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The first immigrant I interviewed will be referred to as “Jess”. Jess is from Guanajuato which is in southern Mexico. Jess, his five brothers and sisters, and his parents were farmers. They grew corn as their main crop. Jess’s family lived in a three-bedroom brick house in Mexico. Their house surprisingly had water and electricity. He only made 100 pesos a day ($10.00 U.S.). According to Jess, this was not enough money to get by on his own. He said that the average person in Mexico needs at least 150 pesos per day to live on their own and someone raising a family needs much more than this. This is why in 1985, at the age of 18, he came to Arizona to find a better job and to help his family. Jess paid the coyotes $150.00 to get him across the border, walking through the desert for 12 hours and riding in the back of a truck for the rest of the way. The coyotes that helped him were a very nice family and they were not threatening at all. He says that crossing the dessert was a scary experience and that he feared they would be burglarized, but claims that he made it across without running into trouble. It only took Jess two days after arriving in Phoenix to find a landscaping job. According to the statistics in Transnational Villagers, between 1996 and 1999, 60.3% of Non-Dominican Hispanics, like Jess, were employed in the U.S. and 45.3% of them worked full time. Jess did not require the help of job agencies to find work. Of course, he was undocumented at the time but this was not a problem in the landscaping business. With the money from this job, he was able to buy his first car which he paid $300 for. Landscaping paid $4.00 per hour which was minimum wage back then. He remained with this landscaping business for four months and then left when they tried to relocate him to Tucson. Jess did not want to go to Tucson because he thought there would not be enough job openings there. He also stated that Phoenix was the only city he had been to in the U.S. and that he wasn’t sure about moving anywhere else. He stayed in Phoenix and found a job at a golf course. He has worked at the golf course for 17 years now. He started out as a grounds keeper making minimum wage and now he makes $31,000 per year as an assistant superintendent. According to Transnational Villagers, the median income (total household income) for Non-Dominican Hispanics in 1999 was $26,982. Jess has never been on welfare. He sends money back to his parents every month but he doesn’t want to go back to Mexico, though he says that he does miss his family and friends back in Mexico and he also misses farming. When he was asked what he thought was the biggest difference between Phoenix and Mexico, he said that he had come from a small town in Mexico and that Phoenix was such a big city compared to his home town. Jess claims that he has not experienced any discrimination since he’s been in Phoenix. He says people have been good to him. Jess says that another difference between Phoenix and Mexico is the cost of living. He says that “It’s (the cost of living) becoming very expensive now…I would never be able to make it in Phoenix with only 150 pesos per day, I barely get by working my two jobs now.” When Jess finishes his 8-hour day at the golf course, he puts in an additional 7 hours of landscaping, working a total of 15 hours per day, five days a week.
When Jess was asked what documents he had to obtain in order to come to the U.S., he responded by saying “You need a passport, you need a green card, or a special visa.” He said that he had to go to “The U.S. government office in Mexico, the consulate.” He said that the process was long and not easy. There is a lot of paperwork and a migrant must have a checking account with a decent amount of money in it. Jess says that this process can take years and that it took him a little over a year to save up some money and get the papers he needed. He said that in order to work legally in the U.S. he needed an immigration card, a social security number, and an I.D. card. Jess said he had to “go through Immigration” to get these cards and that no other agency helped him when he got here. It took Jess a year to obtain all of these required cards and documents. He was able to work in Phoenix long before he was able to obtain full documentation. When asked about health insurance, Jess said that the golf course provides good health insurance, though he also said that the golf course does not pay him enough. He hasn’t had any major medical expenses and says that he and his family have been healthy. Jess has his own family, a wife and three children that he is raising here in Phoenix. They live in a house in a neighborhood around 37th Ave. and Osborn and many of their neighbors are also from Mexico. They have lived in this area for 11 years and they are happy with it. Jess’s wife has a part time job at a daycare center. According to Grace Chang, author of Disposable Domestics, it is very common for women immigrants, like Jess’s wife, to “relieve privileged white women of much of the burden of reproductive labor by performing both private household and institutional service work.”(Disposable Domestics, p. 71). If it weren’t for people like Jess’s wife, many working mothers would have a hard time finding care for their children.
The other immigrant that was interviewed, who goes by the name of “Coolio” as far as this interview is concerned, is from the border town of Mexicali. Coolio also was a farmer in Mexico and only made 100 pesos per day. Coolio and his family lived in a “little house” but they did have water and electricity. He has a mother and a brother who still live in Mexicali and his brother still farms. His father works in a factory in California. Coolio sends his mother money every month and sometimes his brother will ask Coolio to send more money home. Peggy Levitt, in her book Transnational Villagers, says “Those [family members] who remain behind accept less power and prestige in exchange for the migrant’s continued economic support.”(Trans.Villagers, p.92). Even though Coolio’s brother stayed behind to support their mom, he still relies on Coolio to do most of the supporting through remittances. According to the statistics in Transnational Villagers , the percent of sending-country immigrants in the U.S. that were Non-Dominican Hispanics was 9.4% in 1990. Coolio crossed the border in 1980 to find a better job here in Phoenix. The coyotes took him across the border and he says that this was a scary experience. It took them two days to get across the desert, walking part of the way and riding in a truck for the rest of the trip. They were not burglarized and the border patrol did not catch them. Coolio was the only one to make this trip to the U.S. with his mother and brother staying in Mexicali. His father crossed over into California to find a job years before this and ended up divorcing Coolio’s mother.
