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
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,
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
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
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
-Wouldn't you want to work
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
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
-How nice you look with that
suit, I wished you could take it off so that I could smash your face
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,
-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,
- 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
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
-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
-How much do you want to
- I don't want to give out
anything. Why am I going to give you when I'm not carrying anything
- 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
-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.