Who said Mexicans cannot make it?*
Like many others, Ricardo’s story starts with his father’s previous migratory experience as a bracero. From there, he decided to emigrate at age of 21 to prove his luck and adventure.
His first years were filled with sleepless nights, doing drugs, dancing, and with women. Everything was new and different. However, he still wanted to come back and do something. For 15 years he worked so hard in order to return successfully. His work allowed him to buy his first property, another one and so on. However, one day suddenly he sold everything he had acquired; he had achieved his goal.
Here in México, he accomplished his dream after so many years: to study. His savings allowed him to live comfortably while studying. His natural gift to manage business, allowed him to get more money through investing.
* Interview done by Hector Hernandez in Guadalajara, Jalisco in September of 1992.
In my hometown, I didn’t have any acquaintances with emigrants. I was 18 years old and people who migrated at that time were aged 40 plus, married, and they were seeking to support their families. It was rare to find young migrants. It’s when the North becomes popular, when fathers start emigrating with their children, or the smugglers’ children, or simply worker’s children who emigrated by themselves. That is when youth starts migrating. It was about the 1970s when the young start emigrating.
I left to the North, because at 21 years, I wanted to do so. I sold the convenience store that I had at El Valle; I sold all the merchandise and the store. First the store was leased and after some time, we sold it.
Upon my arrival to Santa Monica, there was a place where people from my hometown used to work. It was a company that offered gardening services. A lot of people from El Valle worked there, including my father. They woke up at 5 in the morning, they were picked them up, and were taken to Los Angeles and Hollywood to work. Since most of the workers were uneducated, their work was harsh. They were taken to work at 8am and returned until 8pm. Those people couldn’t get a better job due to their age and lack of education. Their boss was also from El Valle, and I don’t remember how long he had been living in Santa Monica.
My father first emigrated as a bracero about three of four times around 1948. I was 3 or 4 years old at the time, and he was about 50 years old. I don’t think he did well at the farm because the job was from June to October, during harvest season. Everyone left in October and returned to plant; they returned with some savings, and once he had spent it all, he left again. We lived at El Tortuguero farm, which belonged to my deceased grandfather. Originally, the farm was large, but after my grandfather passed away, the farm was distributed between the 5 siblings, so my father ended up with a piece of it. We were 8 in the family and the farm was no enough for us. Thus, he emigrated in 1950 or 1955, through a boss who gave him a letter of recommendation.
My father arrived to Santa Monica in the 1950s. He had worked harvesting cotton before that. He had worked by seasons, and even brought cotton to show us, because he felt proud working on that. When he arrived to Santa Monica, he worked as a gardener. All the time, he was planting trees and grass, cutting grass, and shaping trees. It was a very though work. He lasted there a long time because he was not old, but he couldn’t look for another job. He got his pension from there at age 62. After that, he worked with me at a furniture factory, cleaning up furniture and sweeping around, but he only lasted there a year and a half. I wanted to help him out due to his age; he got nervous if he was not working around.
I don’t know anything about my grandparents. I remember that my mother showed me a picture once and told me, “Look, this letter has the California stamp when my mother was there.” My grandmother looks very young in the picture, and very elegant. I think she had money because she was wearing a very elegant hat; and the clothing was impressive. I don’t know if she went alone or her parents took her. She would be 108 years old now; she died 4 years ago.
My mother’s occupation was always a housewife; however, after each meal, she and the other women in town sat on the street to sew. There was somebody buying her work. Rarely she used to go to Mexico City to sell her work or visit my father’s family. She couldn’t work because we were 11 children. Her job was to take care of us and get my father’s monthly check. She emigrated in 1964 with 4 sisters and 1 brother, who were minors. I was the only one who stayed back home.
My paternal grandparents never went to the North because they were poor people. In fact, they didn’t live long.
When my father started his job as a bracero, we left El Valle and I was about 6 years old. I remember because that’s when I started elementary school. The ranch where we used to live here was left alone. That entire little town was left alone; there were empty lots, falling houses, grass quite long, and since there was no one to harvest, the land started to die.
Before I left, the Olga factory was quite famous. We knew that there were a lot of people working there, and we knew that a lot of employees were from Los Altos and El Valle. Many people started working there through their acquaintances, but I never worked there because I never got in touch with them.
