Monday, January 3, 2011

Illegal Immigration - An Alternative Approach

This Caguama (1liter beer) may present a solution (See bottom)
Of course, everyone has they're own opinion about the issue of illegal Mexican immigrants to the U.S., and it's a really a very complex topic, with all sides making economic, cultural, political and social arguments that make complete sense - to the people who fall into each given ideological area in the first place.  Since I'm not American, nor is it likely that I'll ever be denied legal entry into the U.S., I don't really have much say in the issue, I guess.

So, instead of throwing my own 2 cents' worth into a bucket that already has a few billion cents in it, I'll just talk about my experience with Mexicans who've done it.  The following are a few points I've noticed.

Determination.  After being caught and sent back three times, I would give up.  Especially since if I had to pay what amounted to a few months' pay for the service of being taken across and picked up on the other side.  I've heard $1000 USD, and that it's usually borrowed money.  I've known a few people who were going back for round 3 or 4.  That money could feed their family in Mexico for half a year. I don't know how they manage to make the whole thing profitable.  In one case, judging by the under-nourished look of the man's children, I don't think he did.  He was pumped and ready to go again, though.  Of course, there are thousands who succeed, bring their family and even buy a home.  Those stories are enough to motivate the others who don't get any use out of it.  It's kind like slot machines for addicted gamblers.

The lure of the American Dream, or an prospect of making it "rich" is stronger than just about any obstacle or risk.  One writer stated that the only thing the construction of a 20-foot wall along the border would accomplish is an increase in production of 25-foot ladders in Mexico. (R. Longworth, Caught in the Middle.)  Politics aside, I believe this is an accurate reflection of the determination involved.

Worse Prospects Back Home.  If I remember correctly, I believe the new laws in Arizona were proposing 40 days in jail for people discovered in the U.S. without a valid visa (I'm not sure if I have the details right or what the final outcome was.)  While I agree that it's harsh, I don't think it compares to the possibilities of imprisonment in Mexico.  A friend of my wife was in jail, innocently, for almost 10 years; most significantly WITHOUT TRIAL.  We only recently discovered his release when he contacted her on facebook.  If I understand correctly, Mexico doesn't have the "innocent until proven guilty" legal concept, and, it seemed in his case that the opposite was assumed.  (I believe President Calderon has taken steps to change this, as well as implementing a public, witness-questioning type process for trials.  If so, I hope it makes a difference.) In Mexican jails you also have to pay for your food and tip guards.  Family members have to visit to leave money.  Many inmates, are for this reason, compelled to make handy-crafts to sell and pay for their keep; the guards sell the crafts outside and keep a share of the cash. (One of the most famous hammock producers on the Yucatan Peninsula is actually a prison; foreign tourists innocently seem to think it's a nice way to fill idle time; I know I did at the beginning.)  So, how does the prospect of 40 days in an American jail stack up to this?

On top of that, many of these people come from a life of utter poverty.  They don't see much to loose.  Back on the farm, they always had corn, beans, squash and meat, not to mention as much fruit as they could eat. But they didn't have Kentucky Fried Chicken, Blackberry cell phones or satellite T.V.  I guess even a modest income in the U.S can get them these luxuries of the rich.  For others, the prospect of one day being able to take the kids to Disney Land would give their family special status.  They once knew a rich family from he city that had gone ...

Bragging Rights. Now, I can't say for sure, but I don't think 40 days in an American jail would daunt most of the people who head across the border.  I actually suspect it might serve as another source of bragging rights; I can here it now: "The gringos caught me and gave a free bed and food for 40 days!"  I've heard this kind of bragging.  The guy who I mentioned above, who had been caught and sent back 3 times was telling his story (of course, no jail involved) to a group of men and boys, sitting around with beer.  As he spoke with the pride and authority of true drunk, a 14-year-old boy looked on in awe, with sparkle of hope in his eyes.  That was 4 years ago.  I'm sure that 14-year-old is in the U.S. by now.

