mr. Arenas, can't you give us a little hand with these men?
- Yes boy.
He was a respectful man.
-Let's see, what's going on in here guys?
-Well, that one.
The aduanal was a creep, brush-faced, ugly character.
-No, well this boy doesn't want to loosen up and give us something for the coffee.
- How much are you asking for the coffee?
- They're asking 70 bucks from me, sir.
- Don't be ungrateful, hack it out, I don't want to come back again, I don't want problems.
It seems the guy had power, so they started kind of working out a deal with me, like negotiating something good.
-How much do you want to give?
- I don't want to give out anything. Why am I going to give you when I'm not carrying anything illegal?
- Well yeah, but you have to give or, you won't get them through.
- I don't care if I cannot get them through, you're not going to scare me with that, they always want to scare people, to intimidate them and get their money that way, I'm not going to give you a penny.
- No, well if you're gonna go through, you're gonna have to give.
There we stayed for fifteen minutes, once the plane was going to depart, they told me:
-Well at least slip some 40 bucks, no?
-No, not even 40 bucks I'm going to give you, there's no reason to give you any money, or what, because of your pretty zanates or, why am I going to give you 40 dollars? You're not doing me any favor, no benefit of any sort, or in exchange for what? Only to give it away to your corrupted ways.
We had to call Mr. Arenas once more.
-Mr. Arenas, these men don't want to understand.
Said the boy that was going to return with the truck. Mr. Arenas told the aduanales:
Boys, behave with the citizens.
-Mr. Arenas, we're asking for 15 dollars and he doesn't want to give them away.
- Is that true boys?
-They were asking for 40, now they've gone down 25.
-Give it to them, it's enough, so that they can have a coffee.
I gave them 15 dollars from the 70 they were asking for, but I left very pissed off, in Guadalajara there was not that much trouble.
The Amerians are such pimps, why does López Portillo have a house here, in Lake Tahoe? They want rich people here, capitalists. Why don't they kick them out? Ah oh, but the people that come here to leave our sweat, to find a job, everything to enlarge their filthy nation, those they trash. Me, even though I am a citizen, I don't consider myself as being from here. I always love my Mexico, unfortunately, the Mexican system is doing really bad, but not because of that we are going to become disillusioned with our own motherland; I became nationalized because everytime that I would go to Mexico, customs would steal a lot from me, also because this way I can help my parents, emigrating them so that they can receive their pensions because of old age, and like this they can live in peace.
If I went back and lived in Mexico, what I would do would be to start a business; here I never thought of starting one, what I had thought of was to become a big boss in a good position, at the casino; but now I feel better than a boss, because I am the owner of my own business, I have the position of a boss, but I don't give out orders to anybody, I command myself.