Revolutionary Worker #919, Aug. 17, 1997 La Resistencia's Summer Border Project is a set of yearly tours which gives people the opportunity to see the border first hand and talk to people on both sides about the human cost of the increased militarization of the border. This year the Project was composed of various nationalities--Black, white, Asian, Latino--some live close to the border in San Diego, others in Watts and immigrant neighborhoods in L.A. The RW recently spoke with a participant in this summer's border project. This is their story:
As we drove across the border between the U.S. and Mexico, the differences between the two countries became more visible and deeply drawn than the wall which separates them. Early Friday morning, when we arrived in San Diego, people walked their dogs across the street in khaki shorts and Nike tennis shoes, lawns were mowed and sprinkled, and carpools of children were taken to school. But later that afternoon, as we crossed into Tijuana, we drove past women and their children begging in the streets with torn clothes and worn shoes and 7- and 8-year-olds ran up to cars and sold newspapers or candy.
In the late afternoon we visited a colonia in Tijuana where many maquiladora workers live. Their wooden shacks are built between two mountains with no running water, electricity, or sewage system. Many of the people who live in these colonias are originally from Mexico's rural areas. Large businesses and foreign investors are increasingly pushing people out of rural areas and more and more people are forced to travel north to Tijuana to find work. These people settle in the colonias surrounding the maquiladoras.
We spoke with a woman who has been jailed and threatened for organizing within the colonia to better the living conditions of the inhabitants and preventing the government from seizing the land where the colonia stands. The people of the colonia want to harvest large patches of land to help feed people within the colonia, but the government wants to take this land and allow foreign investors to construct more maquiladoras to better exploit more people.
A small group of us spoke with a couple of men who work as machinists and produce metal parts at a maquiladora in the area. Enrique worked as a campesino in Guerrero and Jorge lived in Mexico City. Both traveled north to find work and help their families survive.
Enrique attempted to cross the border, but found it near to impossible to get past its militarization. Jorge has worked in California before. A few years ago he worked in a bakery in Bakersfield from 3:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. six days a week for $150 a week. He returned to Mexico and got a job as a machine operator in a maquiladora.
Things in Tijuana aren't much better, they work under crowded and deteriorated conditions. They get one bathroom break, if they need to go more than that they must ask a supervisor's permission. All 100 workers drink out of the same cup from the same gallon of dirty water, and wages are between $30 and $50 a week.
The increased militarization of the border and the construction of a Berlin-style wall has made crossing the border much more difficult and deadly. People aren't being discouraged from crossing--people's living conditions in Mexico are worsening and the cost of living is more expensive--people are looking for different routes. More people are now crossing east of Tijuana, across the hills where temperatures are extreme--they swell over 100 degrees or go below freezing.
In the 1970s, 60,000 to 80,000 people lived in Tijuana. With the construction of industry and an explosion of migration into the U.S., the number of people living in Tijuana is unknown, but it's estimated to be above 3 million. La Casa del Migrante in Tijuana has sheltered and fed well over 100,000 migrants in the past 10 years. Many of the people in the shelter worked in the U.S. but were deported. Others have moved to Tijuana in search of work in the factories.
A man from Acapulco told us how difficult it was to support his family working as a fisherman. It is the hardest to get by during the rainy season, when tourism is down. No one wants to buy seafood--it either rots or the prices are driven down so low that it's impossible to make enough money to survive. He plans to cross to the U.S. and make some money to send back home to his family. He says he doesn't know how he'll cross since he hears it's like walking through hell, but he has no choice.
People pulled together a cultural event at the Casa del Migrante where several dozen people living in the shelter and people from the Border Project filled a room with music and poetry.
As we were leaving the shelter, a young man who sang and played the guitar at the event approached me and introduced himself. He asked where all of us were from. I told him we were mostly high-school and college students from L.A. and San Diego who wanted to learn from their experiences crossing the border, working in the maquiladoras, etc., so that we could tell everyone about what we saw and heard. He brightened up as I told him this and shared his experience with us.
For a couple of years he worked in Santa Ana as a gardener. One morning he was mowing the lawn as usual when a Migra van pulled up, jumped on him and arrested him. He was deported a few hours later and has been living in Tijuana since trying to find work.
Even if people are able to make it across the border alive there is no guarantee that they've made it. As immigrants they still face persecution in the U.S.
The last day of the Border Project tore open my eyes and made it painstakingly clear that there is no such thing as freedom and equality under this system. There is only slavery and inequality.
We visited a migrant camp in San Diego where produce receives better housing and nutrition than human beings. Rows of tomatoes grow in large fields, sheltered from the scalding sun, where they are watered and cared for as much as needed. Just underneath those green tomato fields, in the lower valley, among trees and brush, live dozens of farmworkers. Most of their homes have only one wall and are held up by uneven poles, and roofed by plastic or garbage bags. There is no running water, no electricity, they must hike for 20 minutes to fill up gallons of water.
When we arrived to the camp a couple of us approached a group of workers playing cards by a food truck. At first they were reluctant to talk with us. We explained to them that we were a group of students who wanted to learn about their lives and their constant mistreatment by their patrones and the Migra and what drove them to travel all the way from Oaxaca to San Diego. After talking to them for a while a couple of them opened up to us and walked us to their camp.
The camp is made up of immigrants from one of the poorest states in Mexico--Oaxaca. Many of the farmworkers do have papers and can visit their families in Mexico when they've saved up enough money for the trip. But a large number have no papers and are increasingly persecuted by the Migra.
A 10-year-old boy who walked across the hills between Mexico and the U.S. for four days with his father told us that one morning only a couple weeks ago the Migra chased after him and others in the camp. One Migra grabbed him, but he managed to wiggle free from their grip. He escaped through the Migra's legs and ran off into the brush.
In many ways he's like any other 10-year-old. In the way he hugged his peanut butter and jelly sandwich or the way he kicked around pebbles on the ground. As I looked at him I thought of all the kids on my block--the way they all get together after school and play football on the street or ride their bikes around the block. I wondered when he has time to play, he's the only boy in the entire camp, he can't attend school, and has responsibilities in the camp--he does laundry and carries water for those who live in the camp.
As time passed, more and more people stood around and listened to our conversations. Some were embarrassed that they are so poor, but when we said that their patrones are the ones who should be ashamed to exploit people in such a dirty way, they nodded their heads and looked at us more curiously.
By the time we were getting ready to leave, the group multiplied--more than a dozen men stood around us and wanted to share their stories with us too. They told us of the families they left behind in Oaxaca because it was unbearable to watch them go to sleep hungry. It was worth at least making the attempt to walk through the hell between the U.S. and Mexico and find work in the U.S. to be able to send a little money to their villages and help them survive.
In the camp everyone is poor, but they share a brotherhood where everyone helps each other out. They are an example of thinking of others before thinking of themselves. We distributed clothes and instead of keeping it for themselves they looked it over and decided who it would fit the best or who needed it the most. In the camp not everyone works every day, but they make sure everyone who didn't work has enough food to eat.
I thought of all this as I looked across the hill, where only a couple miles away two- and three-story homes are being built overlooking the fields and the migrant camp. When the temperatures go over 100 degrees, those who live in those houses will not feel the burn of the sun, they will only feel the coolness of their air-conditioning. When the camps are being flooded by rain or when temperatures are very cold, those who live in those houses will not feel a drop of rain or feel a deep chill race through them. But those who work to build their houses and grow the fruit and vegetables that sit in their kitchens may very possibly be killed by the Migra, die of hunger or dehydration.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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