I like that he does some of the math here. It’s indisputable that workers have to pay taxes and illegals can’t claim a refund, and illegals still have to buy food and gas and rent and so taxes are being paid all over the place without any of it having to go back to the payee. Industry has a ‘good thing going’ by keeping wages low and hiring illegals. Everyone knows it happens and nothing is done about it.
On one side there are people who are dying horribly in the desert, on the others are people who want to keep the desert pristine and free of towers that could save lives. At what point does idealism have to give way to the practicality of reality? Is saving the desert more important than saving lives? But also, how do we keep people from having to go into the desert in the first place?
“And God continued to flog his children with unusual fury” is a good way to put the madness of it all, though I don’t think it’s God but rather each of us doing it. As Malick asked in The Thin Red Line, “who’s killing us?” well, it’s us who’s killing us. At some point we’re going to have to take responsibility for each other.
Giving the survivors jobs and a pass to stay in America is the least we can do, but the price is so high. One of the men has extensive nerve damage and could easily hurt himself in the meat packing plant – and besides, who really wants to work in a meat packing plant – they’ve gone from being baked to being frozen. Though I’m sure they’re grateful for the work.
And that’s the most absurd part, that the $68,000 spent to deal with the dead could have been spent on the living.
There’s an allusion here (maybe unintentional) to Don DeLillo’s ‘Underworld’ when the airplane scrapyard is mentioned while the dead are escorted through town like celebrities. Something about the absurdity of American culture and priorities, but also the weird beauty of the world where so much emphasis is placed on the dead while the living struggle to not die, or at least struggle to be heard and taken seriously.
“The survivors were suddenly paid professional narrators.” “Like all good bards, they embellished and expanded their narratives.” Now they are not walkers, but government employees, star witnesses. The world is a silly, silly place.
It’s the absurdity I love the most here, “women held strange little pitchers to the ends of their [the walkers] penises and collected the dark fluid and whisked it away to peer at in stark rooms”. As if the bodily fluids were more important than the person, or is a person just a collection of bodily fluids, is this a take on Dr. Strangelove and ‘precious bodily fluids’ / ‘purity of essence’?
Ah, bureaucracy – “If an illegal was brought in and turned over for lifesaving purposes, and the Migra had not officially arrested the culprit, the bill immediately was the hospital’s problem.”
Even when they catch the walkers, nobody really wants them.
It’s almost like the moment of relief when the rescue comes is enough of a shock to kill most of the men. SO many died just at the moment they had hoped for. Maybe that will to live is strongest when we are alone but when we are among others we put our lives in their hands and it’s in the hand-off that someone so close to death can fumble the soul.
Urrea is exploring the word degrees, the degree of heat (108, 110), degrees of death, degrees of location (GPS N. 32.23.18/W. 113.19.59). Even degrees of caring among the dying, among the coyotes, among the border patrol. Degrees of humanity.
The image of Mendez crawling on his hands and knees “like a religious penitent” is sad and beautiful and necessary for his sins. Then Urrea describes how Efrain climbed a mountain to get a better look and died up there because he as too weak to climb down, like Moses seeing the promised land but not permitted to enter it.
The images of the delirious men pulling the American dollars from their pockets and tearing it into pieces is like one last effort for the men to have some control over their fate, as if they can tell the universe / desert that they don’t care about the damn money, about America. It’s the last thing they have power over: the power to give up and reject their dreams.
It’s not uncommon for Americans to think of the Mexicans coming across the border as not being really human, that they are just empty people-shaped things that are unknowable and darkly foreign. Yet the desert also does not care about humanity, does not have any compassion for the people in the desert. Perhaps the absence of empathy is like a burning desert.
I like that Urrea doesn’t try to determine intent, or even the facts of details, he’s just telling us everything that happened, all the contradictory evidence and also without being judgmental of anyone, even Mendez. But I’m sure anyone in the walkers situation sure as shit would be judging the hell out of Mendez.
Waiting as “rote as factory work”, “They were in the dirt like animals”, “Six o’clock in the morning took ten hours to become seven o’clock. A week later, it was eight o’clock.” Time slows as you slowly die, as if time is leaving you as you leave your body until the moment when you die and time stretches out to infinity. But for these people it was torture, like an endless factory job for KFC’s chicken farms.
