One alone cannot do anything*
Hector Liñan and his wife are from Villa Guerrero, Guanajuato. Both finished studying his sixth grade. They both lived and worked in Chicago; two of their daughters were born in Chicago, and the other two were born in Mexico afterwards.
As a result of his work at the United States, Hector started a small restaurant with two workers, and a small tennis factory with about 20 workers.
One Saturday evening, after a day’s work, we asked him for an interview. We invited us into a room, which served as his office and storage. He got very excited, and showed us a picture from the newspaper that he kept very well covered with glass on his desk. On that picture, we saw Hector and his boss in a kitchen’s restaurant, with a very delicious Greek platter on their hands.
He explained the picture’s meaning; while his eyes filled with tears, he told us that he remembered his life in the United States very nostalgic.
* Interview done by Victor Espinosa, A, on April 27, 1991, in Villa Guerrero, Guanajuato.
The most important thing for me is the fact that one makes his life by taking advice. My father always advised me. I was 18 years old when I first migrated. I remember that other 3 or 4 guys were leaving with me, and just before departing, they decided to stay. I left along, without knowing anyone. I had always lived in Villa Guerrero. I arrived to Tijuana and I didn’t feel the difference. I wandered on the streets looking for the smuggler I had been recommended. I saw black people and white people and thought that I was already in the United States. I became shy and didn’t want to ask anything. I knew that I was alone, and if I didn’t ask, no one would help me. So, I entered a clothing store and asked for the address I was looking for. It was nearby. The address I had received from Chicago was at the Hotel Flores. I asked for the guy I was looking for. He came out and asked me who had told me about him. After I answered, he invited me to eat and drink with him. That was his business, so he treated me well.
All I ever knew about the United States, I knew it because of what my friends talked about. They talked about their happy and enjoyable life. However, I think that they only went there to have fun, because life at our town was boring. There has always been work here at Villa Guerrero. I always worked since I was 7 years old. I worked as a bartender and in a store, both were my father’s businesses.
When we were heading to San Diego, I was surprised to see such a big crowd. I thought it was very weird, like a pilgrimage to cross the mountains. We were a small group with people from Michoacan, San Miguel Allende, Zacatecas, and Guerrero. Our guy had his own group to lead. After crossing the first mountain and a car picked us up. The driver told us that if we had money, to put it in our socks because a policeman had arrived. I didn’t do so, and he said, “I’m telling you so.” However, I only had five pesos left. I think that my luck was good since the beginning, because if I would have gotten caught the first time, I’m not sure what I would have done. I don’t think I would have been able to return to eat. The policeman asked us where we were heading to; then, they robbed us.
- One of them asked me, “How much are you going to give us?”
- I replied, “I only have five pesos”
- He said, “That’s nothing! Keep them.”
We crossed with no difficulties; then, a car picked us up and drove us to Los Angeles. We arrived there at around three in the morning with no further problems. The lady in the house treated me quite well and asked me if I wanted to shower. She offered me some food; I was very hungry and asked her for three hamburgers – those big ones from the U.S. Everyone laughed at me. I stayed in that house for three days. That house belonged to the smuggler, and I was always treated well. Of course, I was paying for that. The good treatment was included in the $500 fee I was paying to arrive to Chicago. On the third day, we flew in a nice Delta airplane. I couldn’t believe it. They bought me a small suit for my height; I looked like “Cantinflas.” We boarded the airplane and sat on the first rows, near a TV. Since then, I have never gotten into a very nice airplane. Our airplane flew from Los Angeles to Chicago; it was April of 1976, exactly, 15 years ago.
Chicago’s airport was immense and very pretty. I thought I had arrived to another world – another life; at least, that’s what I felt. However, my first week there was the contrary. I became very frustrated. The main smuggler was waiting for us at the airport; he was the boss and everyone called him “El Rojo”. He was red-haired from Michoacan. As soon as I saw him, I recognized him. He knew the way we were dressed.
- He asked, “Are you coming from Los Angeles?”
- “Are you ‘El Rojo’?” I replied.
