This article is from the July 1998 The Mexico File
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The Border Crosser
by Lynne Doyle
Lynne Doyle lives in Maine, but whenever possible she crosses the Southern border for adventures. She has been a teacher and has owned and operated a photography studio. She often gives lectures and shows slides of her trips to Mexico, hoping to "light the same fire that was lit in me.
I live in Maine and don't know many Mexican immigrants here (just a few who come to pick bluebemes in the suminer), but last year while traveling in the Yucatan, I had the chance to meet and talk with a wonderful man who regularly sneaks into California to work.
Some friends and I were stranded in Valladolid trying to get to Merida. It was a festival day and all the buses were fill, so we hitched a ride from this guy, Porfino, who makes his living driving Mexicans, not tourists, around the Yucatan in his Suburban. We were standing in the street practically in tears and Porflrio rearranged the 24 people riding with him to make room for us in his truck. Off we went into the blackest night over back roads, Latin music blaring, having one hell of a time for ourselves. All of a sudden Porfirio turned right off the road and entered the jungle, traveling a pretty rough dirt path deep into the trees. We looked at each other and said something like, "Here's where we get rolled by 24 Mexicans..." but there was nothing we could do, so we just sat and waited. Soon a large (by Mexican standards) gentleman with a large (by any standards) rifle stepped out of the trees into the dirt path and Porfirio stopped. He passed over some change from the console, we drove a little firther more slowly, the guy with the gun opened a bamboo fence disguised with vines and palm leaves, and presto/change-o, we were on the fancy limestone toll road that runs between Merida and Cancun,just beyond the toll booth.
We got to laughing so hard at our fear that Porfirio started laughing with us, and there ensued a wonderful conversation that I will never forget as long as I live. He is a man of about 30 to 35 with a wife and several children...and such dignity and humor. He doesn't drive tourists even though it would be more lucrative for him because, I believe, most of us treat him like a peasant. He didn't say that in fact, he skirted all around it, but that's the impression I got. He told us that every few years, when he needs a new truck, he sneaks into California to work at a carwash somewhere in Los Angeles. He works for the same guy all the time, just calling him when he needs to come. We commented that the guy must really like him a lot, and he said with the utmost courtesy "I don't want to offend you, but you Americans have no work ethic. He loves me because I work hard, long hours without complaining and I love him because he treats me well, pays me enough to buy my trucks in five to seven months, and he always tells me how much he appreciates me."
The conversation went on with our generally agreeing with him (about the work ethic thing) and he told us a lot I certainly never knew about getting into the U.S., working, sending money home to his wife, getting back to Mexico, etc. We discussed the whole immigration issue with him none of us really thought it was exploitative and he certainly didn't. In fact, he educated me in the most effective way to send money into Mexico (I try to send some to a woman who once did laundry for me and who is raising a little girl alone, but I was having an awful time actually getting it to her). He ended up, after dropping off all his passengers, takmg us to his sister's home for espresso in the middle of the night. She and her husband are notaries of some sort, and once again, we got into a lively discussion of the whole issue of California trying to exclude Mexican children from their schools and healthcare. Porfirio leaves his family in Mexico because he can work more without them and also because he doesn't want to subject them to the prejudice and discrimination he says is rampant in the L.A. area. His sister didn't quite approve of his activities, but did acknowledge that it was the most efficient way for him to earn enough, quickly, to replace the trucks as they wear out.
He is indeed grateful for the opportunity to be able to do this. He does not believe that he is taking employment from Americans because he watches them show up late, not work much, leave early, or not show up at all and he feels that Americans don't know how good they have it. None of his family thinks much of Americans, actually. They think we are lazy and unappreciative, arrogant and condescending. We were all hopeful that we were able to change this attitude somewhat, but even if we didn't, I personally have to agree with him to a large extent. He would not ever want to live in the States. On this topic, he was trying very hard to be diplomatic, but I got the impression that he just doesn't like Americans and our treatment of him.