“They were buried in the Granite Mountains” even though they were still alive. I got on Google maps to look at this region (Yuma and Pima counties, Arizona) and as bad as the books makes it seem I think it’s even worse when you see it. Hard to believe anything can live out there but it’s also quite beautiful too. A land of extremes, confusion, death, and beauty.
I like how he writes about the confusion as to what happened on the morning of May 20. Nobody was in their right mind so of course stories will vary.
“I just have to get there, I just have to get there” (to America) to make enough money to come back, marry his girl, and everything to be alright. Of course it’s a total dream, but it’s all a dream and it’s a dream like the fever dream of the dying in the desert who see crystal cities and demons. But you only have to be starving just a little bit to believe the American dream.
$1700 @ 15% interest is $255. It doesn’t say if that’s monthly (probably) or weekly (unlikely, but the world is cruel enough that it’s very possible). At a minimum wage job in America at the time was $5.15 /hr. If you worked 40 hours a week (and it’s unlikely they had it this easy) they would make $206 /wk before taxes (however that works for illegals) but let’s say it’s $175 /wk X 4 = $700 – $255 = $455 /mo. Jesus.
That’s heartbreaking about Enrique sending his boots back to Octavia and when she sees them she hugs them and cries because she knows he’s gone to try to get into America (and that he’ll probably die trying).
He compares the backtracking they did when lost to an inverted ‘V’ shape or a ‘U’ shape, as if they are making letters in the desert for the border patrol to read. And of course it’s all nonsense words because they are lost and dying and ready to strip naked because wearing clothes is actually painful when you’re about to enter heat stroke.
“Nobody looked at the occasional buzzard that eyed them with its infernal optimism”. I wouldn’t look up either knowing a buzzard was just waiting for me to die.
Who really is to blame? Everyone? No One? Seems like there is plenty of blame to go around.
“Pale yellow is the Evian of urine” The gallows humor in this is great but also makes it even more sad.
Interesting how he compares crossing the literal border with each successive border crossing of heat exhaustion: first it’s Heat Stress, then Heat Fatigue, then Heat Syncope, the Heat Cramps, then Heat Exhaustion, and finally Heat Stroke. I’ve gone as far as borderline between Heat Fatigue and Heat Syncope, which is an unusual feeling of disorientation. To go beyond that is just terrifying.
“The land tried to hide him and keep him for itself”.
The desert, even just a few hundred yards from the safety of a camp and RV is just brutal. You can get lost so easily and the heat cooks you as fast as a microwave.
Reading the tracks like it’s the grooves in a vinyl record is pretty fascinating that they can read each person’s track, what they were doing, who they were with, recreate the whole journey.
The incident with the lights is interesting. What did they see? Did a border patrol’s lights see them but not the agent in the Ford? Lights in the desert do weird things, especially since rain was coming so you never know with light reflecting off clouds or lightening. But I’d be spooked too.
While probably not as bad as the Great Sand Dunes National Park, hiking in sand is a bitch. It’s hot, your legs hurt almost immediately climbing, and you really do slide back half a step for every step forward you take I can’t imagine doing it for 2-3 days – damn near wiped me out when I was in my late 20’s, healthy, and only was at it for a couple of hours.
It’s sort of amazing how unprepared everyone of the walkers are. Granted, if I went hiking here in Rocky Mountain National Park I’d probably do not much better, but these people are drinking Pepsi’s – and it’s the Pepsi’s that sort of gauge how well everyone is doing: the warmer the pepsi, the worse they are doing.
In a lot of way seeing Mendez getting ready to take the walkers across the border is like someone getting ready for work – he’s tired, he needs coffee and breakfast, he says goodbye to his girl, he calls his people when his co-worker isn’t there. If they weren’t doing something dangerous and illegal, it would just be another day in the office.
“High spirits were a bad precedent. This wasn’t a vacation”. The whole trip on the bus sounds depressing, but also weirdly beautiful in a way that everything is so strange, but also so run down. The heart of Mexico is both alive and dead, happy and sad, the names are unusual and don’t mean anything but also mean everything, like the rabbit tattoo.