He took us to a car; a very nice Cadillac. He asked us for our addresses. So, he drove us and delivered us to our destiny and he got paid. Everyone’s case was easy, except mine. When we arrived to the house I would stay at, nobody was home. Everyone arrived at 7 o’clock. Once my cousin arrived, he paid my fee. This ‘cousin’ calls me “in-law” because my father raised his wife since she was a child, and we always considered her our sister. My frustration started upon entering home and this guy said, “well then Hector, you’re here. How many people wouldn’t want to be in your place? You did it; you’re in Chicago. Now, the difficult part will be finding a job.” That’s what I didn’t like because before my trip, he reassured me that I would have a job upon my arrival. I was at home well with my dad in commerce. I had a lot of opportunities. Even a businessman from Mexico said to me, “What are you going to do over there Hector? Stay here with us and help us out in our store. We pay for your rent and you’ll be the seller.”
Another guy who sold beer said, “Do you want a bar? We’ll open it for you.”
I had really good relations with people, due to father’s good work. I like to work and I like to do business. I didn’t know about going to Chicago then. I asked my father to help me decide to which he replied, “You decide. I told you that after your 18 th birthday, I would only get in your life in case you were doing things wrong. I wouldn’t want you to go, but you have my support in everything.” That’s how I decided to emigrate.
I remembered all that because after a week, I didn’t have a job. A second week went by and nothing. I was at home all alone; what could I do? I cried, I can’t deny it. I repented for having left home with the illusion of the North. I left my girlfriend back home; my wife was my girlfriend back then. I would have stayed; I could be in my neighborhood Santa Rita o El Llano visiting my girlfriend. Why did I come? I didn’t know anything that I could accomplish then. To top my frustration, one day, my “in-law” and his brother argued because I was living there. At that moment, I had gone to the store, and upon my return, before entering the house, I heard them arguing:
- Why did you bring Hector? Do you think you did well by bringing him here? How many people wouldn’t like to be here in Chicago? It’s a luxury to be here!
My “in-law” didn’t support me anything. On the contrary, it was his brother Ambrosio from whom I received the most support. The next week, Ambrosio said to me, “Look Hector, I can get you a job, but it will cost you $100, which will be paid to the guy who will hire you. Thus, your first salary will be reduced by $100.
I thought, “the sooner the better, because I’m not used to being maintained by others; and, I don’t like people talking about me.” I like to work and live with my own salary.
It was a Sunday when a man named Pancho got there and asked, “Where’s the guy?”. Pancho was from Hidalgo, whom I don’t really like.
Ambrosio said, “It’s him.”
Pancho said, “Tell him to come, I’ve got a job for him.”
The people I didn’t like were the Mexicans I met there. Pancho took me to his home and left me there in a room, while he went to eat and rest. However, I went there and demanded, “You said you had a job for me, and just brought me here to see you rest?”
Pancho said, “Hold on. Why are you in such a hurry? You’ll get tired of working.”
“Take me to work! I prefer to be secure,” I demanded.
Pancho’s brother took me to a place nearby in Indiana State. It was a Greek business; they treated me well. “Hey Mexican! Do you like to work? We have a lot of food here, but the boss wants the Mexicans to work.”
I worked as a dishwasher for three weeks. That salary, compared to the salary back home, I thought it was well paid. I met a guy there who was Ambrosio’s brother, whom got the job for me. Once I told him how I got the job, he said, “if I would have known, I would have charged those $100 dollars.” I only lasted there for three weeks, because Ambrosio’s brother left work and he convinced me to leave it too.
On our last day there, he left first and then I followed. However, I got lost because of my lack of English and because I didn’t know anything there. I didn’t know where to get off the bus. I got confused, and when I got off the bus, I ended up in a black neighborhood. Since I had heard bad things about blacks, I got scared and thought, “Oh my God! Please don’t let me get killed.”
Nothing happened. I found a school and got in. I approached a teacher saying, “Me, no English”.
They got me a teacher from Puerto Rico who asked if I was Mexican. When I said yes, she asked me what I was doing there. I told her that I was lost. So she asked me where I lived, to which I replied, “Near Houston Street”
My home was only a couple blocks away, but since I was quite nervous, I asked her to go with me. I arrived home quite sad. Everyone was at home and when they saw me, their facial expression was like “there he comes again.” I called Pancho and I told him that I had left work and that he needed to pick me up. He went for me and took me to Harbor, Indiana. He introduced me to another Greek, whom later became a good friend of mine.
