Tuesday, October 27, 2009
One of my students came to school last week with a large bandage covering his right eye. I asked him what happened and he told me that he was jumped and robbed. "Where?!" I asked, "Right down there, by the school" he told me. I asked him when, was it a night? "About two in the afternoon" he told me.
The migrant house is located in a leafy neighborhood near the center of town. At first sight, I wished Alec and I lived there. When I was ready to go home last Sunday, I told the other volunteers that I was going to walk out to the main road and catch the bus or a taxi. "No!" they insisted "Let us call you a cab. The street is not safe". They waived off the first cab that came. "That driver is weird" Raquel told me. The second seemed better. I started to feel nervous on the long drive back to Villa Fontana. I made a loud phone call from the back seat of the cab, hoping it would be easier to ascertain my location from cell phone records if the car suddenly pulled down one of the many dusty roads to nowhere in Tijuana. The driver started asking me about Casa. "I lived in L.A." he told me "My daughter was born there". The family returned to Tijuana for various reasons. "She is a senior now" the driver told me. "I take her to la linea every morning and she crosses over and goes to a high school in California. We use my sister's address". Sometimes he is able to pick her up in the afternoons, other days she takes the hour long bus ride back to east TJ. "She can never say her dad didn't help her" he told me, dropping me in front of my house.
"You have to be careful here" the Colombian priest at Casa told me yesterday. "They know I'm not Mexican the minute I open my mouth but you are American, you stand out". He encouraged me not to be paranoid but to be cautious. "When they sent me here I wasn't sure if I wanted to come. I was in the Philippines. I don't walk around here alone at night".
"Migrants are bad people. They have tattoos. And they use drugs" Roberto told me after hearing of my volunteerism. I was surprised. I thought all Mexicans had sympathy for migrants. "Please tell me if I am wrong" he added. I told him he was. He said that he would reconsider.
I went to mass again with the migrants. A mentally disabled woman hands out a flyer when people enter the church, a big cheat sheet for what you're supposed to say when. She tried to hand it to the migrant that entered behind me. "No sé leer" he told her. "¿Queeeeé?" she asked loudly. "¡No sé leer!" he answered brusquely. "¿¡No sabes leer!? ¿¡No sabes leer!?" she called over and over again.
"My wife had a miscarriage today" the man whispered to me, after pulling his head out of his hands. "She was five months pregnant, it was a boy". The seminary student continued explaining the rules of the house to the migrants. "You are not allowed to go near the gate because we don't want people buying and selling drugs here". The man showed me his wife's ID. It had a Tijuana address on it. "She is still at the hospital" he said and abruptly stood up and walked toward the gate.
"I was doing everything, meth, cocaine, smoking hierba cronica" the man who slipped into the kitchen told us while we prepared dinner. "I went to jail. Did you know there are two kinds of black people in the U.S.? Real black people and others that are part black and part white". He described the large builds of some of his fellow inmates and how he aligned himself immediately with his Mexican paisanos. After his release, he cleaned up his act, got a dish washing job and started a family. While picking up flautas to bolster the dwindling food supply at his daughter's birthday party, he was picked up by ICE agents. "I begged them to let me say goodbye to my daughter, we were right around the corner". The agents refused. The man went into a tirade, describing all of the things he said to the agents. His eyes repeatedly locked on mine as he angrily said "We are helping this country, contributing by working, you should be arresting dangerous people, drug dealers, not obreros" then in English, "FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! Don't you have families?!". I don't think he actually said any of these things to the agents. But, he got to say them to me. "My family is still there. That is why I am going back".
Level of education: primary school. Home state: Michoacan. Date of arrival: 10/05/2009. Other comments: was shot in the arm and doesn't know why. Years in EUA: 3. Condition of health: diabetes, fragile. Home state: Oaxaca. Years in EUA:9. Family members in EUA: 2. Other comments: spent 3 years in jail for illegal entry. Date of exit: 10/08/2009. Level of education: middle school. Condition of health: healthy. Contact information: Maria Bustamante Veloz, Los Angeles, California. Other comments: arrested for aggression in EUA. Family members in EUA: 3. Years in EUA: 7. No sé leer. No sé leer. No quería leer más.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Monday, October 19, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Friday, October 9, 2009
The meeting was flowing over into our 4:00 break on a day when I had to teach seven back to back classes. I needed that 4:00 break. I had to pee and I was thirsty all at the same time. I needed caffeine after watching that video. I needed to get out of that room. People started shifting around and eyeing each other around four. "Give us our break!" they shouted, kicking over tables and rushing the door. Or I wish they did. We were finally released around 4:45, about fifteen minutes late for our 4:30 class. The kids had been running wild for about an hour and a half. I noticed teachers sort of hovering, no one was running off to get to class. I hovered too. Several teachers started walking toward our break room, saying that they were indeed taking their break. I followed. Someone finally said that we were allowed, we were getting our thirty minutes and, an additional fifteen! The atmosphere was festive in the break room. Around 5:20 teachers started trying to trickle out, maybe teach, time to go. "No one's leaving!" one boisterous teacher said loudly, laughing and blocking the door. "I have to go to the bathroom!" one teacher wailed, only to be blocked from leaving. "I need water!" another called, approaching the exit. "Take mine!" he said, thrusting a bottle of water at her. Though the atmosphere was jovial, it was becoming clear that this break may not have been sanctioned by the administration and it was better if we all "misunderstood" together. Around 5:30 someone rushed into the break room. "There was a mistake. We are supposed to be teaching!" They filed out, snickering, while hundreds of students watched us with curiosity.