Groups of 30 or less were what went across the border, any more than 30 and it was too large of a group to control. But 30 is still a lot of people, that’s like a whole classroom of students, and even half of that size can be hard to keep everyone doing what you want or need. 30 is like a teacher feeling her class is overcrowded, and so the coyotes feel the same way probably.
Interesting juxtaposition between the US Geological survey maps against the hand drawn maps the coyotes draw in ball point pen in a notebook. One side has all the technology, but the other side is clever and daring and resourceful.
When it’s described just how many different groups and people there are in the desert doing border patrol work, it almost seems as if it’s crowded out there between the US Military, the agents, the civilians, and then the walkers themselves.
It’s not just the pop culture that is tied into how people think about immigration and being a coyote / gangster, but also how religion and culture play a role in that by being a coyote you are, in a way, acting like a “civil rights activist” taking back the America that was stolen from you at gunpoint. This argument is, for sure, far more enticing than anything else.
I mean it’s no wonder people are attracted to being a guia, when you have no money anything sounds better than being broke and having no respect. I’m not saying it’s right, but it is reality.
Jesus, these people are fed drugs – cocaine or diet pills – to make them walk faster? So you’ve got a group of poor (malnourished probably) people in the desert with no shelter, water or provisions, and they’re all on speed. So if you’re going to die out there in regular circumstances, the drugs are just going to make it worse.
I keep finding interesting how the Indian population is at odds with the migrants because the walkers are creating an environmental nightmare with ll their trash (and corpses) on the land. We always think of this as a white American vs poor Mexican conflict, but it’s far more complicated than that.
A lot of mention of popular media, such as the film Traffic, the TV show The Sopranos, and even the cartoon character, Chespirito. All of this seems to add up to a sense that popular media informs how reality works, how the coyotes use these media tropes to maintain power and elicit fear in not only their “clients” but also in the people who investigate them.
The absurdity continues as we learn the Mexican patrols had been giving the walkers water and food and condoms, but the Americans, not concerned with the lives of Mexicans, were concerned for the lives of American women who they thought (propaganda; they didn’t actually think it) were coming to have sex with their women.
There are probably a lot of Don Moi’s around, all of them taking advantage of the poor and hopeful. I always wondered how people afforded the huge cost of getting to America if they had no money ” loans from loan sharks who worked with the smugglers and took a bug % of future earnings (not that there’d be much so they were basically serfs living in America).
The economics of scale – “It was easier for a Sinaloa farm to get the beans to California than to Veracruz – and more lucrative”. The workers starve as they are surrounded by all that food – water, water everywhere (and reserved for the dead who died of thirst)
“In one of the million ironies of the desert, those who die of thirst become waterproof” and so the dead have to be hydrated to get a fingerprint. The dead don’t need water, yet here we are giving the dead water, sometimes for days, just to get a fingerprint.
I didn’t know Chinese and Russians were also crossing the border – these (as well as central and south Americans) are the OTM’s. Also crazy to think about the vacuum of opportunity in this part of the world has allowed for al Qaeda to come in and spread their message, teaching little kids Arabic and training them to fight in camps in Brazil.
They come here with literally nothing in their pockets in hopes that they will get a job plucking chickens for KFC who will then also use them to cook the chickens in their restaurants. This is juxtaposed with the total lack of opportunity in Mexico and inability to get the government in order to make anyone’s lives at least better than risking a journey across the border to puck chickens for KFC.
Reference to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, which makes sense since that was about each of the soldiers’ individuality and what they prioritized, and since this also like a war, it’s a way to identify the combatants, so to speak.
Sad, but also sort of funny tho think people are sneaking around the desert with foam on their feet to avoid being detected. It’s all so absurd while also being a matter of life and death. When did the world become so surreal?
Yeah, it’s probably mean, but the story of the jackrabbit is pretty funny. It also adds to the mythic legends of this region while also reminding us that the origin of a lot of great stories was probably just some bullshit or a prank that got out of hand until now the legends scare the hell out of everyone.