Saturday, April 27, 2013

My Friend Mike from Mexico

Guest blogger, Christine Kalvass, third-year law student, University of San Francisco

Mike is a friend who was born in Michoacán, Mexico. He lived there with his three brothers and parents. Life was hard. They all worked in the fields picking tomatoes, onions, and peppers to make ends meet. One year, when Mike was 12, he had to skip school for the year so that he could help his family pick vegetables and make money.

When Mike was about 15 an American man—a smuggler or coyote-- as they are often called, came to the town his family lived in and told them about a wonderful opportunity. The man spoke excellent Spanish, but was white. He offered to take them across the border into America for $6,000. Mike’s older brothers went first. Three years later, Mike had saved enough money to be able to go. He said he was not scared at all because his two older brothers were already there. His parents did not want to go at the time.

When the day came for Mike to make the journey to America the coyote came to his house and picked him up in his car. The coyote had already made an agreement with the border patrol. According to Mike the plan was that he had paid them to not look in the trunk of his car when they drove across the checkpoint. When they were in Tijuana, Mike got in the trunk of the car and they drove across the border without a problem. The coyote drove Mike to a house in San Diego. They arrived in the middle of the night and Mike had no contact with the family who lived there. As far as he knows it was a friend or business partner of his coyote. He went directly into a room in the house and waited there for about 6 hours. After that someone came and drove him to Los Angeles. He waited in another anonymous house there overnight until his brother, who was living in Concord, drove down and got him. His brother paid the coyote and drove Mike back to his place in Concord, California.

Mike works as a line cook in a restaurant. He knew no English at all when he arrived, nor how to cook. His brother was a manager at the restaurant, which is how he got the job. The restaurant never asked for any documents or papers that would show Mike was here legally and permitted to work. He pays taxes and started his job at minimum wage. He has been there for about 7 years, and now makes $12/hour.

For most of the past seven years, Mike has worked at two restaurants simultaneously to pay his bills. He usually works at one restaurant from 9:30-3:30 and then the second one from 4- 10, five days a week. On his days off he does laundry, relaxes, plays soccer, or hangs out with friends near his complex. He does not have any American ID or passport. He uses his Mexican ID when necessary. He knows how to drive but cannot get a driver’s license here so he takes BART, bikes or walks. He also now has a debit card, but before he got it he notes that at one point he had up to $10,000 in cash in his apartment.

He has learned his English almost totally through work. He took a class when he first arrived because he did not know any English, but he thinks he learns more from hearing and speaking it at work.

Mike works hard, but when asked if he regrets the choice to come to America he vehemently shakes his head no. While he has to work long and hard here, he says the work in Mexico was much harder because of the physicality it required. He said that a whole day’s work picking vegetables in the sun made his family the equivalent of $11.

Mike’s other brother was here in the U.S., but was deported about 5 years ago. He was pulled over in Walnut Creek, CA and the police found drugs and guns in the car. He was in jail for some time, but Mike doesn’t know how long because he was not able to visit him because he had no papers. He did not have a phone at the time either so he was not able to speak with him. His brother wants and plans to come back. Mike worries that if his brother comes back and is caught, he will face up to ten years in prison because of his prior felony.

Mike is so grateful to be here. He misses his parents and brothers, but feels that his life here is worth the sacrifice. He works very hard, but I have never heard him complain once. He smiles and simply says he needs to work to pay his bills! He has no resentment towards Americans or about the fact that he may never be able to have a career that he enjoys because of his status. When I ask him what he would do if he could have any job he is so caught off guard all he does is smile and say that he would have to think about that.


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