I had several uncles and distant family from my mother’s and father’s side. I think there were about 50 people who were cousins and uncles. I started to be acquainted with them through church. I didn’t go to church because I believed, in fact, I stopped believing when I became independent. I never had problems with my parents because they never knew I had stopped believing. They always told me to take care of myself. Now, they are asking me, “Hey Emilio, where are your children going to do their first communion?” Whenever that happens, we take our children to church to avoid problems. All of our children are baptized, but it’s just because our family. That’s the reason why I went to church, to have acquaintances. All Mexicans go there, and that’s how I met a lot of them.
I went to the church in Santa Monica – I don’t recall its name, but it’s located at 20 th and Colorado. They imparted Spanish masses for all Latinos, and there were people from Tepa, El Valle, Jalos, Zacatecas, but mainly from Los Altos.
I first worked at jewelry for about 3 months; I left because I thought I was not going to improve. My wage was always the same of 1.15, and I always did the same job: cut, melt, and polish metal. It was only my brother and I from El Valle at that job. My brother was the supervisor; he had documents then. The most I could obtain was $2 per hour, that’s why I looked for another job.
I got a job in Gardina, making airplane parts. I started as a helper, preparing some mixtures. There was a lot to learn. I also transported people. At that time, I had prior experience from the convenience store and a hardware store I used to work back home. I also had my elementary school education and was good in doing all the mixtures. Thus, two months later they told me: “You’ll be in charge of all the mixtures and that truck. You’ll pick up and drop off all those workers.” All of the workers came from Santa Monica. The boss was Italian and was very nice. He had bought the truck so we were all on time at work.
During those years, I had a convertible Ford 1955 with a Woody Woodpecker’s picture. Everyone else had cars as well. Before our boss bought the truck, we all take turns giving rides. However, there were times when one of them failed to show up, that’s when our boss decided to buy the truck and said, “Ricardo, take the truck with you. You’ll pick up and drop off everyone to work.” We were about 30 employees living in Canton, Gardina, Long Beach, and Carson. Most of the workers were originally from Tepa, El Valle, Acatic, and Guadalajara. I got that job because I was recommended by people from El Valle.
Everything was going smoothly, until one time, people who had more time working there became jealous of me driving. They started saying that I was driving under the influence and with beers inside.
My boss didn’t trust me no more. Now, I’m aware that people who emigrate are the most ignorant people, and that’s why there is no progress. They don’t have education; sometimes they are even illiterate. So, the only way to progress is doing that sort of stuff against their own. The boss started checking me even more and calling me about stuff. Some parts started to get ruined and people were not productive as before. The boss believed everything they said. When I requested a wage increase, he didn’t give it to me. He even told me that I could leave; so I just asked him to pay me. That weekend he sent me a check and fired me. I got so upset and the following Monday I denounced that he was not paying extra time to his workers. The government investigated the situation, and everyone got paid.
I was unemployed for three days only. Since I had many more acquaintances, I started working at a furniture factory called Haipers. I started as a loader and it was hard. We loaded trailers all day long for a 12 hour shift. When I started there, I had studied English in the evenings at Benny High for a year and a half.
I spoke some English, but for that job it was important because we had to deal with truck drivers, who were Americans or African Americans. That’s how I practiced my English. I managed the orders by myself, and that’s how I got the complete daily shifts. Most of the loaders were from El Salto; many of them had experience, but didn’t know English. I knew enough to maintain a conversation with a truck driver. However, I had to work for about two years before I started as a supervisor’s aid. I was told, “Take five loaders and load the trucks going to Washington or Hollywood.”
I always wanted to learn in order to progress. So, when I obtained the position of helper, I obtained my driver’s license in order to be able to drive. I worked as a helper during the day, and at night, I drove trucks to San Diego, Los Angeles, Arizona and San Francisco. I did that for about four years, and I obtained extra money. My wage as a helper was $7 dollars per hour in the 1970s, not counting my trips. The factory grew and move to Torrance. That’s when they started day and night shifts. My supervisor stayed working during the day with me as his helper. Then, after two years, I started as a supervisor at the night shift. My wage as a supervisor was $10 dollars per hour plus benefits. It was a good job because I spent all day in an office with my coffee just supervising everything.
