The Other Face of AmericaChronicles of the Immigrants Shaping Our Future
RayoCopyright © 2004 Jorge Ramos
All right reserved.ISBN: 0060938242
Tijuana, Baja, California. It was cold, very cold. I was walking toward the border like a zombie, as if a magnet were pulling me to the other side and I had no will to resist. I was here, but I didn't really want to be here. Others just like me were also approaching the border, slowly, gently, but firmly, their eyes fixed on the horizon of bushes and plains. That is where I had to go. Over there. Then, just before we got there, we stopped dead in our tracks. There it was in front of us, the fence, and on the other side, the United States. The fence was a mass of metal about three yards high and full of holes. They spent all that money for that? I thought. In the places where the wire fence wasn't broken, it would have been easy to dig a hole and crawl underneath. No problem. "This fence won't stop anyone," I said aloud. About three hundred yards in front of us, a few men dressed in green, who were standing next to a patrol car, were staring at us through some binoculars. They were so far away that it was like watching characters on a television screen. But they could surely see our fatigue, detect our red, fearful eyes, and read our determination to outwit them. The people next to me squatted, like when you want to go to the bathroom and there is none. They waited. The plan of each one there — and there were hundreds — was quite simple: wait for the immigration police to get tired and leave, or wait for the change of shift. After all, there was nowhere else to go and it was only ten o'clock at night. I sat down too. Now the only thing I wanted to know was how did they think they were going to cross the border and where, when, who to stick with and who to lose. I felt the cold through my pants. My jacket was thick but was not keeping me warm. It was then that I remembered the words of my sister, Lourdes: I was cold inside." I was cold inside too. I drank some watered-down coffee, but it didn't help. Damn cold, damn cold, damn cold, I repeated over and over, as if hoping that the repetition would warm me. I began to shiver. Others were shivering too, but I don't know if it was because of the cold or because they were thinking about what they had left behind. Families had been reduced to black-and-white photographs in a wallet. There were the photos of the little boy who no longer cried and the wife who no longer kissed and the father who no longer smiled, right next to the card showing the image of the Virgin. They didn't really want to leave. Later on, though, they would remember why they were there — the lack of work: "In Mexico no hay jale." In the meantime, all eyes continued to wait, watching for the man in green to blink, the jeep to move, a moment of carelessness. The bright lights from the U.S. side — which reminded me of those in Azteca stadium in Mexico City — fought against the moonless night. All of a sudden, jaws clenched, stomachs became flat as boards, and veins bulged from necks. I was uneasy and began to breathe quickly. The moment to cross had come. Change of shift. You could hear clearly the sound of the jeep starting, and soon the vroom of the engine disappeared. Everyone on our side began to move, as if choreographed; first bent over, and then, once standing, they took off running. I stopped. I touched my pants pocket, and at once I felt different. It was the lump from my Mexican passport and my green card. just in case. The others moved off until they were only shadows, and I stood there, thinking how screwed up life is.
The night I approached the border, still on the Mexican side, there was a man selling plastic bags.
"Plastic bags to cross the border?" I asked one of the boys there. "What for?"
"So you don't get your pants wet, NERO," he replied. Then he added that when you are in Gringoland it's not a good idea if the migra realizes that you have just crossed the border. That could mean a ticket straight to jail.
The sale of bags was not a great business, but it provided enough to live on. Likewise, on small charcoal grills and in buckets filled with ice, others were selling taquitos and drinks to remedy the hunger of those about to cross el bordo. That's what it was called there. It must be one of those words that found its way into the new Spanglish dictionary due to so much repetition.
It's not difficult to find someone to talk to on the border. Hundreds of people, scattered along the border, looked toward the north as if they were waiting for a signal to cross. There is, however, a nervousness in the air, the tension of those who know that in a few minutes they are going to risk their necks, something akin to how soldiers must feel when they are about to initiate an attack.
The conversations are about only one thing: When are you going to cross? Has the migra caught you before? Where is it the easiest? Are you going alone or with a coyote? Strangely, the most relaxed time is when they can see the border police on the other side, which means that at that moment no one can cross.
"Why are you leaving Mexico?" I asked a young man who had several day's growth of hair on his face and wore a white shirt that had not been white for some time.
"You can't live on the minimum..."Continues...