This is the Story of Here, el Norte*
Baudelio Rosas is originary from the town of Ayala, Michoacán, located deep in the Tarascan plateau, an area predominantly inhabited by a population of purépecha background. Against what one could think, the inhabitants of this highland town are primarily devoted to the production of crafts, commerce, and industry. Thus, it is not strange that Braudelio's story is closely linked to that of industrial activities in the region. What results peculiar, though, is that he was not able to carry out his original occupation on the other side of the border.
His arrival to the United States was the result of a desperate economic situation, he tried various different avenues to get on but he only managed to become more indebted. The only alternative left was to travel to el Norte, and there is were he headed. He began working at a clothing factory, learned the trade to then become the manager, and finally the boss of his own business.
Baudelio usually employs his fellow countrymen and gives them the opportunity to teach themselves and to practice the trade, even though later on they might abandon him, be ungrateful, and forget his advice.
His fellow countrymen do not like him, partly because they envy him., but also because Baudelio is different. The distinction between patron and worker implies a class difference that results insurmountable despite friendship or shared cultural background. In fact, there is an intense process of transformation among those migrants who manage to become successful in the United States. This change implies a new attitude towards life and the future that, in the case of Baudelio, can be summarized as: dedication, savings, abstinence and "knowing how to work the country."
* Interview conducted by Héctor Hernández in the Valley of San Fernando, California, in 1992.
I came to the United States in 1963, because of money problems. I was a travel agent and, because of that, I have always liked to be independent. That's why I got the nerve and came over, without any direction, just like that, hitchhiking.
When I arrived to Tijuana I remembered that I used to have a friend there who was now in Los Angeles. I met her when I was trying to sell clothing in Tijuana. She had given me her address so that, whenever I went on vacation, I could go visit her. She is from Michoacán.
The last time that I saw her, she still didn't know about my financial problems, that's why, when I arrived to Tijuana and came accross her telephone number in my wallet, the first thing I did was call her in the United States. She agreed to receive me and I went to the address she had given me. When I arrived she told me:
-Imagine, I just got married, I am going to introduce you to my husband. Then she said:
- Where did you arrive to, which hotel?
- I didn't arrive to any hotel.
- How am I going to believe you didn't arrive to any hotel! If you have money.
- Well, yes but the money is gone.
She invited me to her house, but it was very small, it only fit one bed.
-You stay in the bed, we will stay in the car.
- No, impossible.
I stayed in the car; I remember that when I met her; back in '62, I never told her:
-You know what, Catalina? I'm doing bad, I'm doing bad in my business.
That's why, when I arrived and I called her up to tell her that I was coming, she thought I was coming on vacations only. But I told her:
-You know what? I came to work.
She couldn't believe it, she told me things were really tough, she took me to her place, it was troublesome for me to be such a nuisance. I had no job and she tried to accomodate me somewhere, I lasted a month without working, she was helping me to get food, I would also spend my time in the neighborhood of San Fernando, there were some restaurants, I would have a coffee, they would invite me a smoke, I would even ask people on the street for help, sometimes they would give me a dollar, that was on the 14th of January of 1973.
In Mexico I used to be a baker, my family used to sell embroidered blankets, that's why I started selling clothing. At home, my mother and sisters would do that. I started selling in the capital city, Acapulco, and Tijuana.
I used to go to Mexico because I had a brother there, to Tijuana because I knew a few acquaintances who had done well there, from there I went to Nuevo Laredo, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Cuernavaca, Chilpancingo, Tijuana, and Monterrey, those were the cities where I would sell.
Before doing this, I used to have a grocery store in town, but it wasn't generating profits; I went to sell fabrics but that didn't bring profits either, so that I couldn't pay a debt of 40 000 pesos, that's when I told my wife the idea of coming to el Norte, she didn't agree because I didn't know anybody, aside from that there was nobody from Ayala, because the first one to arrive here was me.
I started working on February the 18th, 1973; Catalina, that was my friend's name, introduced me to Mrs. Marilú, she is from Tuxpan, Jalisco; when she saw me she asked me if I knew how to cook, I said no, they made me a test. Since there were no unused machines I became in charge of cleaning and the finishing of blouses. The first week she paid me 40 dollars, that's how I started to work, six months later I was a manager.
The boss trusted me a lot, besides I became very close to her, wherever she would go, she would invite me, and she would take me with her. Sometimes people would think there was more going on, but between my boss and myself there was only a very pure friendship. She would help me a lot, but only that.
