Migrant workers wait around for work: a description by Ana Castillo

The Guardians, by Ana Castillo (2007, Random House), is about the lives of Mexicans living near the border in the US. In this excerpt, two of them make a tour with a photograph of someone who’s disappeared.

[We went] to Paisano to ask if any of the laborers recognise him. Pero nel. No luck. Young and old men alike shake their tired heads. IT’s six in the morning and they already looked tired out.

So we go walking around downtown, over by the Stanton bridge, up and down Paisano and down and up Oregon. We go by the Tiradero as the merchants are setting up their puestos and all los hombres are out there already. That flea market’s open all year long. Across the street you got the KFC-Taco Bell combo in one lil building-men are waiting there. They’re waiting in the McDonald’s and Church’s Chicken parking lots, too. Across from my old parish, El Sagrado Corazon, where Lola used to make me go to Mass, you got them waiting. ‘Maestro,’ they call out, ‘take me. I’ll work hard for you. See”‘ They flex a muscle or try to. They flash a smile at us.

Me and Oso make our way down to all the bus stations with Rafa’s picture that’s falling apart from so much passing around. The one closest to my house is on Santa Fe and Overland. Then over to Los Angeles Limousines. I understand that some women take that one all the way to LA to get clothes deals at the garment district there. Then they come right back on that bus line and take the clothes to Juarez to sell. I go to the Plaza de los Lagartijos where all the women housekeepers wait to be picked up by patrones. The city used to keep live alligators in the fountain but the animals kept getting killed.

Once I even asked a couple of Migra parked on the street. ‘Let me see your ID, sir,’ one tonto said of answering me about the photograph I was trying to show him. N’hombre. La perrera anda brava. They’ll take anybody in.

LATimesBlogs 17 April 2008

Another time, me and Oso asked some puchucos standing around waiting-not for work but to make dope deals. I knew who they were-los Mexika Tres Mil. Pretty bad pachucos, but they still ain’t the worse. The Mexika Tres Mil or the MTM like they call themselves, come straight out of federal prisons. They operate inside the prisons, too. Maybe they’re tied to the big narcos. I ain’t claiming to know nothing. Just like my neighbors never hear nothing, I walk around but I don’t see nothing…The MTM ain’t no lil ganga, neither. They’re spread all the way down to Centroamerica. Matones mostly. I ain’t afraid of them, though….

All up and down now there are los day laborers who cross over every morning, the skilled and unskilled, good workers and not-so-good ones. The borracho types hiding cuartos in paper bags underneath the muebles they’re leaning against. You gotta look behind the tires to check for a hidden half-pint to make sure you don’t pick up un tipo who’ll be pie-eyed by noon.

It almost looks like something outta the Depression era, so many men needing work. But back then, they couldn’ve waited all darn day and no one wouldn’ve come for them. Then again, back then they weren’t allowed to cross over precisely ’cause there was no work. Now, during the child harvest season, La Migra turns a blind eye at all the men that come to be picked up.

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