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The Vacuum Issue 12 Down Mexico Way spacer The Vacuum Issue 12 - Down Mexico Way
I Want to Live in Amer-i-ca
by Selina Guinness
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The Interstate 35 runs down from San Antonio to the border. The big hats are all in South Texas. Like curls of paper or ash flying across the highway, butterflies, mainly dull, some bright yellow, some just flashes of orange shower our bus with their confetti on the migration south. When they hit the windscreen they leave nothing but a smear of yellow pollen. Monarchs, painted ladies, fritillaries, emperors, admirals, in no royal procession but a desperate flutter along the Interstate like the French court across the Tuilleries.
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Ben Hur is on the television in the corner of this restaurant - eye contact elicits instant response. I shared a taxi across the International Bridge with three workers returning home. One man had travelled down from New Orleans where he worked 'in the seafood business'. Four months at home with his family before heading North again.
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Oaxaca, Saturday 5th October, 1996
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Last night, Ricardo took me dancing. He was born in Mexico City - an orphan he told me - but I got confused about his precise family background. He said he had found his brother who is some twenty years his senior, but he does not know who his parents were. Either way, he grew up in a drug-ridden part of the capital - 'like the Bronx' - until he decided to go North. So he arrived in Tijuana and paid money for a coyote to take him across. He was caught the first few times and sent back by the American authorities. I asked him how he was caught and he told me that although he walked very small steps, every few metres dropping down into the grass, suddenly a small plane landed and picked him out in its lights. He ran past the plane and straight into the immigration police truck lying in wait behind it. 'Why does everyone cross at Tijuana?' I asked. Ricardo laughed, 'Everyone in Mexico hears Tijuana is a good place to cross. It is not, but they do not know the reality. Tijuana is hell for Mexicans, paradise for Americans. They can have every sin there.' After six months more work, he crossed again. At some stage, he worked in a Chinese restaurant in San Diego. That lasted for a while until taking a lift home with a friend, his friend drunkenly drove across the central barrier of a freeway and the immigration police picked him up again. Another time everything was going fine in America until he got into a fight with a Columbian man and once more was deported. After listening to these adventures, I asked him whether he had ever seen El Norte, the Guatamalan film about a couple who flee from a coffee plantation along the same route North through Tijuana. There is one scene where the two crawl through a tunnel made out of oil barrels crossing 'no-man's land' and are over-run by hundreds of rats. 'Yes' he says, 'that film is reality, not like the American commercial films,' but after listing the virtues of his life as a waiter in Oaxaca, he could still say that in the future he would like to live in Chicago. Why? Because there he can have a television in every room and a Jacuzzi.
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I always wondered why no one crossed via the Rio Grande, a sluggish stream when I passed over it. Ricardo told me that a steel net runs the length of the river. 'But' he whispered, 'the place to cross is Nuevo Laredo.' The guards change shifts at 11.00 pm and there is a twenty minute gap. Then those who have been waiting run the length of the bridge, and once across, they head for a house 10 km north of Laredo where the basement is crammed with new arrivals.
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12th October 1996
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From Tuxtla in Chiapas, I flew to Mexico City, then Monterrey and got back on the greyhound bus. Around midnight, on the interstate between San Antonio and Austin, the bus was stopped by a border patrol. Two officers came on and shone torches into Mexican faces. Seven ill-kempt guys without the right documents were hauled off and sat down hand-cuffed at the side of the highway while the officers called for a van. One of the officers came back onto the bus. He saw me. 'So where are you from?' he asked, friendly enough. 'Ireland,' I answered. He gave me a smug nod, 'I thought you didn't look like an American citizen.' I was dressed in a scarlet shirt, Levis and runners. How could I not? 'I thought American citizens came in all shapes and sizes.' He explained, 'it's your body language.' 'What do you mean, my 'body language'?' I asked, checking to see if my posture was in any way offensive or indecent. 'I mean,' he sighed, 'you took more of an interest in what was going on here than any American citizen would.' 'Would you like to see my papers then?' 'No,' he smiled, 'I trust you.' 'What happens to those guys?' I asked, as he got down. 'Oh they just get a free ride back home. For some it's a monthly trip. But there's so many more that do get through.'
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He shrugged, said 'good night, ma'am', and our bus continued on through the early hours to Austin, past petrol signs outside mechanic shops and dim lights on fly-screened porches, driven by a tired-looking, middle-aged, Mexican/American citizen.
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