In the production section, there are not many Americans, instead there are more Mexicans – from El Salto and El Valle. There were about 300 documented and undocumented workers. During those years, there were many workers without documents. They used to require the green card, but one could buy one for $25 dollars. The boss knew it was not good, but took it as a proof.
While at the factory, I didn’t drive long because I couldn’t leave the factory alone. I only drove locally about 3 or 4 days per week. That was good extra money, and that meant savings for me to buy properties.
My first property was just a coincidence. There was an old lady selling 12 apartments in Englewood. I didn’t trust at the beginning because I wanted to buy a home, not 12 apartments. However, the lady convinced me and we agreed on the down payment, the price, and interest. She was asking $76K, and I offered $70K with $4K or $5K as a down payment, and with a 7% interest. We agreed all that between us two, and not the bank. I didn’t want to get the 9% from the bank, and she accepted. I was trembling, but at the end, I knew I was not losing anything. That’s how I started in 1971 or 1972.
When I bought the apartments, they were all occupied by Americans. I was expecting to keep receiving the monthly rents. However, at the end of the month, I found out that 5 of the apartments were emptying. They didn’t want to live there with me as the owner. Without the rents, I couldn’t pay the monthly payments. I painted and cleaned up the apartments, and I rented them right away to Mexicans. I preferred Mexicans because we have the language in common and there was more trust and talk. There was a way to understand each other.
Since the moment I bought the apartments, I learned about plumbing, tile, bathrooms, and windows. Sometimes it was hard, but in the U.S., they sell you everything ready to be installed. I had to learn because if I paid someone else to do so, I wouldn’t see the extra money. In a year, all my tenants were Mexicans.
One year later, I finally started seeing profit, with $300 per month free. As supervisor I saved $1,200 monthly. Two years later, I bought 6 more apartments. They were on a better area. I felt more comfortable doing this, because I already had experience. So, I had 12 apartments, plus 6 new apartments, and my job as a supervisor… I worked day and night.
By then (1975), I was the general supervisor, but I wasn’t accepted by everyone. There were a lot of politics because everyone wanted my position; people, who weren’t able to ascend as I’d done, envied me. I had problems with workers from El Salto, Acatic, and El Valle. I gave orders and people didn’t obey me or did it whenever they wanted. One time, they started saying that I was allowing my workers do drink beer while working, or simply they were not working as hard as they were supposed to, or that the clock was not correctly set and they were being affected by it. So, one day the main boss fired me. There were a lot of problems. Sometimes I had thought about retiring, but my wage was a lot better than a lot of people who had worked there for 20 years. So, when they fired me, I told my wife, “I got fired. I finally escaped.” I was so happy that I celebrated with wine. I went with the owner to get the money they owed me: $40K. They took about 5 months to pay me, and I didn’t work for two months.
I started working at a furniture store, with an American. He wanted someone to deliver the furniture, and I got paid $10 dollars per trip. The store was in Englewood, near my home. During that time, I learned all about furniture and all the factories. Then, in front of my home, I leased a place and I started my own business selling mattresses, sofas, dining sets, and bedrooms. It was a good business because I knew where to buy and sell. I usually sold my products to the African Americans. It was such as good business that I profited up to $300 dollars daily. I was in my business from 10am until 6pm. While I was there, one of my children used to pick up the trash from the apartments, and my wife was getting the money from the rents. At the beginning, I just started the store just because. If Americans could do it, why couldn’t I? I had the same rights, and I knew all about furniture. All of the businesses at the time were either American or Japanese; I felt proud of having a Mexican business.
- “Well, can’t Mexicans start their own business?” I thought.
Sometimes it’s the fear of the unknown that people don’t start a business. Right now it’s different because the conditions have changed over there; but before, you could start a business and be successful. The U.S. is a country where everything is bought and sold. Everything is a business.
Also, during those years, it was quite dangerous to have a business due to the crime. I always carried my gun on my belt. If I saw mysterious people in my store or with other intentions, I just showed them my gun. There was a lot of tension and danger. One day, some black guys arrived and one of them got their gun out and told me, “Give us the money or we’ll kill you.”
