The North is like the Sea*
Aurelio’s story is without a doubt outstanding. Within the millions of Mexicans who have tried crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, only a few never reach their goal. Some say that if one keeps trying, it is doable; this seems to be true for most, but not for Aurelio’s case, who tried crossing several times and never reached the other side; and as he says, he was rejected the same way as the sea returns trash to the beach.
This example, the negative, perfectly illustrates the known interpretation that for the westerners’ migration is like a passage ritual. Between going to the North and the virility of consecration there is a step. To fail is a shame, and there is no other way. Aurelio wanted to go to the North to work; he used all the methods, tried various ways of entrance, hired different smugglers and, the most he reached was to see, from far away, the lights of Los Angeles, that American city that spells and offers lots of opportunities, but also rejects.
*This was an interview done by Enrique Martínez Curiel at Otavalo Jalisco, during April of 1992.
I with my bad luck never reached Los Angeles, no matter how much I tried; I wanted to follow the tradition of going to the North to work for some time, looking for dollars, as my father, my brother, or my friends from the sugar company did; they went as braceros for some time.
Since I was young, I worked in whatever I could do, just to get some money, 1.50, 2 or 3 daily pesos. My first job was in an orchard selling tomatoes, carrots, and other veggies. Since I was very young, I was a bit hyper, I changed jobs quite fast. Then, I took care of goats for about a year. I started working at 7:00am, and my shift ended at 7:00pm or 8:00pm, every single day. Then, I moved to a ranch, with someone named Alfonso Zepeda, where I raised 15 pesos daily. I had to work since my childhood since my father was just a worker and had to sustain all my siblings – we were many.
When I finished elementary school, I had the opportunity to go to the Military College. That would have not cost any to my parents because my older brother was a solder, and in those times, he could help me get in, but I didn’t do it. I almost did; the day I went, when I reached the College’s door I returned; I was interested on getting some food for the family. That’s the reason why I started working and didn’t continue studying: to help my father to sustain the family.
In 1967, I started working in the factory; I entered because my father was a worker there, and only workers’ children could work in the factory. I started working one or two days per week because we were many workers, and that factory was the only one in town; the rest of the week I worked as a construction worker aid or whatever I could do so I could raise some money.
In 1968, I finished elementary school and work at the factory was limited. I wanted to work no matter in what. One day, while I was talking with my brother in law about the limited opportunities to work in town, he invited me to work in Mexico City; since he lived there, he said he could get some work for me, besides, I would not pay any rent since I could live with him. Unfortunately, I only worked a month in a corn factory; my health was affected by the weather; I suffered from sinus and headache, thus, I returned to Otavalo to continue working at the factory.
It was until 1969 that I started working formally as temporary working, but only during the months of December to May; from July to November, I worked in whatever there was, working as a construction worker or as a agricultural worker.
That’s how I lived my youth; there was only the need to work. Since there were not opportunities to move up, I got another job. Thus, in the morning I was a factory worker and in the evenings I was a construction or agricultural worker; the job at the factory was the only way to ensure something in life.
In 1975 I got married, and I started a new life since then. That year I didn’t have a stable job. It was until two years later when I got my stable job at the factory. It was during that time that I started to have the dream of going to the north; here in town I always had a job and I was willing to work, and I always found were to work. But married and with certain obligations, money was not enough; that’s when I decided to go to the North. Since I always had a place to work in town, I left hoping that in the other side could be the same in order to have a home; that was my dream – a home so I could stop renting. So I looked into going to the United States, since I couldn’t do it here no matter how much I worked.
Going to the North was difficult. I had to be far away from my family, my town for a long time… may be four to five months, and I had never done that since I got married; however, I knew that the most difficult part was to cross the border since I didn’t know how that was.
In 1979 I left to the North with three friends from the factory. I left with them since they had gone to the U.S. at least once.
We arrived to Mexicali. One person from my family lived there; he hired the smuggler for us and we stayed with him meanwhile. The first time we tried, we were like 15 persons; I only knew 4 of them. All the rest were from other states such as Michoacan, Zacatecas, and mainly Guanajuato. When we crossed it was about 10:00pm to avoid the border patrol. I remember that we cross a river very wide – about 20 meters wide; we used tires to float. We crossed and walked one by one. From Mexicali to Calexico we walked about six hours; it took us that long because we went around to avoid the border patrol; however, around 6:00am or 7:00am, we were in jail in Calexico. They took all our data: place of origin, our names. We waited about 2 or 3 hours until the bus was full and took us back to Mexico.
