Categories
Commentary Stories

Virtual Fence, a Border Tale

IMAGE: Border patrolman opens gate to a dirt road next to the Mexico-United States border fence.

 

NOTE: The following piece is one of several fiction stories that I called “Border Tales” when they were first written. I began creating them in 2006. The topics are based on events that were current at that time. Unfortunately, the problems aired then are still with us today. The writing is based on real dilemmas that affect us all. It is work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

 

VIRTUAL FENCE

National City, California. Circa 2006.

 

“Why do you say it’s not a real fence?” asked Carlos.

“Because it isn’t,” answered Jeff, an agent with the Border Patrol. “It’s just a virtual fence, you know, a sort of make-believe fence that is real, but it isn’t.”

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Make believe? Real, but not real? C’mon man!” Carlos still did not understand what Jeff was talking about.

“Ok, Carlos,” Jeff replied. “I said sort of make believe. I should’ve said a fence that is there, but it’s not really physically there.”

“You mean, like an invisible fence?” Carlos asked.

“Yes, that’s it, like an invisible fence,” Jeff replied. “But one that will help us stop illegals from crossing the border.”

Both Jeff and Carlos lived in an apartment complex on the east end of National City, not too far from the San Diego-Tijuana border. The people that rented the apartments were mostly connected with the Navy or the Border Patrol. The proximity to the military installations and the border area made it convenient for them to live there.

“I think I get it, now,” Carlos said. “The fence is not really a fence; it’s really a line on the ground telling people not to cross it. You know? A line, like those imaginary and invisible lines we used to point to with our fingers to tell others not to cross them when we were kids?”

“And if they crossed them, we’d kick their butts,” Jeff corroborated. “Yeah, the virtual fence is basically the same thing, but on a much larger scale, of course.”

The fence that they were both discussing was, according to the government and other folks in favor of it, an electronic tracking mix of devices that was to be built along the Mexico-U.S. border to warn the border patrolmen of possible incursions of unidentified objects and people coming from Mexico. The ploy had been pushed by a number of congressmen and senators with close ties to government contractors who had built a number of these gadgets to be used in war operations. Some of the devices were judged to be at best faulty, after having been tested in actual war, but were still being described as cutting edge technology by the contractors and their insider allies – the spineless folks we often vote for to protect our rights and our money in the halls of the nation’s Capitol.

“So how does this virtual fence work?” Carlos asked.

“I don’t know for sure,” Jeff said, “because we don’t have it yet. But, from what I understand, once in place, the virtual border fence will track the illegals as they enter our territory.”

“For how long?” Carlos asked.

“For a little while,” Jeff replied. “But, hopefully, we’ll be able to catch them while they’re being tracked.”

“What if they get out of range from the tracking system or what if more illegals than you and your partners can catch come across at the same time? What do you do then?” Carlos continued his questioning, playing, as he often did, the Devil’s advocate.

“Then is business as usual,” said Jeff. “That’s what we do now when we’re overrun by too many crossers. We just catch as many as we can and hope that the rest can be caught later on at work sites.”

“You mean, during your show of force raids?” asked Carlos.

“Yeah, Carlos, during our workplace raids,” Jeff replied, sounding somewhat upset. “Yeah, the raids, the ones you call ‘chicken shit raping’ of your people.”

Carlos had been in the Navy for over three hitches and was currently assigned to a ship based at the 32nd Street Naval Base in National City. Originally from Mexico, Carlos was a naturalized U.S. citizen who hadn’t forgotten his roots or wasn’t afraid to rally for the rights of what he often called his brothers and sisters that crossed the border looking for work. While living at the apartment complex, he repeatedly discussed the issues affecting the undocumented with many of the border patrolmen that also lived there. During some of these discussions, sometimes under the influence of mind altering malts and spirits, Carlos had become acquainted with some the joys and fears that filled the cop-like minds of his green-uniformed neighbors. Most of the border patrolmen liked Carlos, though, especially those that praised the food that both he and his wife prepared for the weekly by-the-pool potluck parties. They also liked his sense of humor and his ability to deflate heated discussions with his timely one-liners.

“Okay, Jeff, I won’t mention the raids to you anymore,” said Carlos, displaying his usual disarming grin as he mimicked the arm movements that normally adorn a heartfelt hug. “That’s my virtual abrazo, Jeff,” he added.

Jeff laughed, but insisted on talking about the recent raids the Border Patrol had made on several day-laborer centers in San Diego. “It’s our job,” he said. “We need to show the illegals that we mean business.”

