I went to Mexico and all I got was this fantastic insight into poverty beyond comprehension. by Jeff
As a student studying migration and culture, I enjoyed the opportunity to visit the border town of Nogales, Sonora. Brook and Alma from the BorderLinks home office, Casa Actua, planned a wonderful trip that included a visit with the Department of Homeland Security, lunch with a local family in a part of the City called Colonial Bella Vista, and a visit to the Casa de la Misericorida, a neighborhood charity and help center. Although we had studied some of the issues surrounding economic conditions and migration trends, nothing really prepares a person for this type of experience.
Our first stop was at the U.S. border patrol station where 5,000 people cross in an 8hr day. Vehicles cross at the rate of over one million each year. This is the busiest port in Arizona and it all happens at a snail’s pace. Given what we hear in the news, you’d think Mexicans were storming the border, kicking down barricades, and leaping fences. Nope, not the case. In fact, these border agents seem to take their sweet ass time helping expedite even those legitimate in purpose. Given this, It’s amazing how they claim to lack manpower to track down I-94 applicants that overextend their welcome in the U.S. Border Patrol takes over jurisdiction from the port of entry. We were greeted by Officer Berlman who also toured us through the department. Even though we “streamlined” the process with the creation of one super agency, “Homeland Security”, other agencies must be involved if a situation is not involved in citizenship or visas, which means the recent merge of resource means nothing. In my opinion, the most valuable component would be to identify threats to the country and detain individuals that are noted threats in any agency databases. I had asked Officer Berlemann what single most noticeable change took affect when the Department of Homeland Security merged the various agencies. His reply was simply more cameras and officers, no change in policy or agenda. The primary focus here is to stop individuals from entering the country without specific cause or privilege and mitigate drug smuggling.
stop, lunch with the Lupe family in Colonial Bella Vista, their
neighborhood. This was the most humbling experience of my
life. It was absolutely remarkable how happy the family was and
unaware of the horrible living conditions in comparison to even the
other local neighborhoods. Utilities were limited to electric and
bottled gas. Amenities were lacking, single light bulb, wood
stove, no running water or sewer services. Water is held in a captive tank and filled once a week by
a local water company. Oh, and all of this In a 200sqft shanty with a
dirt floor…horrible! The food was delicious. I had asked
about migration to the US for better wages or remittances, but this was
of no interest. Again, here come the walls of propaganda
crumbling down on my feet.
Given these living conditions, why wouldn’t they be crossing in droves? Seniora Lupe said that crossing the
border was simply too dangerous and they wouldn’t know where to go after crossing. Seniora Lupe has dreams of her children getting a good education but has no specific aspirations for them. Their oldest son may soon quit school to work and help support the family. The home was adorned with Christian artifacts and figurines. The family is very happy living off the husband’s monthly salary of $450.
On we went to the Curtis Maquiladora, a company based in Milwaukee Wisconsin that makes small electronic control devices and connector plates. At 27years of business, the Curtis Company is one of the oldest US firms in Mexico. Surprisingly, they are short on employees and are having trouble filling these positions.
The explanation was given that the majority of labor migrants within the country have moved elsewhere domestically and abroad for higher wages. Also causing labor problems is the lack of skill-sets among new employees. The facilities are clean and well maintained. I’ve seen worse conditions in Arizona factories. The 55 workers average $10 pay each day and starting salary is $8.30 a day, that’s right a DAY! Curtis will be moving 98% of their production capacity to this facility by June of this year. We learned that border towns like Nogales have the highest pay scales, but also have the highest cost of living in Mexico relative to income.
Our last stop was the Casa de la Misericorida, an organization that helps feed and clothe the impoverished families in the neighborhood. For many, it is the only hot meal and source of clothing. They have faced many challenges in the operation and always find a way to handle the diversity. Beyond that, they have become a voice for the poor both politically and among the many manufacturers in the city. The main problem here is getting the corrupt government in Nogales to loosen their strangle hold on taxes and revenues created by the businesses that move here. It was later learned that the politicians are somewhat self elected and have held power within a couple of known families for decades.
Concluding our trip, a four hour bus ride home gives you time to wonder how well you have it living in the United States. We have liberties and laws that protect us from our government and each other. Lost is any notion that there is any reason to stay in Mexico given the opportunity or ability to leave for the riches of the United States. However, the people of Nogales do stay. They chose to work, raise families, and strive for a better life. They make due with what resource they have and are genuinely happy for doing just that. What they lack in amenity, they gain tremendously in communal strength. Together they are Humble, Strong, and Unyielding people.
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