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AFTERWORD THE MEXICANS CALL me an illegal. It’s strange when I think about it. Pick one word that names your place in the world: worker, husband, father. . . . Mexicans see me on the street, see my pale skin, my muddy shoes, and to them I am an illegal, almost as if my very essence were negated by their law. I am living in New Laredo without documents. So many Americans have, like me, waded the river and slipped into Mexico that there is a good chance I can blend in with the crowd. I work in a hamburger joint, splattering grease, frying more meat patties than I care to think about. The Mexican who hired me didn’t ask for papers; he wanted to know if I’d work for 2,000 pesos a day. He’s a businessman. Most businessmen here don’t ask where you. were born. The factories ringing the town are full of Americans who need a job it’s gotten so bad in our own country since the industries went overseas. We’re close enough to the factories that we sell a lot of hamburgers to workers on lunch break or getting off shift. El Servicio de Migracion knows it, too. They come around here to round up American aliens. The most recent one was only weeks ago. Two agents of “the Service” came in unannounced, one in each door, and started asking the workers for their papers. Half the joint got cleared out and loaded up into Servicio vans. They were detained and then sent back to the United States later that day. By now I see most of their faces at the lunch hour again. Sometimes the agents come back to the kitchen to ask for documents. So far I’ve always made it to the utility closet that we keep available for such emergencies. It’s a ridiculous game that we play, but the closet is well hidden and it beats sprinting out the back alley. Mexico doesn’t know exactly what to do about it. The businessmen praise our work ethic and extol the success of the factories along the border. “If there was any doubt about the ability of the American worker to produce at high quality, cost-efficient levels, the border industries have erased that,” said one Mexican executive to the local newspaper. But the politicians in Mexico City are getting nervous. The newspapers are full of talk of sealing off la frontera. Each year the Mexican Border Patrol gets more agents to catch aliens from Texas and California. We are accused of bringing in drugs, of stealing jobs from Mexicans. Mexicans are increasingly afraid of wetback Americans. We are not seen as workers or taxpayers certainly not as neighbors. To them we are aliens. The border is becoming a hostile zone. Their headlines read: 1 MILLION ILLEGAL ALIENS CAUGHT. RATE, AHEAD OF LAST YEAR’S. Or: 56 ILLEGALS SEIZED NEAR MATAMOROS. Every time I read those headlines I think it could be me. There are so many ways they can catch us. Sometimes they set up roadblocks and stop all the fair-skinned drivers. American-Mexicans begin to resent this kind of treatment; it makes them feel like illegals, too. Servicio officials claim they have ways of spotting aliens. They look for “modes of dress, mode of hair, the ethnic background, even the smell of a person.” Agents will look at you sometimes to see if you avoid their eyes. Or they will ask rapid questions to test your Spanish. One official recently explained, “While we cannot detain a person solely because a person looks American, ethnicity is certainly a factor that can be considered. Other factors enter the picture in a determination of alienage, such as clothing, shoes and hair style. Some people may be smoking foreign-made cigarettes, or the smoke may emit the odor of exotic tobacco blends not commonly smoked in this country.” Recently, the Service has been using clever tricks to snag illegal Americans. They singled out a woman from Brownsville and promised her a new pig for her farm. When she came across the border to accept the offer, she ended up in handcuffs. Last January, the Service stung 33 Americans illegally in Juarez by mailing .them invitations to win a free car and attend a free barbecue. The Americans fell for it and ended up in a Mexican jail. The Mexican Border Patrol becomes ever more sophisticated. They are acquiring radar blimps, high-powered night telescopes, and more helicopters. Some border stations have ultra-sensitive monitors that can scan a cargo truck and pick up breathing and heartbeat sounds of Americans hiding inside. I have begun to collect stories about the ill-fated journeys of my compatriots. You can find them in the newspaper on any given day. Usually you hear about bodies washing up on the shore of the Rio Grande. But sometimes the luck holds out longer. There was the teenage boy from Michigan who hopped the wrong freight at the border and ended up dying in the Sonora desert, alone and with no shoes, There were the 26 aliens found locked in a boxcar in a sweltering New Laredo switching yard. One man was dead, another dying, and a 16-yearold girl was suffering from shock and dehydration. Once the bodies of three American nationals were found locked in the trunk of a car that had washed into a creek in the Mexican interior during a flood. Once a pregnant woman crossing the Rio Grande in an inner tube was hit by a motor boat and pulled away by the current as her horrified husband looked on. We are tracked on foot as we make our way over rugged territory; we are like criminals running from the law. We are smuggled across the border in trunks and freight cars, like dangerous shipments of contraband. Sometimes Americans hiding in the grass, or sleeping, on the Mexican side of the river have been run over by Mexican Border Patrol vans in pursuit of aliens; we are like garbage on the side of the road. We crawl through tunnels that lead into Mexico; we are like rats popping our heads out of the sewer. We are like many things to the Mexicans, but always they make it clear: we are not much like them. 1=1 Aliens By Dave Denison THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23