They turned me over, tied my hands and feet and asked, “Where is the money?”
They took $365 dollars. I got free on my own and went home. I told my wife what had happened and we sold the business. Besides, we didn’t really need it. We thought about returning to Mexico to live. I talked to her and told her, “You know, there’s a good interest in Mexico. We have a lot of money – I had already received Harper’s $40K – and I had my savings.” I saved around $5K per month as a result of the store, the apartments. “We have money, we have our 4 children, and we are young,” we said.
Just before that decision, I sold my furniture store on installments. I didn’t get paid all because of my return here. I filled my van with our clothing, household goods, and I drove with a friend. We dropped everything off, and we returned for my wife and children. I leased a house while I could buy one. I put my money on the bank, and there was a good interest. I left someone else in charge of my apartments and house, but it didn’t work. I decided to sell my apartments, and I did all the transaction from here with my realtor there. I sold 12 apartments in 1984.
Upon my return to México, I stayed in Guadalajara because I wanted to study. I had planned to start studying right away, that’s one of the reasons I returned. I studied at INEA, night middle school in a year. Then, I finished high school in 3 years, and entered the University.
I started studying because I had seen people who were now with a career. It took me 9 years but I got interested in Philosophy. On those years, the economic crisis was the hit. So, in order to survive it, I had to understand it. So, I studied humanities in order to understand history, politics, economics, and social studies.
I noticed that in Sociology I had history, economics, and a social area, and that’s what I needed. I had arrived to a country in crisis and I wanted to understand it.
Three or four months later when I went to the North, I noticed that things were not the same. There were more problems. My house was not well taken care of. There was no business in leasing it. I got a realtor to sell the other apartments, and it took me about a year and a half to sell them. I still wanted to keep my house; it was pretty, big and centric. But every time I returned, nothing was taken care of and I was not getting paid the rent on time. Finally, the tenants left the house without paying me. Since my sister didn’t know anyone to rent the house to, the house stayed empty for some time. Then, I received a phone call that some robbers had broken in – probably some blacks – and burned it. Since I had insurance, we built it again. It took me about 2 to 3 years to sell it all.
When I sold everything over there, I invested here. That’s the reason why I have never worked. I live from my investment. I study here, and of course, I keep myself informed of a finance, that’s my job now.
From the money I brought in 1981, I lost some in 1982 because of the devaluation. In 1981, 1 dollar was equal to 25 pesos; but in 1982, the dollar jumped to 50 pesos. Then, it jumped to 100, and then to 200. My money was going in halves. I had to negotiate a lot with bankers, and I was lucky during that economic crisis. I didn’t go bankrupt because of my experience in business. When I was young, I had a fruit store that I had lost and then recuperated it. Then, with all my businesses in California, I knew how things worked. I came back to a different country per se, because I had spent 15 years out, but I had my economic knowledge. So, I did business and good deals, which were positive to me at the end.
As soon as I returned, I went to the banks and informed me of how they worked. I also sought more options. Some time, I bought some dollars, but not from the principal, but from the reserves. In addition, I had dollars around. Once I learned everything in Mexico, I switched it to pesos.
From real state, I bought some land, some houses, but not to do business. I bought them for my children. I also bought an apartment; it was a good opportunity and I liked it.
I also bought a farm, because I wanted something else than study. So, whenever I had time, I went to the ranch. I’ve had it for 6 years now; it’s one hectare, but it’s quite complete.
Even though I faced the economic crisis, I tripled what I had. I did business with financial groups, and I had actions with them. I bought companies and sold them. So, today I have a company, and I sell it tomorrow. I’m doing that all the time. I just see what’s hot on the market. So, I’ve had actions with Vitro, Comecial Mexicana, Gigante, and Coca Cola. I’ve had about everything. So, I buy them when they are low, and sell them when they are high. I currently have with Alpha Group, Vitro, Cements, and Serfin. I always have backups, because if I do it individually, I can lose.
I only do this type of business, because I don’t want problems with workers. Besides, I don’t want to work. Someone told me to buy a business, but I didn’t want that. I wanted to rest and study. I don’t want problems anymore. Whenever I go to a bank and they don’t know me, they try to convince me in doing business, and I tell them that I’m not interested.