I was glad they rebelled. It was bullshit. But I was asking myself in that break room if that was how strikes start.
My snack shop friend had an Anarchy in the U.K. t-shirt on on Friday. "Awesome" I thought and asked him if he liked the Sex Pistols. "I actually have never heard them" he said bashfully "I bought this shirt in San Diego because I thought it was cool". I offered to burn him a CD, always willing to inflict my musical interests on others. "But it's my last day" he told me. WHAT? "I'm going to the other side". I didn't know what to say and shuffled off. I avoid goodbyes. My head was full of nasty images, desert walking, rides in trunks of cars, vans bashing through the gate at San Ysidro. I returned to the snack shop and spoke to his father, who explained to me that his son was born in the U.S., he has a passport. "Want to go dancing with me in the centro one weekend?" he asked slyly, passing me his phone number while looking over his shoulder at his wife working nearby. Nice.
I spied El Hombrecito's brother standing on a street corner near my house while I walked to school one afternoon. "Hi profe!" he said, with a genuine smile on his face. "You going in taxi?" he asked, while the Santa Anas swirled around us. "Yeah" I answered, "it's too hot to walk. Want to come?" He agreed and flagged us a taxi. We actually got a decent rate. As we rode in our reggaeton thumping cab, we spotted El Hombrecito walking with a girl down the side of the road. "Can we pick them up?" we asked the cab driver and loaded two more into the cab. Oddly, the taxi drivers don't seem to mind making their cabs into makeshift school buses. When we arrived at the school, I was surprised when the kids pulled out money, offering to pay for the entire fare. No, my friends, this school bus ride was on me."¡Quiero ver sangre!" they screamed at the Lucha Libre match. We had taken a wrong turn in the centro and ended up on a street filled with hookers and mariachis. I desperately wanted to pull out my camera, but listened to that little voice that said "Hilary, might not be the best idea". When we found the auditiorio of Lucha Libre, we realized how low rent it was when we were shuffled to a caged in area behind the building with an outdoor ring. Alec bought a "cerveza grande", two beers forced into one styrofoam cup with hot sauce coating the rim. One old timer sat against a wall in a "Hecho en México" hat and repeatedly hissed "pendejos" at the participants. When the "wrestlers" would arrange themselves in certain formations, various sections of the audience would knowingly jump to their feet and run, knowing that men where about to start throwing each other over the ropes and into their vacant seats. While the rest of the participants elected intimidating face masks, tights and leather, one wrestler was inexplicable dressed as a bee. A bee that kicks ass. "¡Callate!" overweight men in superhero masks yelled at señoras, well, señoras that heckled. A perfect ending to a perfect week.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Various pets also enter our compound to use our "flower bed" as a litter box. A big Persian cat meows plaintively if I try to dissuade him. I actually don't mind the two chihuahuas that trot the street together, peeing on bushes and crapping in shaded areas. Animal friendships are cute and these two are inseparable. And here I was thinking that chihuahuas were some Taco Bell Mexican stereotype.
I dealt with the cop that came to the gate. He asked me for money for vigilancia, something I sort of thought was included in their pay. I quickly gave him 30 pesos, wanting to get him out of my door way before shots starting flying. During the first weeks of school, our principal told us about a new program that our school was participating in. Undercover cops would patrol the area before and after school, looking for kids selling drugs. The principal stated that they also had students participating undercover in the program that were patrolling our classrooms. For some reason this did not strike me as suspect, Alec found it downright dangerous. "People shoot cops here" he stated "are they trying to get those kids killed?"
The principal makes me a little nervous. He is overtly friendly to me but the faculty is squarely divided in two camps: for and against. I feel a little torn, I appreciate his support but do not trust him. During an impromptu faculty meeting on a FRIDAY night, one profe expressed discontent with how we are evaluated as teachers. "Why do you keep working here?" the principal abruptly asked, "Your union rep is here, we can settle this now". With his second in command at his side, the principal dug in. "You're absent a lot and you turned in half of your electronic folder empty" he continued, teeth literally and figuratively bared. Extremely awkward, to say the least. And in front of the entire faculty. I never want to be on the wrong end of one of those exchanges.