Coolio says it was not hard to find a job and that he found one two months after arriving. He says that he did not need the help of an agency to find a job but that he found one on his own. It took Coolio more than a year to obtain the documents necessary for migrating to the U.S.. Once he got to the U.S. it took him three years to obtain his resident’s card but during these years he was still able to find work at different restaurants. Coolio says that becoming a U.S. citizen “was a long process…you have to have a clean record...a good citizen.” He also says he had to take an English test and that this was very hard for him. He does not speak good English. Coolio says it took him a year to obtain his citizenship and that it cost him $300 dollars. According to the statistics in Transnational Villagers, 33.7% of the Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. between 1980 and 1989 had obtained U.S. citizenship by 1999. When he was asked if it was hard to adjust to life in Phoenix he just shrugged his shoulders and said no. When asked if he enjoyed living in Phoenix he responded, “I like it…its close to my home in Mexico.” Coolio says that he does not miss living in Mexico. When asked why he didn’t live in Tucson he said that he liked Phoenix better than Tucson and that he felt safe in Phoenix. He says that people in Phoenix have treated him “O.K.” and that he has not experienced any type of discrimination. He lives in a house in the 32nd St. and Thomas area and says that his neighbors are all from Mexico also. Coolio says that the hardest part of adjusting to life in Phoenix was living in Phoenix for the first year without a car. He had never owned a vehicle in Mexico and his first car would cost him $600 dollars. Coolio thinks that it is expensive living in Phoenix and says that he does not make enough money at the golf course. He has a second job landscaping where he works an additional 10 hours a week for a total of 50 hours per week. Coolio has a son who lives with him and is divorced from his wife but still gives her some money once in a while. His ex-wife is a cleaning lady at St. Luke’s hospital. Coolio has never received welfare but has always worked hard to get by. He is now an equipment manager at the golf course and makes $13.92 per hour after working there for 22 years. He started out at the golf course only making minimum wage as a grounds keeper in 1981. The golf course provides Coolio with a health care plan in which he only has to pay 20% of his annual medical expenses and Coolio says that he is satisfied with this.
The golf course that Jess and Coolio work at does not hire immigrants unless they have the required documentation which consists of at least two forms of I.D. including a green card and a social security card. Possessing a driver’s license also helps their chances of getting a job, though the golf course does not require their employees to have a license. Twenty-two immigrants work at the golf course, the other five employees are Caucasian, and five of the immigrants have a second job. Three of the immigrants don’t speak or comprehend English. The golf course does not run background checks to find out if the applicants’ documents are legitimate. The immigrant workers do not get Mexican holidays off and they only get every other American holiday off. They get paid time and a half for the holidays that they work on. The starting pay for new employees is $6.50 per hour at the golf course. They receive an annual raise based on the cost of living and change of position. The employees have to provide their own lunch at work. Their health care covers 20% of their annual medical expenses. Many of the immigrants have turned down the health care and when it’s necessary they go down to Mexico where dental and medical care is cheaper. They get six sick days a year but most of them don’t use these sick days because they would rather work while their ill. The employees at the golf course are given uniforms and safety footwear. The golf course no longer offers overtime hours for the employees due to a strict budget. There is also no retirement offered to the golf course employees. Three of the immigrants have worked at the golf course for over 20 years. Six of them have worked there for 10 to 19 years. The rest of them have been there for an average of 5 to 9 years and three of the immigrants were hired just this year, one of them being a rehire who had gone back to Mexico for a short time. On an average, three immigrants leave every year while three new immigrants are hired every year. Only three out of the twenty-two immigrant workers have obtained their citizenship. During the 70’s Immigration would swing by the golf course and pick up those workers who did not have legitimate documentation. Some of the workers would run off and hide somewhere in the golf course when the green Immigration truck would show up. This has not happened since 1991. Only six workers have been sent back to Mexico over the last 27 years. There was also a high turnover rate among Hispanic employees during the 70’s with many of them going back and forth between Mexico and the U.S..
In 1994, economist Donald Huddle stated that immigrants were costing the U.S. $42 billion more than what they were paying in taxes. The method Huddle used to come to this conclusion was found to be flawed. The Urban Institute found that Huddle had counted 2.7 million immigrants twice when coming up with the cost. Huddle had also made the mistake of assuming that immigrants entering the U.S. after 1994 would not be paying taxes. After taking these errors into consideration, the Urban Institute came to the conclusion that immigrants actually contribute a $27.4 billion net surplus. (Disposable Domestics, p.31-32). Immigrants continue to help the U.S. grow and their hard work should be appreciated by all Americans. Both Jess and Coolio have worked hard for a living and have never been on welfare. They both have other family members to take care of and they take this responsibility seriously.
The U.S. government’s policy on illegal immigration has been paradoxical to say the least. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 had two main objectives that seemed to contradict each other. Its first objective was to reduce the number of undocumented immigrants. The second objective was to provide undocumented immigrants already working in the U.S. with a chance to become legal and obtain rights. The Act established employer sanctions against businesses that knowingly employed undocumented immigrants. It also provided those immigrants who had been living illegally in the U.S. since 1982 with a chance to obtain temporary resident status. The United States is slowly realizing how important these immigrants are to the U.S. economy. There service to the United States deserves the respect and gratitude of every U.S. citizen.
Chang, Grace. Disposable Domestics, South End Press: Cambridge, MA. 2000.
Levitt, Peggy. The Transnational Villagers, University of California Press:
Berkley, CA. 2001.