The first problem that I had with her was back in '81, on that ocasion she had gone to Mexico, and since I was the general manager, we had a mistake with a pair of short pants that a company ordered from us, the order was for 3200 pairs, when she came back I told her:
-Marilú, we ended up with 30 bad short pants.
She asked me who had made them.
-Lalo, my brother.
She started screaming at him.
You know what, Mrs.? You cannot yell at Lalo because I told him how to make them, and they came out wrong because I didn't explain it right, I am responsible, the only person you can say something to is myself.
-I also have something for you, come here.
We went to the office, she told me:
-Look Luis, you know how to be nice, you have experience, you are a very good worker; it is very easy for you to find a job in another place, here's one door, there is another, choose, you can go.
But because everybody was used to working with me, they started complaining; when I was about to go they were all asking me not to, only my brothers were saying yes, I only said:
-I'm going to think about it.
Even if she had fired me I knew she was nervous, I went to the house and I called her:
-Hey Marilú, for me it was very difficult, but nevertheless you are the owner, thank you very much for everything, for all that I have learned, for all that I know, thank you.
-She came another day and told me:
-Luis I need you to go to work, because you know the move.
We went back to work, but we were not comfortable anymore, neither my brothers nor me.
In '82 Lalo came out with the idea of starting a business, we both had 10 000 dollars saved, Nacho had no money, but the most important thing wasn't the money, but knowing the owners of businesses or the managers, those are who give out the work, also to look for who can sell you the machines. There were some people that trusted me, I had met them all through Marilú.
I went to Los Angeles to speak with my friend Juan García, to see whether he would sell me his machines. I told him:
I want to start a business, you are going to help me because you have all that is needed, if you trust me and believe in that I can work it, you are going to tell me.
He told me. Then he asked me:
-How much money do you have?
- 30 000 dollars.
-Well, with that you go and get the license, buy an insurance, pick a place, because setting up a business implies a lot of paperwork and everything has to be in order, everything straight. I did all that, I had 6 000 dollars left and with that I took 15 machines with me, and that's how we strarted, one year later we had 40. We called the factory "Londres Stowers."
In '84, after two years of work, we started having less profits, I didn't know why, if we were doing it right, sometimes we had enough to pay people, but very tightly, I thought we were not working equally anymore, and since I was interested in making more and more every day, because I felt I was becoming big, to have started with so little and in only one year become big, it feels good, I wanted to make more, to keep going.
My brother Nacho, the youngest, I wasn't going to leave him 'cause he helped me a lot, so we came up with another work strategy, by then we were four partners, Lalo's wife joined us with a loan she gave us. We decided to separate, I went with Nacho, Lalo stayed with María, his wife, we left to Sylmar, we lasted one year, we took with us forty machines in between both of us. We called our factory "Habiles Stowers."
What happened after is that Lalo bought more machines, and since they didn't fit anymore in the place he was renting, he moved to a larger space, but the rent was high and he couldn't afford it on his own, besides there was plenty of space to put our machines, he invited us to move with him and to run the entire factory together, it was to our advantage, because we were also crammed, we merged again, but it wasn't anymore a type of machinery association bacause at any point we could get more machines and get another place, when we merged it was a very large factory, it was called "High Tai," there were 80 machines working and about 50% of the workers were from Ayala, we managed to have more than 100 operators, all throughout '85 we worked under the name of "High Tai." But a year later, we again had problems, we weren't making enough, plus that year my wife came over. I told Lalo:
-From now on I need a reliable salary because my wife is here and, as we are, I feel I'm not going to make it.
Then, we had 80 machines; I left and my two brothers remained together. I went with a Salvadorean friend who had a factory in a spacious place. When the problems started he told me that, if I wanted, he could rent me half his factory, that's how I started my business all alone, that same year Nacho left Lalo.
I called my factory "Los Angeles Fashions," with time I bought machines and they became 35, my factory was located on 1314 San Diego, it lasted two years with that name and then I changed it to "Santa Clara de California." I changed it because my daughter was born, and since that was her name, I gave it that name so that my daughter would become something in the business, I wanted it to show in the factory.