Not all the braggers are drunks. I've met some very fine, upstanding, lower-middle class family men speaking with true pride of their cross border risks, all for the sake of their dear family (these are more the Disney Land types).

National Identity Confusion.  For some reason, Mexicans who successfully establish themselves in the U.S. (legally or illegally) often do not want to be considered Mexican, or even Mexican-American, or Mexican-background.  I remember on a trip to Detroit once, to the Mexican neighborhood, one hispanic American was offended when my dad mentioned the word Mexican (he was definitely Mexican, as opposed to Colombian, for example.)  I've heard of many similar cases.  These people teach their kids that they are American, not Mexican.

Here in Playa del Carmen I met a Mexican family whose daughters had been born in the U.S.

"Some day," explained one of the little girls, "I want to go back to my Homeland, and get to know my people." She hadn't been there since infancy.  She placed a special emphasis on "mi patria" referring the United States.  All of this was in Spanish, and she couldn't speak any English.  Also, everything about the family, from their clothes and way of addressing people, to gestures and expressions was purely Mexican (which, for me, is a good thing.)  But these girls had been taught to believe that they were not Mexican.

I would think that for Americans this desire to assimilate should be seen as a good thing.  But, again, I'm not American. Personally, I think it's ridiculous; if I could say I had Mexican heritage, I would do so with pride.  (I do show off my Mexican citizenship card to disbelieving Mexicans; but it's not quite the same is really being Mexican culturally.)  Once people are born and raised in the U.S., and that is really their culture, then of course it makes sense to identify themselves with that nationality.  But, ironically, some Mexican-background Americans I know who have fully assimilated American culture are among the few who look back with pride to their Hispanic roots. Others are scathingly aggressive to their former people.

Now that I'm pretty much done, I'll throw in my one-cent's worth.  (It's not even really worth two.)

In the case of American policy makers, on either side of the political spectrum, I feel like one of two things is true; either they've had no contact with these people, and they know virtually nothing about them, or, they know, but pretend that they don't because it's more important to please their respective voters base.  I suppose both are possible.  If they knew something about how these people thought, I would guess that they could come up with some sort of policy that would work at least little better.

My one-cent opinion: they should gather a few of the illegal immigrants, sit down with them with a few caguamas (pronounced "ca-WAma" - see the picture at the top) and really get to know them.  It might not solve the problem, but I'm sure it would take them farther than they are now.


  1. Jacob, your one cent opinion is worth a pound, or 2.2 kilo`s of gold. I can`t really add much other than to say that I am from the U.S. and that I am embarrassed that most americans will turn their nose up at a chance at a few caguamas and an evening with what could be some great new friends and new perspectives that could lead to progress.

    It especially sickens me when I see good decent human beings dying of thirst in the desert. I don`t know what the answer is, but there MUST be a win-win solution out there somewhere.

    We have a maid who comes once a week. This freaks me out actually because I`ve never had a made before in the states. Her name is Vicky. Vicky was working in the states illegally for many years to help her family here in Mexico. She braved the crossing several times throughout the years to see her family and was fortunately never caught. She is a great lady.

    The last two paragraphs of your entry are priceless with truth, just priceless!

  2. Thanks Todd! I'd guess that we, and most Americans, would consider the majority of these people "decent" when we got to know them. I suppose that doesn't quench the political rage that rampid these days. Fast, uncontrolled change is always frightening, especially when people feel their own opportunities are being lost through it (I don't put myself above this.) But I agree; there has to be a win-win solution. I think ignorance and political ideologies (again, on both sides of the spectrum) are probably the biggest barriers to finding it.

  3. I do agree with almost all. :).

    Is pretty funny to make somone that denies been a Mexican feel bad about it. I'm sorry but I do like to see their faces sometimes.

    I'm really proud of been Mexican, My kids were born in US but I do gave them the dual citizenship as soon as I could ( when they where out of the hospital and I got all the papers) This was weird for the lady at the consulate, BTW. as she says most people wait until they urgently need to travel back or something else... most "kids" are adults by that time.