“You mean business as usual, right, Jeff?” Carlos told his friend. “You know, a few mean raids that scare our people half-to-death, as you guys, the enforcers, just go on with your own lives while most of those living in the shadows of what many call legitimacy, suffer from never-ending traumas caused by the ever present fear of not knowing when the next raid is going to come about. Right, Jeff?

“C’mon, Carlos, you’re getting too damned serious,” his neighbor replied.

“Serious? You damned right I’m serious! You’re killing my brothers and sisters, Jeff,” said Carlos. “With fear, with family separation, with uncertainty. Your actions are no different than those taken by our government during the Viet Nam war, when we dropped napalm and cluster bombs on innocent civilians, on children. Remember that little girl in that infamous photograph? That little Vietnamese girl that had to get rid of her napalm stricken clothes and ran naked away from her burning village? Remember? She was an innocent child. Remember her, Jeff?”

“I don’t. I’m too young. It happened before my time.”

“But, it happened, Jeff,” Carlos replied. “And there’s nothing virtual about that reality. Or about the Border Patrol raids and fear tactics I’m talking about. And all the other acts that you and your buddies carry out with the excuse of protecting our borders. They’re real, Jeff. And just as bad as what our government did in Viet Nam.”

“Why are you so serious today, Carlos?” asked Jeff. “What happened to your sense of humor?”

“My sense of humor?” Carlos replied.

“Just call it virtual, just like your fence. It’s there, but it’s not really there.”

 

AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez

 

Categories
Commentary Tales

The Tireless Honeybees from Mexicali

IMAGES of the bees drawn by a young artist from Hungary, Rebeka Schoffer, for this blog. Art property of Pedro Chávez.

 

During the very, very early 1940s, a group of bugs (dragonflies, cicadas, and butterflies) came to Mexicali to invite that valley’s honeybee swarms to come and help pollinate the farm fields across the border. Their own bees had been recruited to go fight the Big Bug War, across the big pond, and for a while now most of that farmland had been without the services of those flying insects whose expertise was needed to spread around the pollen. The Mexicali honeybees had been known to work hard and for long hours, just like all the other bees in Mexico.

The Mexicali bees declined the offer from the American bugs. They said that they were happy spreading pollen in their own valley’s cotton fields.

“But that work doesn’t last very long,” the bugs from the north replied. “Once the cotton blooms, you have no work left to do.”

In a way, the bugs from the American side (Imperial Valley) were incorrect. The bees had plenty chores to do throughout the year in that area on the Mexican side. After the work ended in the cotton fields, the bees continued their pollinating activities on fig and pomegranate trees, on grape vines and “nopaleras” (gatherings of cactuses) that grew everywhere.bee-2

On the other hand, the bugs were also somewhat correct. The fertile valley on the American side was flush with all types of crops. Besides a few cotton fields, in that land were cultivated carrots, tomatoes, oranges, wheat, barley, lettuce, and many, many other farm products. It had year-round work.

Due to the nagging and persistent insistence from the bugs from the north, the bees from Mexicali eventually agreed to help them pollinate their fields. A few days later, in early spring, thousands and thousands of bees, accompanied by their appropriate queens, left their hives behind and flew north. At one point, as they continued their aerial exodus, the massive amount of bee swarms darkened the sky over the then meager border fence.

Once at their destination, the bees went right to work. They carried pollen from here, from there and tirelessly took it to other plants all over that land. A few days after their arrival, the fields in that valley regained their color and by the beginning of summer, the fruit grown on that earth showed the results of the hard work done by the Mexicali bees. The watermelons were huge and so was the grapefruit. The cantaloupes were also big and juicy; the alfalfa fields were green and full of life. The entire Imperial Valley had regained its past glory.

Two, perhaps three years later, the American bees returned from the Big Bug War and wanted back their jobs. The bugs in charge of the Imperial Valley fields told them that there was enough work for everyone and that they could toil right along the Mexicali bees. The American honeybees, however, did not want to share the work with their counterparts from the south and accused them of stealing their source of employment.

“Besides, they’re illegal,” the American bees complained. “They’re from Mexico and must be sent back to their country.”

Because their complaints fell on deaf ears with the bugs in charge, the bees from the north went to court and demanded that the Mexicali honeybees be sent home. The bugs in charge counter suited, claiming that the American bees were not as good as the ones from Mexico when it came to the task of pollinating.

“Our fields and our harvests are so much better now that the Mexicali honeybees have been doing the spreading of the pollen,” the bugs in charge told the court.

Tired of the war of words and of so much ill will, the Mexican bees told the bugs in charge that all the members of all the swarms that had come from Mexicali had agreed to go back home.