I get upset because whenever the cashier sees someone in a suit, they respect him. If I get there in jeans and boots, they see me as less. But, now that they know me, they are really nice with me. Whenever I go to the bank, I get someone with me in less than 15 minutes. That’s nice, but I don’t get conceited. One time, I went to the grand opening of a financial bank. They sent me the invitation. I arrived wearing jeans, and everyone stared at me. I didn’t care. I was talking with the manager signing some papers of the grand opening. I don’t like to be conceited, but I like to be treated well.
I’ve always had advisors in my finances. In the last two years, I’ve had really good investments of thousands of millions. When I first returned to Mexico, I had a half of a million dollars, and that was a great quantity.
Since I’ve lived here, I go to my hometown every weekend. In El Valle, everyone knows me and respects me. Before I returned to El Valle, I had already fame due to my money and properties. Everywhere I went, I was treated well and admired. Now they see me with a good car, with my children, and with my properties.
I think that before I was being blinded by the situation. For example, in 1968, I didn’t understand the movement, and I supported the government. The American system drains you and I didn’t have the mind to stand for the students. But, that’s not all; one turns against his own people. Mexicans defend Americans; they no longer want to speak Spanish and they speak English to the Mexicans. They become coincided whenever they have a new car, new phone, and speak English. That happens because here one is an ignorant who had nothing before leaving. So, when one starts obtaining a car or a TV, one thinks of oneself in paradise.
I have better acquaintances in El Valle. People know that I go every weekend; they also know that I was a political candidate once in Jalisco; and they also know that I’m a sociologist. They look for me to ask about politics or candidates or just to have my opinion. They consider my opinions. Before, they saw me as a migrant who had just returned. Even though I’m in politics, I can’t get into the PRI or PAN, because I’m from the left and communist. In addition, they know that I’m an atheist. So people know me as atheist, communist, from the left, from the university, but they also respect me.
I did about everything. I painted walls, I worked as a technician installing stereos in cars, I put posters up on the streets, and more.
All the time, I was with Horacio’s group, first with the PRS, then the PMT, then the PTE. I volunteered all the time. We’ve gone to Mexico City, Colima, Nayarit, Michoacan. I ran as a political candidate from the left in ’83 or ’84, when the PSUM was divided. I ran as a candidate for Jalos, Teocaltiche, Lagos de Moreno, La Chona, and Villa Hidalgo, also known as the 6 th district.
I’ve never run as a candidate here at El Valle, the reason being is that there’s a lot of religious tradition here, and it’s very difficult. I would have liked to do so because I was well known and I had friends, but people from small towns are not easy on politics. People at El Valle are afraid of communism. One time, they asked me to do something with the water and sewage, and I told them to go, but no one wanted to go with me. So I ended it there.
From my life at the North, I remember that when I was young, I gathered with about 5 to 6 friends to parties. If people got drunk at the party, we left and avoided the problem. And, if one of us wanted to be in the problem, we cool him down. One time, I got in trouble because we stole goods from cars. I saw the police and ran to my car and started driving. I drove into a dead end street, so we got arrested. The police told us that he would take our green card away. I was about 23 years old, but I behaved like a person aged 18. The police scared us and we paid a $25 dlls fine after returning everything we had stolen. I remember that whenever we planned something like that, we met at a restaurant around 7pm, and after a couple of beers, we went dancing until 2am. From there, we went to steal fruit from fields, such as mangos, avocados, and oranges. We didn’t sleep all night long. But we were always on time to work the next Monday.
I met a lot of people who ended up in jail, others divorced, others died due to drugs or alcohol, and some others ended up crazy. I did consume cocaine, crack, the whites and reds… I tasted everything. It was easy before because we could obtain everything at a dance party. There were people from El Valle, Tepa, Jalos, Zacatecas, and Queretaro. So we met there at Latino dance parties.
My group of friends was known because we worked hard, we saved Money, but we also consumed drugs. We didn’t do drugs that extensively, but we liked to live in danger. I always worked extra time; however, on Saturdays, we partied from 5pm – after work, until early Sunday morning. Each week was the same. On Saturdays, I worked half day and then I washed my car and went out with my friends to party. We were always about 8.