    I'm trying to raise both kids in both cultures. It has been proven difficult more now that my 2nd has been diagnosed with autism and we are just trying to find out how far he is to help..or how much we can do now.- different topic-

    But is pretty fun sometimes with the people that denies to be Mexican. I physically do not look like the Mexican stereotype people wait to see. Normally people think I'm Italian. And when I speak Russian, as after a few years my accent speaking English has clearly changed. So when someone I KNOW is Mexican says he/she doesn't speak Spanish I start speaking Spanish or mixing it with English until they answer. :) then I just smile. and keep speaking Spanish.

    It is even funnier when is my 3 yo girl doing that. :)

  4. That is pretty funny! I think it's a good idea. I like that fact that you're making an effort to raise them in both cultures; most people give a real emphasis to one or the other, and the kids loose out on what could be an important experience.

    I'm also making my kids dual citizens (Mexico-Canada.) I still have to do it for the baby; he's a month old. I'm attempting both cultures as well.

  5. Me gusta que todo lo que escribes lo haces de manera imparcial y real. Es cierto yo como mexicano e visto a varios paisanos negando ser mexicanos a mi sinceramente me da mucho coraje aunque por otro lado hay gente que es de origen mexicano y que si tu los ves de inmediato piensas que son mexicanos pero en realidad son sus abuelos o bisabuelos los que llegaron por primera vez a estados unidos y estos conservan su aspecto de mexicanos pero no su cultura, etc.

    Es como muchos españoles, frances, libaneses, etc que se han venido a mexico y que si los ves piensas que son extranjeros pero llevan viviendo su familia en mexiuco desde hace 3 o 4 generaciones y si es cierto son mexicanos aunque su aspecto no lo sea, pienso que algo similar a de suceder con muchos mexicanos en EU.

    Otra cosa que hay que tomar en cuenta es que muchisimos de los que cruzan ese muro fornterizo no son mexicanos, han encontrado asiaticos y africanos cruzando ese muro y con mayor razon gente de otras partes de america latina que al cruzar la frontera la migra piensa que son mexicanos ademas que ellos dicen ser mexicanos porque si dicen que son colombianos, guatemaltecos, peruanos u otro pais latinoamericano pues los mandarian de regreso a sus paises en cambio si dicen ser mexicanos los dejan en mexico para asi cruzar la frontera de nuevo en unas cuantas semanas o meses.

    como tu lo dices es un tema muy polemico que tiene muchas cosas que tomar en cuenta.

    no se que tan cierto sea pero vi por ahi que solo comno el 20% de los ilegales de estados unidos son mexicanos el resto son de otros paises latinoamericamos.

    Respecto al sentimiento de identidad americana y no mexicana pues pienso que es porque muchos se criaron en estados unidos, tengo una prima 100% mexicana pero nacio en estados unidos y actualmente esta en la naval de estados unidos y estoy seguro que ni siquiera se sabe el himno nacional mexicano, para mi es una lastima eso pero es la realidad.

    Por otro lado tengo una prima que nacio en mexico pero de los 3 a 8 años vivio en estados unidos, ella ya es adulta y dice que curiosamente siente mas bonito cuando escucha el himno de estados unidos que el de mexico, que el de mexico no le causa nada y que ella cree que es porque desde muy niña en la escuela escucho solo el himno de EU y no el de mexico.

  6. Me gustan mucho tus comentarios, informacion y historias, Salvador. Quizas luego los traduzco en ingles para todos los lectores. Sabia de los latinamericanos pero no sabia de los africanos, etc. Entiendo si algien vive aya y es parte de la sociedad, en la marina, etc., ya dedicando su vida al otro pais, que se dicen "nortamericanos," pero con las ninas que mencione aqui, no hablaron ingles, casi nunca vivieron aya, ni tenian nada de la cultura nortamericana. Eso es lo que me surprendio. Siempre emfatizo con mis hijos que son los 2 (mexicano, canadiense) pero supongo un dia van a eligir uno.