By Ellen Greene
I was surprised to hear three pickups arrive the other morning and the chatter of men ready to work on the retaining walls they started a few weeks ago. No matter that Hurricane Jova was ploughing across the Pacific, headed right for us, and local schools were closed that day and the next as a precaution.
I had battened down my hatches the night before: porch furniture moved inside; wooden interior shutters closed and fastened; electronics unplugged; cell phone charged. I tossed and turned inside my airless bedroom, waiting for the wind and rain, preferring a sleepless night to bolting awake to the sound of shutters banging themselves silly against concrete block walls.
But nothing happened. Nothing to show the next morning for all the CNN weather hype except an overcast sky and intermittent light drizzle. My workers scoffed.
“Scare tactics to get us to buy more at the food stores,” Francisco, one of the crew, said.
No, these guys don’t miss a chance to get paid just because of a hurricane warning.
“Somos hombres de la costa,” Francisco said, we are men of the coast, as if that meant impervious to pounding rain and 100-mile-an-hour winds.
These guys are tough, hard workers. The “lazy Mexican” is probably a stereotype that died with my parents’ generation. When was the last time you passed a U.S. front garden adorned with a ceramic small man asleep under his sombrero next to a cactus plant? Besides being politically incorrect, it didn’t jibe with the hordes of Mexican men you saw standing in front of the Home Depot store, desperate to work, gleefully piling into your car for whatever job you offered and for whatever wage you agreed to pay. Or their wives who hurried while cleaning your house so they could squeeze as many jobs as possible into each day.
But another misconception lives on. It contends that most blue-collar Mexicans are eager to cross into the U.S. to work and will risk their lives to do it. I have lived in Mexico for 14 years, speak fluent Spanish, and therefore have gotten to know many working class locals. They live in a relatively prosperous part of Mexico (the Bay of Banderas and Riviera Nayarit) where tourism and construction-related jobs are available, if not always plentiful. Almost to a person, they choose to stay in the area to try to piece together a living.
It makes sense. Why risk paying the now exorbitant “coyote” rate to cross the border for a low-paying U.S. job, a lonely survival-level lifestyle, among sometimes hostile people with whom you cannot communicate, if you have a chance to stay home with steady work?
It is about work , always about work for these hombres de la costa. Six days a week. No vacation or sick days. Little hope of ever retiring or receiving a pension. All they ask is to keep the work coming.