In Santa Monica and Los Angeles, the parties were nice with no trouble. The problem was the drugs because all the immigrants were consuming drugs. I think it was because when one arrives from Jalisco, with no education, once you get a car, you start participating in parties. There, you have to become part of that environment, using crack and drive fast, per se. I did that for about 5 years. I met friends and relatives who did those sorts of things. Many of them ended up in jail, others divorced, and others out of their mind. I lived that, but I was able to get out.
Upon my arrival there, I never thought I would be able to get a car and go out dancing with a lot of girls. That transforms you. You are not prepared for that. I had long hair and beard, and I didn’t do that to copy anyone else.
People from East Los Angeles were very violent. Chicanos gathered there, and there were a lot of firearms and killings in their neighborhoods. Santa Monica was an immigrant area, and not many “pochos” lived there. However, East L.A. was a neighborhood full of “pochos” who were involved in the “pachuqueada” very seriously. I never felt “pocho”, but I met friends who were speaking English at the “pocho” style in a very conceited manner. There were also people from small towns who went to work and never got into trouble. So, there were people from both extremes.
I met single and married people. Some singles lived in a room with another 5 or 6 people and seemed to be always short on money. However, I just saw a man who is very rich. I remember that he saved and saved so much; he never wasted his money on beer or cigarettes, and now he is living quite well and with a nice car. He really knew how to use his savings.
I also know people who have always been in the same situation. They haven’t been able to obtain their own home. There is people who are successful and some others who are not. When you arrive there, you realize that with a week worth of wages you are able to buy a car. So, you start saving. I bought my first car – a Mercury ’49 for 40 dlls; then, my second car in 75 dlls, a Ford 55 convertible. I never had new cars. So, in less than two months, one is able to obtain a car. We like to decorate the cars with a rosary beads hanging on the front mirror; we hang the girlfriend’s handkerchief on the antenna – that says that one has a girlfriend. There are tons of décor that we like to put in the car so it looks nice.
I used to come to Mexico each January every three to four years. The first time, I returned after two years. Then, I came when I got married and whenever there was an accident or a family urgency. My trips were one to two days at the most. When I was thinking on returning, I came as a tourist.
When I was single, I came to El Valle to hang out with friends and relatives. Sometimes, my trip coincided with someone else who had just returned, so we had a party. That was not too often. I didn’t have savings to come and I didn’t really have the idea of coming. You become American and don’t really dream of coming back. At that time I was on the military reserve, you have to sign and register, the government tells you to do so. So, within friends we kept up to date to see if we had to serve. I knew that if I said that I spoke English, I would score higher and the possibility of serving would be higher; thus, I said that I didn’t know how to speak English. I was not interested on being on the Army reserve. They sent me to study for a year, and I did; however, upon my return I said that I hadn’t learned the language in order to stay as a reserve. I was feeling American and I was proud to go to the Army, but I was scared of doing so. One day they called me and asked me to bring my toothbrush and a change of clothes to go to the Army. On the outside, I was saying that I was going to the Army, but inside me I was crying of fear. I was thinking that I was going to leave my parents. I was single then and I supported them economically. I knew I was important to them. So, I went to the base and I said that I didn’t know English and I made like I didn’t know the answers to their questions. At the end, they gave me the letter of reserve.
Every time we returned here, we used to go to the central plaza to show off our car. In a small town, anyone who has a car is the center of attraction. So, I had my car very cleaned and I just waited there to talk with someone. Then, I was able to talk and drink pulque and wine. We were a nice group. There was another group who liked to consume drugs and burn tires, and they liked to scared people. However, we were nice to people because in a small town everyone knows who you are and they know everything about you.
When I got married, everything was different. I had to be strong and I just worked to make money. In my spare time, I was with my children and wife. I took care of my apartments, my job, and my children. I have four children: 2 boys and 2 girls. The oldest is 21 years old and studies his 3 rd year of Engineering. The second is 18 and is studying accounting. The third is 17 years old and studies high school. The last is the youngest and is on elementary school. All my children were born in the U.S. .