In 1990 I left to Mexico, even though I left the manager in charge, I left in July and returned in September, when I arrived my business was going downhill. I never understood why. My brothers had a lot of work, I was the only one who didn't have any. They tried to help me by giving me some of their work, even then everything went downhill, the more I wanted to fix it the more it would sink. I even told my brothers it was worthless to keep fighting, we closed in December of that year. All my machines, already 35, I took them home.
In those days, my brother Nacho got very ill and we had to bring him to Mexico. Since he could no longer take care of his business I stayed in his place for a while. Since my business was closed, I had no other option than to stay with his. Now I'm bringing my things to his factory, all the machines now are mine, but before they were his. When I closed I thought I would do the same thing, I only wanted to rest for a while. My idea was to start over, that's why I didn't sell my machines.
Nowadays, from Ayala I have very few people, maybe 17 all together. There was a moment when all the workers were from there. That was in '88, '89, about 40, 45. At that time, also with my brothers, they had people from the town. Nowadays it's low, I have 40 employees. Last year it was good, I had some 35 to 40, Nacho 60, 65 and Lalo 60 or 70, but not only from Ayala.
When we started the business, three months later there were already 20 or 30 people from the town, before that there were 6 people from the town: Juan, my nephew, my two brothers and Jesús, who was in Los Angeles and I brought him here. There were other two guys, they came through Antonio Pineda, also from Ayala. He had a business here, he used to fix housing roofs, they used to say that he didn't treat people very well even though they were from the town. He already returned to Ayala. Martín, my nephew, told his brothers and they came over: Custodio, Silviano, and later other two little kids.
There are also some others from the town, but they are in Huntington, we came here around the same time. I knew they were here but there was never any communication. They noticed and they found my phone number, I don't know how. They were the first people from the town to call me. I remember when he called me, he told me:
-Look, I'll see you in such place, in Los Angeles.
He gave me an appointment, I went because a long time had already passed since I had spoken with someone from there and I was very interested; from there we started visiting each other every 8, 15 days. Sometimes I would go, other times they would come, in that way we started to be in contact. They worked at a ship company.
I have always tried to help people, I don't care about the problems they might have with the government, but I'm always like that, helping and breaking the law, I risk it. Thank God nothing has happened to me, we have even received orders from immigration to not take undocumented people, but I still keep on doing it. I don't ask them whether they have documents or not. Once a person from immigration went and warned me, that was two years ago, they have never come back to bother me. Even knowing that I am running the risk of having to pay a very large fine for having illegals, I still do it. Why? Because I want to keep helping people, that's never left me, the way you see me I don't seem to be a boss. They have told me:
-You, in reality, are no good as a boss, because you should be going about in a different way, you should carry a good car.
I have a good car, but I don't drive it, I have it at home, I don't like being pretentious or feel like more. I've always been like this. They have told me:
-You have to change.
But I can't.
I have helped a lot of people, among relatives and friends, I'd say some 15, I send them a coyote, I lend them money, some pay me, others don't.
Before, I used to be in the habit of inviting people from the town, but ever since a compadre, who had never told me he had abandoned his wife, came along with me -besides, the day I found about it, they put the blame on me for having convinced him, their family was angry with me- since then, I don't tell anybody to come along. I only tell them:
-Whenever you want to leave, leave. Here is my telephone number, you call me. If I can help you, I will help you, if not, you'll know, but that's what I can do.
I no longer invite anybody from the town to come with me. Heaven forbid, something may happen to them, if they cannot find their spot; because one thing I say, this country is very bad if you treat it wrong, but if you behave well this country is good. When they come from there it's because they're bad economically, one gets here with the illusions of doing a lot of things, they say this country is really good, that here one makes a lot of money. Yes, one earns a lot of money, but one has to work and behave well.
When a person comes from there he has the head full of illusions that: I am going to do this, I am going to do that. They get here and they start making friends, with the same people from the town. They invite them beer and they do that every 8 days, and they forget the illusions they had brought with them because they don't earn enough to support themselves.
Indeed, all the people that are here, are here because of me, because I was the very first one to arrive in San Fernando and the first one that could get them working, the first one that could support them while they met more people, that's how a lot started coming, they would arrive to my house, they even slept there, I fed them, I lend them money, I even bought them clothes, I taught them how to sew, once they had learned they would go off to other places to give them the profits.
