Deacon Sweenie brought Octavio May 18 and took him on the 25th to meet a contractor who would take him to a dairy farm in Ohio. During the week he was here, Octavio worked and prayed, ate and talked with us. He used the opportunity to practice his English and to stop and think about his choices. He had been working six 11 hour days each week, with no break in the shifts, and said he hadn’t had time to think much. He helped with our Spanish as well as with our work and enjoyed our evening walks, music and games. He told the following story to Joanna mostly in Spanish and she translated it. Lorraine edited it to remove repetition and to add his answers to clarifying questions.
In my country the land is good, we can grow a good harvest. If we could sell our products at home, we would not need to leave our families and take the risk of coming to the United States. But as it is, we work hard all the time to grow crops, and then the price is so low that they are not worth selling. So we begin to dream of going to the U.S. and making money instead of staying home, working hard and gaining nothing. This dream is like a sickness that comes to all the young people--not so much to the older ones. Many Mexicans plan to come here for a little while, work hard, make money and then go back to their families. Some do this. Some forget their families. Maybe they marry an American woman, buy a house, try to start a new life here. Then Immigration deports them, they lose everything they had and go home with empty hands. A Mexican cannot make a life here, cannot have land, a home, a family, cannot even come and go freely. But the young people still believe the dream.
To cross the borderlands they must hire coyotes to guide them. Some coyotes are honest, but many take the immigrants’ money and abandon them in the desert, or else hold them captive and threaten to report them to Immigration or even kill them if their families do not send more money.
When I came to this country the second time I looked for a coyote near the frontier. He passed me on to another coyote closer to the border. I went to the Rio Bravo and crossed with this coyote. On the other side another coyote took me to a house and locked me in there with 25 other people. We had no food or water for 3 days; he just stayed there smoking and drinking. Finally 5 people ran away. Maybe Immigration caught them, I don’t know. When the coyote found out he was angry. He made us all walk through the mountains. We had to find water and food as we walked.
Then we came to a highway. Vans came and picked workers up. Some of us were taken to a hotel and locked in. The coyotes asked who would pay for us. I didn’t know if people who didn’t pay would be reported to Immigration or even killed. My father sent money and they let me go. I paid someone to drive me to New York, but they only took me to another hotel in Texas. I had to call a friend in New York who sent money so I could pay someone else to take me here.
Once immigrants arrive in this country they cannot find jobs on their own, because they do not speak English or know where to find work. Contractors offer to help, but often they send us to jobs where we will be mistreated. They say there will be good housing, clean water and decent wages, and then when we agree and go to the job it is different. The water is dirty, there is no telephone, nobody will take us to buy food. If an employer offers to pay nine dollars an hour, the contractor tells the worker the pay is seven dollars an hour, and then keeps the other two dollars for himself. After some time in the United States we learn this. But we all come blind.
Mexicans can find work, and while we work very, very hard they will keep us. When we cannot keep up the pace they let us go, because there are always more Mexicans coming. If we need anything, if we have any questions or problems, we have to ask the crew boss in Spanish so he can ask the employer in English. And many times he does not tell the employer what we tell him. So I started to study English while I was doing farm work. When the crew boss realized that I was beginning to understand when he talked to the boss in English, and that I was translating for the other workers who only spoke Spanish, he was angry and began to discriminate against me.
I had a friend who was working in potato harvesting. The machine cut off one of his fingers. The boss called the ambulance and they took him away. When the hospital called to ask who would pay his medical bills, the boss said it was not his responsibility; he said my friend had to pay everything. And since no one would pay he had to wait a long time, answer questions and fill out papers--with translation--while he was in much pain. Finally they fixed his finger, gave him one pill, and sent him home with orders not to work for 3 days. After 3 days the boss said he had to start working again or he would lose his job. He did not want to lose his job, so he went back to work, dripping blood and in great pain. His arm swelled up, but he kept working. Finally he collapsed and they took him back to the hospital. This time they kept him there for 15 days. Then he came back and we, his friends, took care of him. We fed him, washed things for him, gave him a plastic bag to put over his hand when he showered. He never received workman’s compensation or any kind of payment. We did not know anyone with power to help him. In time he healed, partly--he had less pain, although he still could not use his finger as well as before. He went back to work. Then Immigration deported him.
When we are not working we still face discrimination. When we go to the store, people look at us as though we were dirty. I wanted to learn English so I would know what people were saying about me, but sometimes it is disagreeable to know what they say. “Here come the monkeys” or ‘the *** Mexicans.” Maybe it is because we are brought to the stores to buy groceries in large groups, after working all day, without a chance to wash or to change our clothes and make ourselves presentable. People avoid us and look at us as though we were people who had no value. I do not understand why they think this way, since we do the hardest work in the fields, and we harvest the food that they are buying. Some people really do offer help to immigrants. The Catholic churches will often help us from their hearts. Some volunteers transport immigrants to buy food, do laundry, attend church services, get away from their workplaces for a little while so that they do not feel imprisoned. This is risky for them, because often the police stop people who look Hispanic and ask them to show their papers. I wish people would not treat us like animals. I wish they would remember that we are people like them and that we only come seeking work.