“We don’t want to stay where we’re not wanted,” they said.

bee-3The bugs in charge tried to convince them to stay, but to no avail and soon thereafter, in the same manner that they traveled on the day they came to the north, hundreds of swarms darkened the sky again as they flew south. Once back home, the Mexican honeybees noticed that the Mexicali Valley desperately needed their help, their pollinating expertise.

Although a few swarms had stayed behind to care for those fields, it was too much work for them and had therefore been unable to spread pollen in the entire valley. The workload had also grown. Just like in the north, the region to the south had decided to diversify its crops. It grew melons now and all kinds of citric fruit trees: oranges, grapefruits, and lemons. Instead of mostly cotton plants, the valley was now peppered with fields of wheat, barley, alfalfa, and corn.

Regardless of the heavy workload, the Mexicali honeybees welcomed it and were happy to be back home. They felt good. They belonged there, they said. They were also appreciated at their land.

A few years later, some bugs in charge from the north returned to Mexicali to again invite and try to persuade those bees to help pollinate the Imperial Valley fields. They claimed that it was too much work for the bees from the north and after the Big Bug War, most of those bees had become lazy and unwilling to work long hours.

“We need you,” one dragonfly said. “We won’t allow our bees to get in the way and we will care for you and protect you.”bee-1

“No, thank you,” replied the bee in charge of speaking for the Mexicali honeybees. “Besides, why would we want to return to the north? So we can be insulted again and be called this and that and be told that we’re not the same as the other bees from that place?”

Although the dragonfly and other bugs from the north insisted on convincing the Mexican bees to return to Imperial Valley, those bees were set on their decision, which meant that they would forever stay in that valley to the south. They continued to toil there and with their help that land grew greener and with the passing of time that valley in Mexicali became filled with imposing, formidable and luscious vegetation.

As it is often said at the end of a tale in Spanish: “Colorín, colorado, este cuento se ha acabado.” (End of story).

 

Categories
Commentary Opinion

The Lure for Cheap Labor

PHOTO: Mexican worker in the service industry. iStock Images.

 

There are tons of Americans that complain about the undocumented immigrants and their presence in this country. They want them to go back to where they came from. Basically, they want to get rid of the masses of people doing the work most folks in our affluent nation won’t do, the cheap labor that fattens the bottom lines of a great chunk of corporate America.

Politicians pandering to those Americans parrot the cry. It’s crazy.

My question is, if those farfetched wishes were by some fluke become reality, where would we get the workers to replace the undocumented? From main street America? From the inner cities? From Africa? The Middle East?

Ten, maybe twelve million immigrants are living in the shadows in America today. Many of them are Mexicans. They are here, but they lead a clandestine existence. They’re here filling the labor needs of our country, but they are denied many of the simple things we take for granted.

In most states, they cannot get something as essential as a driver’s license. They still drive, though. They’re also denied a social security number, but they still work and some pay into the plan. In many cases, the undocumented figure out a way to come forth with the documents needed to verify their right to work in the United States.

If there’s a will, there’s a way.

In some cases, employers get around the requirement to verify employment eligibility by contracting those labor needs with third parties, shifting the verification responsibility to others. The scheme works in an array of ways. That’s how malls get cleaned or cars washed at auto dealerships in the part of the country where I live. That’s also how a lot of construction chores or other work gets done. The undocumented mow lawns, wash cars, lay carpet, install wood floors, put up fences, or climb on top of homes to repair or build roofs.

Contrary to popular belief, they also pay taxes, in different ways. They indirectly pay property taxes when they rent a home or pay them directly if buying one. They pay sales taxes and pay more taxes when they buy gas for their cars or pay their phone bills. Since many of them use bogus social security numbers, they’ll never be able to collect a dime from the Social Security Administration or get the benefits of Medicare. They pay into it, but will get nothing from it.

It’s good for the social security fund, though.

The undocumented work hard, too. Some have two, sometimes three jobs. A full-time and a part-time job during the week and another part-time on weekends. Because of the meager wages most get, they usually need more than one job to provide for themselves and their families.

Although many jingoist Americans will never accept this fact, the undocumented add wealth to the U.S. economy. The value of the services and products created by their work increases the total amount of our gross domestic product. When the undocumented spend part of their earnings on certain products and services, they again help increase the value of our nation’s gross domestic product.

There is no doubt; America is a wealthier nation because of the contributions to the economy made by our brothers and sisters living in the shadows. Yet, some folks want them deported, to pull them from their roots and send them back to their countries of origin. It’s sad.

One part of America has lured them here with work, but another part, the one that doesn’t understand the paradigm, wants them to go away.