He said, “You come here to work. You’ll wake up early, and there’s no home for you. People sleep above the fridges.”
I didn’t really care. I only wanted to work. Besides, when I left Ambrosio’s home, I decided that I would never return there. One week went by, and I worked from 6 in the morning until 8 at night. We showered in a big sink, where we used to place big pots. We slept above very noisy fridges. So, who could really sleep with all the noise? Erik, a polish guy, whom I hate, arrived each morning and said, “Mexican! Slept? Roon, roon, roon.”
I thougth, “One day, I’ll get back at you.”
Time would be on my side afterwards. After that week, I called Pancho and complained, “Hey! I paid you $100 to get me a job, not to treat me like an animal.”
“Aren’t you happy there?”, he replied.
“What do you think? Am I made of stone? I’m not scared to work, but I want to sleep and rest as well,” I demanded.
He asked to talk to the Polish. They spoke in English, and I didn’t understand anything. When we finished our work, Erik told me that he had another job for me, in Calumet City, with the boss whom I appeared in the newspaper’s picture.
A new story started for me. It was early May, and Erik introduced me with my boss and told him that Pancho sent me. The boss was very nice, and said, “Hey man, come in, come in (1), do you want some food?” He requested some food for me, and when I finished, he said, “I like to work. A bit clean here and there. I don’t like bad workers.”
I told him that I was good to work. After two months of working with him, I noticed that he preferred me over the other five dishwashers. He gave me other types of work. During that time, I also got in the kitchen. I enjoyed watching the cooks work. He noticed that, and I thought that he got upset for doing that. One day he asked me if I liked to cook, to which I said, “a little bit.”
“Very good, very good. My Greece is here in America. I know a bit, and I learn little by little. If you like to cook, I don’t have a problem with that,” he replied.
One Sunday night, I was cleaning up the restaurant and another boss – the partner - got there quite drunk. He got all the money from the register and went into the office. I continued working. Accidently, with the mop I opened the office’s door. I thought that the partner was sleeping as a result of his heavy drinking. I looked inside and saw nobody, but thousands or dollars in front of me. Very pretty indeed!! It was the opportunity to get the money inside a backpack and escape. I knew that I had gone to the U.S. for money, and that was my opportunity. There were $25,000 dollars; I counted them, and then tried to steal them. I put the money inside a bag and whatever place I could, and thought, “Let’s go! I came for money and this is my opportunity.” However, I didn’t know any English to ask for a taxi, and I thought, “Where am I going?”
I left the money the same way I had found it. The next morning, I took the boss to his office and said, “Hey, there’s a lot of money here. Do you want me to get killed and get robbed?”
He always told us to be careful and more from blacks. He called an American chef – Hercules, who spoke Spanish and through him he asked me why I didn’t take the money. Then said, “the boss said you’re a fool. Having all the money for yourself, why didn’t you left with it?”
I was not going to tell them that I had tried. So, I told them that I didn’t money that way. I wanted money as a result of my job. The boss then requested a special platter for me – a Tibol State, so we could eat together. I didn’t want to eat right there because I was all dirty, but my boss asked me. While we were eating, some waitresses approached us separately, and the boss told them the story. They just massaged my hair, I’m not sure if it was as a good gesture or for pity. That act was like a seed, because from that moment, I was not a dishwasher anymore. The boss told Hercules to teach me to cook, and that he was responsible now of making me a good cook.
“I like this guy; I’ll teach him to cook,” Hercules replied.
After six weeks, I learned to cook without knowing English or Greek. Sometime later, I started speaking Greek and a bit of English; an Italian waitress named Rosi, and who later became my girlfriend, was teaching me English. I knew the names of the platters, but I couldn’t read the checks; Rosi always stopped to read me the checks.
Once I learned to cook well, I said, “this kitchen is full of Greeks, and I have to see it run by Mexicans. Mexicans have to work here because we are not fools.” I think we, Mexicans, are smart; we’re are just lazy and like the easy way. It was hard to learn to cook, since I worked from 18 to 20 hours daily. I slept, woke up, showered, and was back in the kitchen. I thought, “What does a Greek have that a Mexican does not?” I even thought that I was smarter, that’s why I learned.
