Every day we go to the beach and the meseros (waiters) who stand around there wave to us and shout things at us in Spanish which I hope are recommendations in favor of their particular establishment and not denigrations of my yellow swim shirt – machismo is big in Mexico and I’m not sure I am projecting the right image with my color selection. They’ve always said the things they say with smiles, and we’ve had a meal at two of the places, but generally I try to avoid making eye contact with them because I feel like we can get cheaper and better eats off the beach, and darn it if I don’t look good in yellow.
Tonight, after eating mediocre pizza for dinner (Pizza! In a Mexican fishing village! Damn kids.) and drinking a strong margarita or two at one of those off the beach places, I was heading down for my last swim of the day and saw two of the guys sitting at the top of the public access steps drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, which is the universal language, so I stopped and with my idiotic Spanish told them we were leaving tomorrow and this and that. Before I knew what was happening - though, who am I to protest - we were sitting on the beach and C. and his nameless friend had gotten me a glass of beer and were waxing eloquent about a friend who gave surf lessons someplace, and another place for us to go, and all sorts of other things that I didn’t catch. Fortunately, R showed up with her new, tight bathing suit, which I love, and the two guys stopped paying attention to me and started talking to R, which was fine because she actually understood what they were saying and the conversation could be above the first grade level that I could offer.
Good thing, because it turned out to be quite an interesting conversation that I was left out of, though, I did have the important role of pouring the beer, which, if I was grading my performance, I passed with flying colors – yellow shirt and all.
Both C. and X grew up here. They like the trending of the city to tourism because otherwise they would fish. As a waiter, they make no salary, but earn 10 pesos on a hundred that they bring into the restaurant. On a good day, they can make 1,000 pesos. Some days they make 30 pesos. The two meals that we have had at the beach restaurants where they work (they work at competing restaurants) ran around 400 pesos. We tip 10 percent, because we heard that is the norm, but Cesar and X said typically they get a 15 peso tip or nothing at all, regardless of the total.
While I covered my feet with the cool evening sand, sipped beer, and watched the Pacific crash against the shore, they also talked about the narco-violence that all of us Americans have heard so much about. Both C. and X assured us that we were safe anywhere in Mexico – we would not be targeted. The value of tourism is recognized, and persons who rob or otherwise harass tourists are dealt with – apparently in such an unpleasant and final way by the cartel that it discourages others from having such thoughts. While this gave me some comfort, it also caused me some guilt, probably due to my Catholic upbringing, that our presence in Mexico might tempt some down and out hoodlum to hold us up for our measly belongings and thus meet an untimely end while wearing my shorts which hadn’t been properly washed in a couple of months.
C. and his friend do have some reservations about the gang culture in Zihua because El Tigre, the boss of the local trafficking business, has recently been jailed, permanently, they think, and it is unclear who will be his successor. El Tigre had proclaimed that no “propina” would be required for local businesses to operate, so for the last few years, what money came into the restaurant went into the pockets of those who had earned it, rather than those who purported to protect it. R is very familiar with this concept of protection money from her law practice, as several of her clients have sought asylum in the United States, or in Ecuador when she worked for a non-profit there in 2008, because they refused to cater to the demands of the gangs that ruled the streets. Of course, failure to abide means that you are out of business at best, or at worst, cut up and served as an entrée at the establishment of the owner that does abide. So, you either pay, or you go, or you die.
The other interesting thing that they talked about while I stared off into the darkening skies and wondered at R’s ability to carry on a grown-up conversation in another language, was something that I think is very relevant to consider amongst all the idiotic rhetoric spewing from a certain also-ran for the U.S. presidency – Mexican immigration to the U.S.
I’ve seen C. on the beach every day for a week trying to woo patrons into his restaurant, but also playing with his ever-present three-year old son. There’s no daycare while he goes to work – the boy is there with him, all day, on the hot beach. This is true everywhere we’ve been so far – the kids are there, at work, with their parent(s). Whether it is after school, or in lieu of school, the kids are there, helping with the trade that keeps the family fed and clothed, and hopefully, sheltered.
But C.’s point was that he wouldn’t trade any amount of money he could earn in the U.S. for the time he gets to spend each day with his wife – who granted, is a masseuse and probably knows a trick or two about easing tension – and his son. He related that his uncle spent many years in the U.S. and that his cousins always had new shoes and gadgets (a Walkman and even a cool pager – that only worked in the US so was useless except as a prop), but that ultimately, they resented that their father was not at home with them.
The suggestion that Latino immigrants are in the U.S. to rape our women, sell high-quality gateway drugs to us and our children, and take our jobs cleaning airport toilets, is embarrassing. In the first instance, I’m embarrassed that it even resonates with anyone, and second, I’m embarrassed that our Congress hasn’t done anything in umpteen years about fixing what everyone recognizes as an area that needs governance. It’s also demeaning to those who make the sacrifice to risk their own lives and families to emigrate.
The Latino immigrants do what they must, just as we would. They cross illegally because there is no way for them to do so legally, and they work long days at jobs no American wants so they can earn more money than they could at home and send that money home with the intention to provide a better life for their families. And the flip side, the side we don’t think much about, is that they are away from their families - sometimes permanently. They can’t go back for birthdays, holidays, or deaths. Their kids might grow up without them ever knowing them and all they have to show for their sacrifice is a pile of letters and cards from people that they are doing everything that they can for, just as we would for our families and loved ones, and that they want to know, but don’t.