In Ariz. Town, Main Street Is A Border Crossing In San Luis, Ariz., Main Street is where thousands of legal migrants cross the border every day to work in southern Arizona's vast agricultural fields. Follow one farm laborer as he starts and ends his day on Main Street, San Luis.
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In Ariz. Town, Main Street Is A Border Crossing

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In Ariz. Town, Main Street Is A Border Crossing

In Ariz. Town, Main Street Is A Border Crossing

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Now, we continue our series Mapping Main Street. Producers Ann Heppermann and Kara Oehler have traveled around the United States documenting some of the 10,000 Main Streets along the way.

Now, we head south to San Luis, Arizona. The small town of 20,000, Main Street is where people do their grocery shopping and pick up their mail. But the four-lane road also serves as a border station between the U.S. and Mexico. Just over the metal mesh border fence, it's San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, city of about 150,000.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans legally cross every day. Many pick produce in southern Arizona's vast farm fields, and all of them cross the border on San Luis's Main Street.

(Soundbite of beeping)

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

Mayor JUAN CARLOS ESCAMILLA (San Luis, Arizona): Well, right now, we're on actual - our Main Street. It's a four-lane - two lanes going southbound into Mexico and two lanes going northbound into the United States. My name is Juan Carlos Escamilla, mayor for the city of San Luis.

Unidentified Man #2: Hello.

Unidentified Man #3: Hello.

Unidentified Man #2: Where are you going?

Mayor ESCAMILLA: You've got thousands of people coming across every single day just to commute to work. We've got 40,000 to 50,000 on our peak time, people coming across.

Unidentified Man #2: Hello, sir. How are you doing? (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Man #4: No.

Mr. JOEL SILVA: (unintelligible) is different here. (unintelligible) across the line and go to work and come back, five, six, seven p.m. So tired.

My name is Joel Silva. I'm born in the United States. I'm a USA citizen, but I live in Mexico all my life. When I'm 12 years old, my mom, she send me to buy, like, beans, like, potatoes that she pulled in the United States. When I'm 17 years, that's when I start working here.

Mayor ESCAMILLA: Right now, we're on Main Street and you can see that there's some farm workers right now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor ESCAMILLA: And usually at three o'clock in the morning you'll see the buses that park in the business parking lot. They'll just park there and wait for the workers.

Unidentified Man #5: (Spanish spoken)

HOSALIN(ph): (Through translator) My name is Hosalin. We don't know each yet. He knows me because we've met each other in the different jobs here. Lettuce, melons, watermelons, (unintelligible). Like a big family, all of us.

Unidentified Man #5: (Spanish spoken)

HOSALIN: This my other home right here.

Mr. SILVA: We are now in the parking lot of Sol Supermarket. This is the area where the buses parking. You can see buses from there to here. No cars. Morning, coffee.

Ms. GEORGINA ESCAMILLA: (Through translator) My name is Georgina Escamilla, at your service. We are here in San Luis, Arizona, and we're working on Main Street in the Panchita's lunch wagon.

Unidentified Man #6: I'm buying a whole meal to everyone here and the best is the Panchita.

Ms. ESCAMILLA: (Through translator) We come very early every day to sell food to the guys. They don't have time to eat at home because they leave very early. We are working from two in the morning until four in the afternoon. And every day they'll order menudo. Everyday. It's what we sell the most - menudo.

Unidentified Man #7: (Spanish spoken)

Ms. ESCAMILLA: (Through translator) So, it's stomach and they like it a lot. I don't know why, but they really like it a lot.

Unidentified Man #7: (Spanish spoken)

Ms. ESCAMILLA: (Through translator) And with that, they go to the fields to work really happy.

Mr. SILVA: I work in the farm before in Mexico, but I started to work in the United States (unintelligible) 17 years old. When 1986, my wife, she passed away. I lose my car, I lose my pickup, I lose my small beans I had. I lose everything. And now I feel like my life is over. I don't see a reason to live. And these guy, he offered me to cross his car, and he put 30 pounds of dope inside.

When I'm coming to cross the borderline over here in San Luis, Arizona, the officer, he saw me nervous with the way I speak to him. So, when the guy opened the trunk, he (unintelligible). In prison, I'm going to the book library and I find the bible and I start to read it. I never speak English the way I'm speaking to you now, never.

But my purpose to learn English to testify who is God, who is Jesus Christ. But when I got out, back to work.

(Soundbite of whistling)

Mr. SILVA: So, this is my job to pick up the beans, to carry the boxes to them. You can put the melons in here. These are two small ones. The (unintelligible) is more big ones. (unintelligible). Sometimes we not take a break. Sometimes we not taking no lunch. We're working straight. Hey, careful.

We going back for some (unintelligible). By the time we change the machine and clean it up and get it ready for tomorrow, we take about two hours or an hour and a half sometimes. And today's Friday, we'll stop in the office too for the payrolls or the checks. So about five or six, we be there.

(Soundbite of car)

Unidentified Man #8: (Spanish spoken)

Mr. SILVA: And we are on the borderline now. You see over there the fence, the white fence over there, the green on the bottom, the white on the top? That is the line to United States and Mexico. This is going to be the end of Main Street. You can see the people all outside to walking, all wet, all dirty, coming late. Yeah, because you're working 14, 16 hours a day.

I grew up in - in Mexico. I love Mexico. I love San Luis, my town. Some friends, you know, I'm USA, yeah, I'm a USA citizen. Onto the law, onto the border patrol officers, I'm Mexican. I prefer to stay there.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: That was Joel Silva of San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico.

Our Mapping Main Street story was produced by Ann Heppermann and Kara Oehler. Project co-creators are James Burns and Jesse Shapins. Mapping Main Street is part of Maker's Quest, an initiative of the Association of Independents in Radio Incorporated with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

You can join this open documentary project by contributing stories, photos and videos to the Main Streets near you at

(Soundbite of music)

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