A TRAIL OF SWEAT, TEARS
June 1, 2003
A TRAIL OF SWEAT, TEARS
By: Jimmy Breslin
Juan Gutierrez reported to friends in the Bronx Friday after entering
the United States during the week in a group of 50 who started in
Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, by bus and then got off and walked two and a
half days across the desert to Arizona, and by plane to New York. He
follows his brother, Eduardo, who drowned in concrete in a building
collapse in Williamsburg three years ago.
"Mucho calor," he said of the desert heat. He said they were unable to
walk much of the day. He didn't know the temperature but it is known to
reach 130 degrees. He said each Mexican carried four gallons of water
and the rule was that you couldn't take water from anybody else.
Therefore, watch what you drink.
They were taking a new way to cross the border. There were six coyotes
leading them. Each Mexican paid $2,500. Instead of walking around the
great furnace of a desert, and onto trails where the border patrol
police would be watching, they went head-on into the fiery sand. Nobody
patrols near that. The other day, 19 suffocated in a truck.
Juan said there were no others in sight anywhere. The snakes they feared
turned out to be small. They stopped at a house near the border, where
the 50 found any space on the floor and slept.
Then two vans came and drove them north in the night, across a border
guarded by nobody and onto the roads and highway to Phoenix. They split
here. As 50 immigrants on one plane would cause even federal agents to
be suspicious, some were booked to Chicago, others to Los Angeles and
the rest to New York.
When Juan called home from Phoenix, his wife was happy. She does not
believe in sadness, as long as Juan did not die crossing the border.
Our border with Mexico cannot keep Mexicans out. They can stage
television raids, with border patrol cops rushing with flashlights and
catching a few. Otherwise, there is 2,000 miles of sand. The Christian
Radical Right wants a fence built all along the border. Insanity wire.
New York has Dominicans and Haitians. Yet they come from small countries
and must cross water. Mexico has about 100 million and all they have to
do is walk. The rumor that somebody can earn a fortune in New York -
$10! - will keep Mexicans walking through the dust in the early morning
forever to start for America.
Juan Gutierrez, 23, left a wife and a 3-year-old son, Ivan, home in the
town of St. Matias Cuatchatyotla. He left at five in the morning. He
said that everybody was asleep. He told the translator, Awilda Cordero,
that he called out, "I'll see you. I'll be home soon." And that his
wife, Teresa, 23, stirred and said sleepily, "Good luck." Then she went
back to sleep.
There was nothing to talk about. In Mexico, he was ready to work every
day that the sun came up. The most he earned was $120 a month at
construction work. A couple of months ago, the work ran out everywhere.
The young people in the town talked only about going to America. They
started leaving in groups. Juan and Teresa decided that he would go, too.
Three years ago, Juan had tried Brooklyn with his brother, Eduardo. He
was only 20 and missed his wife, Teresa, too much and went home to her.
Eduardo remained to work on an $8 an hour construction job.
The building, criminally flawed, collapsed and he drowned in concrete.
Juan said Friday he is going to Williamsburg to look at the place where
his brother died. Then he will go out and try to find a job.
Federal court collected a $100,000 penalty from the builder for
Eduardo's father. The money slipped into the hands of the people who
form the bottom of Brooklyn: The surrogate, Feinberg, and his outside
counsel, Rosenthal. They held the money for months and months. The
father in Mexico kept calling.
Finally, after much badgering, the check was sent to Gutierrez' father.
Surrogate and his lawyer had taken $15,000. Just another Mexican. Take
it off him. The father used the money to put a second story on the house
that was his son Eduardo's dream.
They stole money from him in Brooklyn. What could he do about it? There
are court administrators and chief judges and all they do is take their
pay and go off for the weekend. A federal attorney is beautiful. He does
nothing. If the Brooklyn district attorney can't make a case here, then
they might think of getting regular jobs.
And now into New York comes the brother, Juan Gutierrez, driven out of
his home town by wages too low.
He comes to New York for money to send home. And he knows that no amount
of a Mexican's money is too small for Brooklyn judges and the
Surrogate's Court. They represent the Brooklyn legal system and all the
judges. They all will rifle change from the cigar box of a blind news
He comes here with two words. "Suerte" for Luck. "Trabajo" for Work, the
only interest he has in life.
He noticed two big changes in the city in the three years he has been
gone. The subway costs $2. The extra 50 cents hurts, he said.
Cigarettes, once $3.75, now are $5.75. A friend in the Bronx got Juan
construction work on Friday with a builder. He was there for two hours.
Then the foreman asked him for immigration papers. Juan has none. The
foreman shrugged. He gave Juan $20 and said goodbye.
Juan said he was going to spend the weekend going from one supermarket
to another, one fruit stand to the next, asking for work. The money will
be, what, $6 an hour? He'll take it.
"Trabajo," he said again. That is all he is here for.