But that's not all, I also helped find a house to all of those who are here with their families, they must be around 15 or 20, besides I helped them find documents; that was in '89, when the amnesty thing, I helped about 50 people, it was only about the boss sending out a signed letter, they would grant him the thing about amnesty, many became legal. I would also get them letters for the fields, through friends; There are people in Santa Ana that I helped and who never worked for me, I would only let the government know that they had worked with me since '82.
Although I am going to say one thing, all of the people, even my nephews, I don't make distinctions, all of the people, in the end, have been very bad with me. They arrive in bad shape, I help them, they get better, and they go somewhere else to work, to network with others. But since I'm not the kind of person that holds grudges I give them jobs again, they stay for a week or two and they leave, then they come back, and so on. Nobody has been able to take that away from me, neither my wife, nor my children.
I was never worried about fixing my documents. What for? If in any case I'm in the country without them, my wife was the one that demanded the most that I became legal. A friend of the family helped me. She was Colombian. She was the same one who fixed the documents of a lot of people from the town. I sent them all with her. Her name is Ema Chacón. In '89 she made me sign them without knowing what kind of documents they were, that's how I fixed them. Before fixing them, the migra kicked me out only twice. The first time from my factory in '74; the second time from the corner of my house.
Since I have my business I almost don't spend time with anybody, only with my wife, my children, from time to time with my brother Lalo, sometimes with the very same employees. Before my wife arrived, with pure employees, workers,. But now as a boss it is totally different. You cannot spend time with them for the simple reason that it is totally different, you feel a different thing. I don't show it, I don't want to, how can I say this? to feel more than them, but necessity makes you do it. I don't like spending time with them for several reasons, the most important one is that the majority likes to drink, if I'm with them I have to do it and I can't, because to be absent on a Monday is very difficult, that's why I don't like spending time with them. Of course, before I used to do the same thing, but now it's different; it is difficult for me to make social life for the simple reason that since I became a boss, responsibility won't leave me, it is very difficult to look bad because I'm not interested in parties, I'm interested in work. If one has to go to a party, I don't go if I have to make a sample, if I have to speed up a job, that somebody cannot do it, I have to come and work; another thing is that it feels very nice to have a family that respects you, that's my case. I have older children, in this country it is very difficult to have children like mine, mine are not in school but they don't get home all drunk, they spend time with me at home, all of that because I have always commanded respect.
When I became a boss I stopped drinking. I do drink, but once every two or three months I'll have one, but not as I used to, no, it's because of my children who are older and I have to command respect. I have changed completely from how I was before, I was not forced but it came out of me. Sometimes it happens that friends with whom I was doing the same things, drinking and all that, they tell me:
-How can it be that you are all calmed now!
I tell them:
-It's that you have to do it, because then how are your children going to respect you, if from now on, tomorrow or the day after, you have a problem with your children how are you going to reproach anything, because you're worse or the same as them.
I have given out a lot of advice, I tell people who have recently arrived how one has to work, how one has to support oneself, how to try and save the money; this country is good but you have to know how to work the country, there are many that come and want to continue the same way: in poverty. Here, if for example, one person arrives, I tell him:
-You don't know how to sew, you don't know how to do anything, I am going to pay you 100 dollars for the first week, here there are no hours, there's no such a thing as you've already worked too much, but then you'll be teaching yourself. It all depends on you, if you teach yourself quickly. Ok, if in two weeks you already know, I'll pay you the same as the rest. You'll have to grab your punch card, punch it and depending on the hours that you make that's how much you will be paid. If you continue the same, then you will never make it out of the 100 dollars.
I remember now Don Fran, Francisco Ana Lucas, he has had problems because he has another woman. We call him Don Fran, all the time he has worked with us. Now, he's not here anymore. As a matter of fact, they have said a lot about ourselves, but almost nothing concrete, they do it to take revenge, but as he used to say, that his family is over there, that he has to send money because they have to eat, and if he has here another one, then he cannot do it because he cannot make it with both. Now that I was in Mexico I ran into him and Nacho, then I arrived to the town and they told me:
-You have gone such a long time without paying!
My mother gets very worried. She, thank God, has money, we do too, if I have some money left I send it. My mother says:
-Imagine that here they are saying that you don't pay, that you have gone three months without paying the people, that that's why Don Fran came back.
- That's very wrong - I told her -, because if it has already been three months that they don't get paid and here are the bosses, he should come and collect it here, why is he going around telling people that we don't pay them?
There are a lot of people that talk like that: I don't send money because I haven't worked. Lies! Here, one cannot work if it's not paid, it's very difficult.