One evening, my “in-law” arrived to the restaurant looking for me because I still owed him $500 from the smuggler’s cost. However, he never imagined seeing me as a cook; he thought I was still as a janitor. I paid him off.
“Are you a cook? Weren’t you a dishwasher? How much are you getting paid?” he asked.
“$150 per week, and I don’t pay rent nor utilities,” I replied. We lived nearby the restaurant, in a house that belonged to our boss. He couldn’t believe it and he was not happy about it.
After a couple of months, Erik, the polish guy, also arrived and said, “Are you a cook?” He laughed and told to the boss bad things about me. My boss asked him to stop; however, Erik got a job there as well. He was quick to work and had a lot of experience. I did my job as good as I could, because I didn’t want to lose. One day, Erik cut his finger, and since that day, he was not able to excel me in preparation. One day, he left the job; that was my best triumph in the kitchen.
There was another Mexican guy in the restaurant working, and I asked the boss to put him in the kitchen with me. I would be responsible for him to learn. My boss didn’t really want, but my opinion was valuable. “Hire him as a cook or I leave my job. One day I want all cooks to be Mexicans,” I said. So, he accepted.
Erasmo, was from Aguascalientes, and did everything I told him to do. Three weeks later, he told me that he had a brother who wanted to work. He brought him over, and my boss hired him.
One day, we were talking and this guy had papers. I didn’t have them neither his brother. He asked me how I gotten a job with no documents. “Here in U.S., whoever wants to work, will do it. Besides, I came for this,” I replied and showed him $1500 dollars. “These are the papers I care about,” I said.
We were working fine. One day, we were both upset and ended up arguing. The first thing he complained about was my lack of papers. “Hector, I don’t like to have an illegal bossing around,” he said. I replied, “I don’t like to fire people, but I will fire you.” We were almost fighting, but that wouldn’t be good for me. I went with my boss, and even though he was busy, I said, “I want you to fire that guy; he is humiliating me because of my lack of papers.” My boss got quite upset and fired him. “I don’t want documented people; I want illegals,” my boss replied. He paid him, and the guy left. However, he said that I would remember him.
I think my boss preferred illegal workers because he was very humane. That picture is one example. The picture was taken when we fed for free 650 people who lived in asylums. My boss cared for everybody.
Later that day, Genaro, the brother of the guy who had gotten fired, arrived. He understood the situation and supported me. He admitted that his brother had a difficult personality. He also told me that he had a brother-in-law that needed to work. I told him to bring him over; that way, I would show him that I had nothing against him. That’s how we ended up being three Mexicans in the kitchen. There were still two Greeks as well working with us. This last guy told me that he had a friend who was a cook and was working alone in a restaurant. He brought him over, and later, the Greeks were the ones cleaning up the kitchen instead of cooking. My boss was happy with us, and with me as the main cook. Besides, the Mexican labor was cheaper than the Greek and that was better for him.
Things were better then. Since we were all undocumented, no one could say anything anymore. Besides, I was the boss, and everyone knew that.
One day, I decided to build my home in Mexico. I started sending remittances to my father and asked him to buy the land, because I would return. My father wrote me back telling me that the land was already bought, but he didn’t want me to return if there was no house built.
I talked to my boss and told him the situation, and asked him for $3,000 dollars. He was not that happy, but he lent me the money. Since I had $1,500 saved, I sent $4,500 to start building my home. Each month, I paid some money to my boss, and the rest I sent it back to Mexico. One day, my house was completed. That’s when I returned to Mexico for the first time – after three years of working in U.S. I was so happy to see my home, even though it was not big. I always had the idea of having something of my own before getting married. I didn’t want to continue the way it was before. I came from a large family and we had 2 beds for 13 people. I used to sleep on the floor, and in another room my mom made tortillas. So, now that I had something of my own, I was so happy of this accomplishment. I dreamed of eating birria on my wedding, and we did do. As soon as I got married, we left again in 1981.
I was never discriminated in U.S. by the lack of documents. On the contrary, people looked for me to work for them. I was known because I was a good cook, and I knew English and Greek. My boss offered me a diploma, which would allow me to work in Acapulco. However, I was never interested because I didn’t know what I wanted. I was surprised to have Americans call me for my name. They always thanked me for the good food. I was well known.