Once back in Mexicali, we went back with my family to shower, eat, do laundry… and wait again for the night to try again. If you get caught once, you have to keep trying. We crossed at night so it was more difficult for the border patrol to see us. The original plan was to reach Calexico in early morning, and from there drive to Los Angeles. I had in-laws waiting for me. I had their addresses and phone; even the smuggler had talked to them so they could pay for me.
The other time, we were reported by an American farmer. That day, the farmer was working on his land while we were hiding, waiting for the smuggler who would take us to Los Angeles. The farmer turned on his tractor, we heard the motor and believed it was the smuggler; we got out and the farmer saw us. He called the border patrol. When we saw him, we ran; they fired at the air and we stopped. They took us all back to Mexico.
I was stubborn, trying again and again. I wanted to get there to get back all the money I had spent trying. After trying eleven times, a friend got frustrated and went back to Otavalo.
Each time we were deported, we went back with my family in Mexicali. Without him, we would not have lasted long. We never paid for hotel, food, and many other things while living with him.
Other time, we were walking on the American side when we heard an airplane. We ran, but they saw us. Through the speaker, they told us not to hide because they had seen us already. They also told us not to run. When they reached us, I got up all numbed. The officer helped me to get up; I was laming, but they helped.
Another time, when I was in jail, I met a person who was from a ranch nearby Otavalo. When they asked for his information, he gave a fake name; he said he was Antonio Solano. When the officers called us to take us back to Mexico, they called Antonio Solano, but this guy had forgotten that he had given that name. The police hit him for lying. This guy got very upset, but he got beaten again. Every time I got in jail, I showed my ID of military service; they police always respected me, I imagine it was because of my honesty.
Another time I tried, there was a person walking very slow because he had been in surgery recently. So, we were going very slowly to wait for him and not lose him. After we crossed, this person fell down and yelled due to the pain, the worst was that exactly at that moment the border patrol was nearby. We knew they were nearby, but they were not in our way. So, when this person fell and yelled, they heard, arrested and deported us back once again.
After I tried 15 times, I only had money to return to Guadalajara, so I said “I’ll try again in a year or two.
That’s when I thought to go back home; while we eat and helped out, I thought about my family and the difficult of crossing. I was worried because everything was the same and there was not gain, besides of all the debt I had at home.
If I would have had more money, I would have stayed longer. I never gave up; I always wanted to be there. I was worried of getting back home because I had told my wife about North, that if everything went well, we could get our own home – the one we had always dreamed of.
I felt like a failure when going back without reaching the US, and never crossing the border. I felt ashamed. I got back home at about 5am, avoiding people, because I knew they would consider me a fool. The good thing was that my wife never said anything of the crossing.
Upon my arrival, they told me that the last person who had stayed had crossed the next day. They said that we that return were the bad luck. Once in my town, I worked again as a construction worker or farmer.
Since 1979, I hoped to go back and tried again. The only way not to feel like a failure was crossing successful and work in the U.S. Thus, in 1981, I went back to the border with two friends at the end of the season.
That time, we went to Tecate, and from there were would go to Los Angeles. We got with Angel Espinosa, Alberto Calderon’s friend, from the Toros’ ranch. He gave us shelter and got a smuggler for us, but asked us to pay for the stay, food, and all the expenses there were during our stay.
A Friday in June, we went to Chula Vista. We spent three days hiding in a lonely home, we barely ate that time. On the third day, Sunday night, about 8:30pm, we got out, but we waited for a long time because there was no one who would take us to Los Angeles. Besides, we had to wait for San Clemente’s revision to clear. We were four now in the car. To fit in the car, we had to go in front and two in the trunk. Since I was the tallest, I went on the back sit behind the smuggler. Alberto Calderon was also on the back behind the driver. This was to simulate that there were only two passengers in the car. Once the driver was confident, he said: “you can move now and relax; the lighting you see over there is Los Angeles, we are on the clear.”
Suddenly, the car ahead of us stopped. We stopped as well; we didn’t notice that the police was nearby and had seen us. We walked about 4 km, and the border patrol was behind us. Suddenly, they turned on the light to stop us. The police arrested the driver and requested to have the car towed. Before that, they took out the two guys who were traveling in the trunk. They took us all to Centro, and around 7am, they took us back to Mexicali. What could I do, but try it again. We returned to Tecate, got the same smuggler. It was our second try, but now it was going to be Tijuana, one of the most known places to cross. There is a side called “nobody’s land”; there are a lot of undocumented. Neither the Mexican police nor the American police get there. It’s the end of a mountain, and there are a lot of people there.