We sometimes pay with a personal check, sometimes in cash. We do it this way: if, for example, you earn the minimum, that is 170 dollars per week, from that you have to make a report to the government, so we are making a report by law, having a punched card and having the employee, that's the thing about law by comission, they have agents, if they see 30 people and I have 10 cards, they charge me 100 dollars per missing card, it's a fine, they come about two or three times a year. I don't ask for the immigration card to those that come to work with me, because I don't feel like asking for a card when they don't have it, when they have just arrived, especially when they are from the town, then why am I going to ask for it when I know they don't have it. To the government I make it look like we work 40 hours and I am paying the minimum wage. If they make more that the minimum I give them a personal check or I pay them cash, we do it this way so that they don't take any more taxes from us. That's how I have worked with people from the town and people from other places, we do it this way because it helps both of us.
Of course, this sometimes creates problems, since here everybody can threaten you telling you that they are going to report you, but in order to do it one needs a lot of things. In the first place they need to make an investigation to see whether it's true what you are reporting, they have threatened me but I have connections with lawyers, and the accountant tells me a lot, lets me know a lot of things, that's how you start realizing how the country works, what is that you have to do, what's more important, and what you can count on. I remember that when I came for the first time, the person I owed 40 000 pesos told me:
- I need you to pay me back, if you don't do it I am going to report you.
He never did it, it's not possible.
What I did have was a law suit by a person from the town. In '87, '88 we were a little low in work, and for two weeks people were not paid, this person left after two weeks. He said:
-I cannot take it any longer.
I told him:
- Wait one more week because I cannot pay you, they are going to send me the check.
The problem was that he wanted to collect more, almost twice what I owed him. Fortunately I kept control books, I keep those notebooks for 2 or 3 years, to clear any problems that may come up.
-Here I have what I need to prove you that I have paid you, I have the notebook where we make the accounts, I have the check receipts, there is no reason to cheat, here I show you what I owe you, 430 dollars.
- It's 1 300 dollars what you owe me.
- Do whatever you want, I am not going to pay you what you tell me.
He went ahead and sued me. They called me, I had to go to court. I won. That has been the only problem I've had. That made me feel really bad, because he shouldn't have done that when he was one of the people I helped in the beginning when he arrived. Later on they told me he did the same in Uruapan. For sure he thought he could do the same here.
The people from Ayala don't look for me in San Fernando anymore, they are already related to other companies. I have more people from Ayala that just arrived, they come here because on the other side they don't teach them, this is the only place where they do that. Now, its' been for some time that no one new arrives. Nowadays I have almost only young people and a lot of women.
From my brothers only the youngest one I didn't help, but Pedro and the other I helped them a lot. They did know how to take advantage, they bought a hotel, I think it's Pedro's and all of what they have done, they've done it here, because before they were poor, they used to work with me. They've done well because now they even have a store. I think everybody should be the same, but there are some that are doing worse than over there, and that is because they earn 200 and spend 300.
When I started my business, in one week we made all the negotiations, in two weeks I had all the personnel, and in three weeks I was already working on my own. My boss couldn't believe it, she even wanted to become my partner but I rejected the offer. I feel I've been the opposite of her, because somebody comes and I tell them like this:
-Look, do this, try to do it, don't get drunk, because for example, you earn 200, you spend 150, or spend 100 and save 100, send 100 to Mexico because there is where one can profit from what you're doing here. If you earn 200 and you want to spend 300 then you don't get out of the same and the same.
I have always advised people that way, because I know one can benefit, that's why I have changed. Even when we used to go to the bars I used to drink only soda. My friends would tell me how is it possible that me, who liked that scene so much, would only drink soda. In '81 it was one of my resolutions, aside from saving, because my objective was to return to Mexico and build a house.
But it was not always like this, because in the beginning I used to send little money to my wife, and this was because my boss Marilú would force me to save. She wouldn't pay me but she would get my salary in batches and send it to my wife Berta, I never became angry for this. I sent her two or three, but then I decided to save on my own and I told Marilú to give me my salary to put it in the bank, to stop distrusting me, because I was no longer going to drink in excess. That's how I started, from there I realized that it is very nice to save, besides anybody can do it. We all work, they all arrive the same way I did, so why doesn't everybody do the same as I did, it's easy, and that's why I say: anybody can make it.