One day, I went to the bar after work. I got very drunk. I was heading home around 2am very drunk. While I was walking, the police stopped me and I thought that they would arrest me. However, to my surprise, they asked me, “Hector, are you ok? Do you want us to take you home?” They took me home.
I was also lucky that one of my girlfriends, Yolanda, would help me out to request an increase on my salary. My boss is nice, but there he was stingy. During that time, he paid me only $220 per week, while other cooks got paid $350 weekly. They always asked me for my weekly wage, but I never said anything because that’s a private matter between my boss and me. Yolanda was the one to change checks to the workers. However, my check was handed directly to me by the boss, because he didn’t declare taxes. One day, I told him how much I was getting paid, and she said, “You’re a fool. Do you know how much ‘X’ gets paid? $350! And you work more than he does.”
I got upset so upset then. The next week when he paid me, I was a bit drunk. That day, I didn’t talk to him in Greek, but in English. I told him that he was fooling me; I told him that I was a good worker and I wanted an increase of salary to $300. If he wouldn’t give me that, I would work with his uncles instead who had offered me a job. He said that he would think about it and needed to finish paying the week.
After he finished, he asked me, “What is it that you want?”
“I want more salary,” I said.
“You’re undocumented. How can you demand for more?” he said.
“You have fired documented people. Now, it seems that you care that I’m undocumented! I’m out of here!,” I replied.
When I turned, he said, “Wait Hector.” He grabbed me from my arm, and said, “You win. I’ll pay you $350, but stay. You won’t go with my uncles to work.”
Since that day, I got a better pay. I also started being his companion during his play time. He liked to bet money. While he played, I massaged his back. Each time, he paid me more than $350; each game he won, he handed me a $20 or $50 bill.
People in Mexico were surprised of what I was accomplishing in U.S. After I finished my home, I bought some other land. Thanks to my boss, I met doctors, engineers, and all sorts of people. My boss never introduced me as a worker, but as a partner. I became in charge of supervising all the incoming merchandise for the restaurant. I answered phone calls to get merchandise. Every time the boss went vacationing to Greece, he used to leave for up to two months. During that time, I was in charge of the business; even I was in charge of depositing the money at the bank. The administrator was in charge of paying all the workers.
Around 1986, just before the amnesty, the border patrol was detaining workers. I was lucky, because I wasn’t at work when migration arrived. That day, Genaro was working, and he had bought forger documents, which officers took for good documents. When I arrived, my boss told me to leave because the border patrol was around. I said that I wasn’t scared; besides, if I got deported, I had a place to leave back home. In addition, all the workers didn’t have documents, and if I didn’t go, they would notice even more that I didn’t have documents.
During all my time in Chicago, I was never deported. I was deported twice at the border when I tried to cross. One day, I served one officer from the border patrol. He used to go every day to eat there. By mistake, I told him that I was undocumented.
He said that he had the orders to detain people, to which I replied, “Just don’t come for me.”
“Don’t you have papers?” he asked.
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“And, you’re telling me that?” he asked.
“If you want, detain me,” I said.
“No, you’re a good friend. There are undocumented people who shouldn’t be detained; there are others who should,” he replied.
“Like whom?” I asked.
“There are a lot of Mexican drug dealers,” he said. Then, he continued by saying that he knew a lot of people like me, who worked with all their love and had good intentions. He said that he always saw me working happy, because I was always singing. In fact, I once sang “Spanish Eyes” at a farewell party before returning to Mexico. I thought I wouldn’t return because I returned with my wife. Cindy, a lady who liked me a lot and died of cancer later on, she organized the farewell party in a restaurant. They even filmed me while I was singing. It’s a nice memory.
During one of my last trips to the U.S., in 1985 – I returned definitely in 1987 to México, - I took three friends of mine. Everyone whom I invited, I gave them good advice. I never told them about women or drugs; I simply told them about work. Whenever I used to see a guy with drugs at work, I took him to the office and used to speak with him. One time, I met a guy called Antonio from Aguilillas, Michoacan. While I was looking for my watch, I found a letter from his mother. I read it and said, “My son, I don’t want your money; I only want to know more of you.” That helped me realized that one is nothing in U.S. That’s when I created my saying “If you don’t take care of yourself, who will.” Then, I talked with two of my brothers who are still in the U.S. – one of them stayed in my place as a cook.