All of the smugglers have their tricks. Our smuggler let everyone else go first. When he saw the border patrol busy with everyone else, we started our way. We passed by a police booth that was closed, but to our bad luck, there were dogs barking. We ran as fast as we could. The dogs were tied, but kept barking and woke up the police. One police let free one of the dogs so it could lead him to us. Even a helicopter was above us. It was 5, then 6, then 7 in the morning and the police was looking for us. They were on horses and motorcycles. We laid down until 10 in the morning until one officer got there and said: “relax and get out”.
We got deported again, but now they took us to Tijuana. From there we went to Tecate to try it again. We were going to do it on a trailer full of alfalfa packs. They put us all the way inside the box. While the trailer was getting some fuel, the police got there to check, but did not reported us to the border patrol. The police sent us back; I imagine it was because the jails were full.
I had failed and was tired. I thought that I couldn’t cross, and imagined how the sea receives trash, I said, “US is not for me.” I went back home trying to arrive at night so people didn’t see me.
That year, 1981, to pay all my debts, I had an extra job in the factory. I helped a plumber, who taught me all about his job. I had my own clientele; it was then when I was better off, working 2 jobs.
As a plumber, I worked all year long. That allowed me to have extra money when there was no job at the factory. With that money I bought some land; we also put a place to eat for about 40 days, during the festivities of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Even though I had a job, I wanted to go to the U.S. However, I thought that if I left, and knowing of all my failures, I thought that my clients were not going to be the same.
In 1987, I went to Sinaloa to work with my in-law who lived there. However I never inquired about the job I would do. I got there and I learned that the job was to fish shrimp. To my bad luck, I got there in closed season; I didn’t take it hard, besides, I didn’t spend any money on that trip.
Finally, in 1988 I got my permanent job at the factory. That same year, one of my in-laws who lived in Los Angeles, asked me for my information to get me fake papers. It was one of those letters to ask permission to go to work to the U.S. I replied to him that I didn’t have any money for food, the smuggler. If he wanted me to go, he could send some money. That was my way of saying that I didn’t want to go. He never replied, besides, I didn’t have experience and I didn’t want to try again.
I am not that worried for not having gone to the North. I got credit with INFONAVIT to buy a home; we moved to a new neighborhood, were most of the residents are from the factory. The problem was that I had to pay 20% of my salary for the credit. Thus, we were in the same situation as before; there was only enough money to eat. At the long term, the home was going to be ours. At least I got one of my dreams. Economically we are not in a good situation, but having my own home I feel more secure. Now I have another challenge, get education for my children. I want them to go to the university so they don’t live the same as I have. They don’t have to go to the North to work. I will never go to the North.
I think that people who go do not want to sacrifice. The level of suffering here is not comparable to the one over there; one suffers more over there. If people who work there and bring money here is because money lasts more here. I think it is the same. We get here vacations, extra salary at the end of the year; thus I think going to the North is no business.
I want to think that I never went to the U.S., and whenever I hear of that country, I remember the sea. I have gone to the sea, but I’ve never swum in the beaches, or eaten there. So, whenever one goes there undocumented, one is like trash. I imagine myself like the sea, all trash is thrown out. So, I’m better here than at the sea. Before I went to the North, I believed the sea was beautiful, even though I never swam. Now, I don’t even want to step on the sand. All my failures and frustrations made me love more my country; they all made me think that I’ve always had a job and, that I’m not the only one who doesn’t have enough money to eat or dress. So, what am I doing over there? Perhaps another time I would have succeeded and would have forgotten of the failures. Probably I would have reached the other side, I would have been a resident now, and I would be able to provide an education to my children. I worry about that.
It seems that the difficulty to cross the border runs in the family. I inherited it from my older brother. He tried for 18 months. He lived in Tijuana during all this time with no money to eat, to cross or to return. He made candy to get some money, but never had enough to cross. Now he works in Alaska; he is there for 6 months, and then goes to Fresno; by the way, he never agreed in me going there, that’s why he never helped me.
Now, my only worry is my children’s education. I sold my land to pay for school. I saw their interest to keep studying. The main thing is that they have everything to continue; meanwhile I’ll do whatever I can so it can be that way.