Whenever I take a taxi here the driver tells me that he lived in the U.S., often for years in a mid western state. I always imagine that they were deported, most people don't get a resident alien card only to give it up and return to TJ. There are people from all over Mexico here, the southern states, Sinaloa, Nayarit. Lourdes says that they come with the idea to cross, things don't work out and they stay. "Tijuana isn't doing that great, but it has more jobs than a lot of parts of Mexico" she told me. She is from Nayarit. For some reason the taxi drivers always make me think of the men on the trails in Arizona. Seeing men cry was very difficult for me. I remember one late, hot afternoon when I found two men sitting on the side of a road in Arivaca. They were older, in their fifties and not moving. I jumped out of the truck to speak to them and they didn't even stir, just watched me with tired, heat exhausted eyes. This is not normal. They started pulling out identification. I told them repeatedly that I was not migra and they continued anyway. One of them pulled out his federal identification badge, he used to be a cop. And then, they pulled out pictures of the children they hoped to reunite with in the U.S. and started to cry. I really couldn't take it.
The kids seemed to like the "Seven Nation Army" lesson. One kid, Francisco, proudly showed me the CD he burned of the song, he had hunted it down on the Internet. I am horrified about teaching modals. Coulda shoulda woulda? How are you supposed to teach that? Maybe with "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"? The students did not agree that the Clash is the only band that matters, but I sure did like tagging all the whiteboards with this phrase. Next, we will move to the glam rock portion of our lesson with "Queen Bitch". You know what they say, those that can't teach teach electives.
Friday, October 2, 2009
I remember a guy at the Fulbright conference that reacted to my TJ placement by saying "Tijuana! That's the United States!" I personally have never seen the army patrolling the streets of Atlanta armed with machine guns, nor have I seen men blowing fire out of their mouths for money at home.
Little things just seem so difficult. I went to grad school in Spain - nice, developed western country- and remember a point when I was sick of a simple task taking all afternoon. Or two days. And I still don't know why dog owners in Madrid allow their pets to shit on the sidewalk. Most tasks here have taken me two or three shots to complete. When the pinche gas tank behind our house sprang a leak, it took two extra trips from the gas men, with their singing truck, to repair it. Paying the utilities was a nightmare. "Just go to OXXO" everyone told us. We discovered that you can't pay for everything at OXXO. Especially when all of your utilities have massive back charges on them. Walking, trudging through Villa Fontana and up and down Cucapah, hunting for some certain place where we could pay our bills. I am a little concerned about my landlord's financial situation. Back charges with the electric company, water company and overdue mortgage payments. I was surprised when I saw her mortgage bill. She is charging us about seven extra dollars a month. I think the goal is simply that the mortgage gets paid, not to actually make money. Apparently a lot of people don't pay their mortgages here; the company posts the overdue bills on the outside of the mailboxes, name, house number, everything, for all to see. A repo man came to our house to take our landlord's car, but she doesn't live here, we do.
I wanted to start using some audio in my classes. In order to play "Seven Nation Army", I bought a little boom box. Surely it would have good sound, judging from the booming speakers I have heard screaming from inside cars, from on top of cars, mounted on a plane that flies over our house and on various street corners. No such luck, if the kids moved their chairs we couldn't hear it. One classroom didn't even have a functioning electrical outlet. One enterprising student noticed an outlet up by the ceiling, scaled the wall to plug in the crap ass boom box and created a tower of notebooks to balance it on, all just to hear the White Stripes. I bought a set of computer speakers. They have come out of their box once after hearing the meager sound the produce. HOW COULD THIS BE? My printer seems to be suffering from the same, fuck you Hilary virus and will now only print from Alec's computer. I bought ink for it and after opening the package, found a mispackaged cartridge that wouldn't function in the printer. WHY, WHY, WHY?
I also appear to have the largest feet in Mexico. In desperate need of a pair of work shoes, I entered shoe stores all over Tijuana, only to be told that they don't carry my (gigante) size. "Look at her feet, they're pretty big" Alec pointed out repeatedly as we hunted through TJ. I finally crossed over to Chula Vista and bought a cheap pair of shoes from Target. They leave my feet covered in bloody gashes, but I guess I look a little better than the day I went to school wearing a pair of Pumas with my work clothes. No one said anything.
There is this nice lady that works at the OXXO by our house. She schools the kids that work as baggers about how I bring my own cloth bag to avoid plastic consumption. I avoid her now, because I fear she is monitoring my massive beer consumption. We, well I, ripped through their supply of Bohemia and had to turn to Sol. As I grabbed the last six pack of Bohemia, a man commented "That's the good stuff!" as he walked by with a 20 ounce can of Tecate. It's good to know all the right people. One day, I snuck in during the afternoon and quickly ran out with my six pack, thinking that I had missed her. And there she was, hopping out of her car, waiving, a knowing look on her face.