“Look, here we don’t have family. You’re the only one. If you don’t take of yourself, who will? No one will look for you. Life is difficult here. I don’t have anything bad to say about the U.S. Thanks to my trips there, I have everything I have now. But I have it, because I took advantage of my opportunities. Now that I’m back, I’ve invested my money and now my salary is double of what I had there. Note that my salary there was quite good. Now, my weekly salary is about $600 dollars. My brother never liked living here. He got married and divorced over there. He never knew why I returned.
We don’t have to close our opportunities. Besides, we won’t return to eat just beans like before. We have to use all the experiences learned to our advantage here. I admire my boss a lot, because during my time there, I saw his thoughts of getting ahead. I adopted that ideology now that I’m back. Sometimes I feel I lost a lifetime, while I was there, but now I’m trained for everything. First, I know all my sacrifices to obtain everything. Second, my father used to tell me that the North was tomb. He worked ther for 20 years, and did nothing. He wasted all the money he got paid. He had fun, and used to say that one gets dollars there but also spends dollars there. However, if you convert those dollars to pesos, you’ll get revenue. He didn’t want me to repeat his mistakes from his youth.
That’s why I shared with my brother my father’s advice.
I had an Indian-Mexican friend. He was born in Chihuahua of Indian parents. He told me to get between $10,000 to $20,000, so that we could start a business together. However, I never liked living in the U.S. I went with the idea of returning with something here. I didn’t want to be like my friend from Michocan, who had left his mother here and didn’t even call her up. He forgot about her. I always said, if I have the opportunity, I’ll return to my country to employ people. I’m now happy here. I have 20 employees, and I’m happy when I pay them. I’m never upset when I have to pay them, because I know they need that money. It’s a great satisfaction to have this. When I left, there were jobs here, but in construction. Now my workers get paid more than a dishwasher in the U.S. Some of my workers want to go to the U.S., and tell them not to be fool. I know how they will start there. They will get paid $100 weekly – around $300,000 pesos here. Here, they get paid $350 free because they don’t have to pay here for other things like they would do there. If they were single, I would tell them to go, but the U.S. has two faces. Now, with the amnesty, nothing is the same. If one was discriminated before because of the lack of papers, now is worse. Even the treatment from Mexicans to Mexicans is worsened. One time, I met a Chicana, the restaurant’s cashier. We became friends, but one day she said, “I want an order of sandwiches.” She wanted it so fast, but I told her to wait because the client was first. I always had that idea that the client was first. She became upset and yelled me bad things. Later, she returned for her order and I told her that I wouldn’t make her anything. She complained with our boss and he called me. He argued in front of him and I told him that I wouldn’t allow any discrimination. She said that this was the first time that an illegal had offended her.
I shared all my stories with the guys here, so they know what to expect there. Besides, the drugs are easier to get. One time, while talking with Roberto, a guy from Zacatecas, he said, “Hector, this is bad. Before, the guys obtained marihuana, now they even get cocaine.” I didn’t believe him at first, but his brother did drugs as well. Perhaps it was because I was too dumb, but I prefer to be drunk. I tell the youth that it’s better to be drunk. On this street, there are like 7 or 8 guys who go to Reno, Nevada to sell cocaine. That’s their job. They get in jail for two or three months, and then they get deported. Then, they stay here for five months and do the same thing again. That’s why I don’t see the point of going to the U.S.
When I was planning to return, my boss called me up and said, “Hector, I don’t want you to leave. I’ve got a proposition for you. I’ll pay you double of what you get paid now”. I got paid $550 weekly, and he would pay me $1,100 now. “I’ll buy you a car and pay for your rent; bring your family. You have five minutes to think about it,” he said.
I didn’t use the five minutes. I had an answer. I had never said no to anything. That was one of my father’s advices: “Never say no to your boss; that way, he’ll be on your side always.” However, I said no.
He said that I was a fool. He said that if everyone knew what I was saying no to, they would consider me a fool. Indeed, when everyone knew, they told me I was a fool. However, he couldn’t give me the most important thing. I didn’t want to live there with my daughters.
“Indeed, I do this for my daughters. Look, I’ve slept with a lot of women here, while their parents are working. I may be a drunk, and you know that, but I love my daughters. I like to have their respect. There you have your uncles; their cooks sleep with your nieces and that’s because your uncles are taking care of the businesses instead of them. I don’t want that for my family. Besides, here in the North, the respect to the parents is non-existent. My daughters are 12 years old and are already in love. If the parents want to correct their children, they can’t do it. There is a lot of bad freedom here, and I don’t like it,” I explained.
After that, he wasn’t upset. He even said, “I would like to be in your place, but I have five businesses here.” He had five restaurants; he was also a share partner of a computer business and another factory that prepares hot cakes flour. He has a lot of money. He was quite sincere when he congratulated me for my decision. Then he said, “I’d like to have Greece close by, the way Mexico is for you. I’d like to be able to go each week there and stay with my family. However, I have to cross the whole Atlantic to get there. I admire your decision. I wish you the best, and I believe you’ll make it because you’re smart. I tell you that I would have like you to be my brother.”
He used to call me “brother.” Many times, both families ate at the same table. He has two daughters as well. His wife and daughters were very nice with us. He loved his daughters very much and, he didn’t like when the cooks slept with his nieces. It was true; I slept with young girls aged 15 who invited me to their home when their parents were not there. During vacations, when the restaurant got a lot of students, I heard how they spoke badly of their mothers. I didn’t want that kind of education for my daughters. I don’t have those feelings.
I liked to arrive an hour before to read the newspaper and read the sports section. Since I was liked much, the waitresses sat beside me and one time one of them asked me if I was really reading the newspaper. She thought that I didn’t know English.
- “If I understand your writing, of course I understand this one,” I said.
- “Don’t get upset, but I thought that you were like the cartoons, with your hat and sleeping next to a cactus underneath a tree,” she said.
I explained to her that those cartoons were just logos, used to identify countries. But whoever didn’t know how to read in Mexico it was because they were dumb.
- “May be you don’t know that we have the largest university of the world; besides, México had the first printing press in all the American continent, which includes the U.S.,” I said.
She said that I was crazy and that she would ask her professor. “If we are dumb is because we want to,” I said.
The next day, she arrived and apologized because everything I had told her was true.
The last time I went to the U.S., in 1987, I went with a brother-in-law. I made him take all the decisions. We arrived to Tijuana and chose the smuggler. That smuggler was quite dumb, because we got deported on the first try. The next day, it was the same deal. That’s when I started considered everything I had back home. I didn’t have the need to suffer all that. I already had my first business, and everything was running smoothly. I thought of what I was doing then. The North is for a migrant, like a sport is for an athlete: one day one has to retire. I almost gave up, when my brother in law convinced me to try once more.
We walked about 10 kilometers in the mountains and with the smuggler. I was very frustrated and I was hoping to get deported so I could go back to Mexico. However, we reached San Diego. My brother in law went to Los Angeles and I went to Chicago. I spent six months there – the six longest months of my life. I didn’t like it anymore. That’s when my boss offered me to double my wage.
I returned and said that the North was over for me. I started the restaurant. Upon my return, my father was still alive, but he died a month later. Since I always talked to him, I told him that I felt very young to be at the restaurant all day long.
- “There have been a lot of new factories opening here. So, there’s a way to make money here,” he said. “Make shoes.”
I had tried that once. I had partnered with a friend, but it didn’t work. My father lent me a small room we had at home, and I started working there. I didn’t know anything about shoes, neither my father. However, even though my father was a farmer, he did a lot of business as a barman, policeman, and inspector.
- “Well, if this doesn’t work, I’ll go to the North. I have a job there.” I said. However, my father told me that my thinking was wrong and it was not the type of thinking I needed to work.
- “Think positively: if you think about failing and that you have the option of going to the U.S., forget it.” He said. All this coincided with my previous plans. I had already thought of starting a shoe factory and I already had the brand.
Due to the fact that when I was in U.S., I was alone a lot of times, I had a lot of time to think and planning. That’s when I thought of the brand LIN BARR, in honor of Hector Liñan Barron. I wasn’t easy, but I have four years doing this now. It all started in a small room. Since the beginning, my brother works with me. I didn’t let him go to the U.S. He wanted to go, and I asked him to stay with me. Businesses are a lot more difficult here. Now, he’s married and we’re working fine. I also brought my other brother, who also wanted to leave to the U.S. I asked him what he was going to do there.
- “I’m going to work just like you,” he said.
- “That’s the wrong answer. Do you have a job already? Do you have any idea of what you’re going to do with your money there?” I said.
- “I don’t know. But, you didn’t know either,” he replied.
- “Of course I did. I had a plan. That’s why I built my home, because I knew I would get married, and I didn’t want to be maintained by the family. That’s thinking before doing things. You only want to go because your friends are inviting you. You’re not thinking, because you’re only going to have fun. Stay here and work here,” I said.
- “I want to have my own things,” he replied.
- “The only thing you want is to have your car, but you don’t have the age for that. You only want to have fun. It’s better to suffer when one is young and not old. That way, you’ll have a better life when old,” I said. So he stayed with me.
After having worked for 13 years in the U.S., I’m starting anew life. I’ve sacrificed a lot here. Two years ago, I had a big lost. I met Juan Cuerdas, a shoe seller. He always paid me with checks with no funds. He stole like 70 millions of pesos. I was almost broke and at the point of closing down. I was going to keep only the restaurant. I started this about two years ago. I didn’t bring a lot of money back, but I’ve invested it a lot.
I don’t believe in saints. God is the only way. While in the U.S., I was involved in another religion, without leaving the Catholicism. That helped me to know the most wonderful book: the Bible. That took away a lot of doubts and opened my eyes to a lot of things. God is the only way and the truth. I studied with Jehovah Witnesses for two years, but I didn’t become one. I’m not a hypocrite. Besides, there are rituals imposed by that religion that I don’t accept. That would imply a change of 90 degrees, from the life one lives and was raised. I don’t hold anything against that religion. On the contrary, studying the Bible was fundamental for my progress. I was alcoholic and I started going to a group to rehabilitate. However, they smoke, drink tea or coffee. So, it would be like leaving one thing to start another. That’s when I asked God for another opportunity. I had a friend who was a priest in Chicago, and I asked him for a Bible, which I still have. He dedicated it to me: “To my best friend Hector, the best chef of Chicago Heights.”
I read the Bible at night, but there were things I didn’t understand. One day, I visited a friend in Chicago and told him that I was reading the Bible. He said that he was being visited by people who helped him to study the Bible. I didn’t know what religion they professed, but my friend said that he would refer them to my home. They started visiting me. We started a very good friendship. They were from another religion, but I didn’t care. I was being benefited by them. Here, people criticizes a lot, maybe because of ignorance. If you read the Bible, they talk bad things about you. If you go to rehabilitation, it’s worse.
My father used to say: “If you’re in good stand with God, no matter that the saints cry.”
Thanks to that religion, I stopped drinking for seven years while living there. I got hospitalized twice. They met me as a drunk. When I came back, I was no longer a drunk.
When I returned here, I drank for year and a half. It’s been four months that I haven’t drunk. Even though I drank, I never missed work. Even though I was very drunk, I always showed up because I’m responsible.
I agree with NAFTA, because there are a lot of customs that will come from the U.S. I don’t belong to any political party. I like the current president because he has faced a lot of problems that others didn’t want to face. He has even uncovered a lot of politicians who were drug dealers.
I could have gotten my residency, but I never wanted. I love my country a lot, and I was not going to be happy feeling American. My daughters were born there; one day they will decide. I never liked it there. Perhaps they will like it.
My father worked as a farmer, in cotton, lettuce, beats. He was even hired to work there. However, he was also a drunk. He was even in jailed while in the U.S. He was a very happy person and he liked to live. He lasted 20 years working there; 7 years we didn’t know anything about him, because he didn’t return. My father got married when he was 33. He never got the residency. He said that there was no point of going to another country if he was quite happy here in Mexico. That’s like in the fake North.
(1) During the interview, many expressions were told in Greek.