Mexican Immigration
Mexican Immigration
Enrique with a copy of SFJ.

Mexican Immigration

Small Farmers Who Come to the United States Longing for Home

by Jim and Terry Fitzgerald of Bayfield, CO

In the first article on Mexican farmers in the SFJ Winter 2003 Issue, I tried to emphasize how small farmers such as Berta and Isaias are affected by forces such as community, ecology, politics and history. In the second article there was an emphasis on the importance to our future of places and people which we mistakenly label “remote” or “left behind.” In this article there is a continued emphasis on the first two themes plus a focus on the attachment of small farmers to place-land, landscapes, family and friends. The journey of Luis Garcia to this country is relevant to the three themes. He says he left Mexico for personal reasons-a divorce; but his decision was obviously also affected by political, ecological and historical factors. His experience tells us a lot about the so called “problem” of contemporary migration. His longing to return to Mexico tells us much about how to resolve it.

The U.S. Mexican border is a strange phenomenon. A 2000 mile line drawn through deserts and mountains which divides a very rich nation from a very poor one. A cab driver in El Paso once told me that it was good to cross the border to Juarez because “you can get a woman for 25 dollars. Here in El Paso it would cost you 150”. Unfortunately many of the “women” walking the streets of Juarez are young girls of 14 or 15.

Terry and I once helped a group of 15 women, men and children who were Mam Indians from Guatemala. They had been in an accident and were stranded in Durango on their way to Florida. They had to make sure that the used van they purchased had tinted windows, curtains, a jack and a spare tire. Fifteen dark-skinned people without certain pieces of paper have no right to exist here. They can’t be seen. They can’t ask for help if they have a flat tire. They left Durango with great courage and fear. I think that many immigrants are heroes who risk every thing for a decent life for themselves and their families.

Mexican Immigration
Enrique’s home and garden.

The strong identification which many people feel for their nations is curious. Not long ago, powerful people began to create a new concept of physical space. They drew lines all over the map of the world and created something called nations. Very soon there was no place left in the world which was not part of some nation. Everyone within a set of boundaries belonged to that nation and no other. These nations, which are simply the names we have given to certain historical circumstances, have become things – fixed and eternal in our minds. We “love” our “country.” People tell me that “Mexicans” should stay in “Mexico.” Or they say that “Mexico” should give their people jobs – as if “Mexico” were a living person. Of course where I sit in southern Colorado used to be “Mexico.” Perhaps it will be again someday.

Cultures often don’t fit easily within the lines drawn by nations. The Mexican culture of Berta, Isaias, Federico, Azuzena, and Luis is fiercely family oriented. And yet many rural women in Mexico today know that their children will leave to make the dangerous trip north before they are sixteen. When they leave, their families hold their breath until they receive the news that their children have successfully made it to a job removing asbestos in Dallas or a job washing dishes in Durango, Co. Mexican families struggle to adjust to the realities of the long term or permanent separations demanded by a world which is divided into nations.

U.S. immigration policies have little or no effect on the number of Mexicans who enter this country illegally. Those policies rely almost exclusively on police, guns and jails. They enrich smugglers and cause hundreds of Mexicans to die each year in the deserts and mountains as they try to avoid border patrols. They cause people to stay here longer than they would wish because the trip is so dangerous and expensive. Most immigrants I talk to now plan to stay 3-5 years in order to make enough money to return to Mexico.

There is a better way. I have seen both sides of Mexican “immigration” — their homes and villages in Mexico and their struggle to survive here. I think “displacement” would be a better word. Most Mexicans don’t want to leave their country and most of those who are here hope to return. They line up to send money orders back home. They dream about making enough money so that they can leave a land where they are often lonely, isolated and without an official identity.

It is crucial to understand the sense of attachment Mexicans have to their land because it offers the hope for a solution to what is frequently a serious problem for them and us.

Trade and immigration policies which strengthened rural farms and villages and which legalized the labor of temporary immigrants would be far more successful at reducing the displacement of Mexicans, than we achieve now by pointing guns at them.

Mexican Immigration
Luis Garcia (right) and Enrique Garcia with Luis’ dog Chico.


In August 2001 the Durango Herald (Durango, Colorado) reported on Mexican immigrants to this area in a week-long series. One of these immigrants was J. Perez who crossed the border illegally in March of 2001. Mr. Perez is a small farmer from just outside of the town of Madera in the northern state of Chihuahua. In Mexico he was able to earn $315 a month training horses at a nearby ranch. In Durango he makes that in a week. He works 65 hours a week washing dishes. He makes $7 an hour for his eight-hour day shift and $6.50 an hour for his five hour night shift. “The hardest part is I hardly sleep,” he told the reporter in Spanish. The Herald commented “Work consumes life for hundreds of legal and illegal immigrants in Durango.” Perez wants to return to Mexico. He sends $250 a month to his family and saves the rest so he can build a house when he returns.

Mexican Immigration
Santo Tomas, Mexico. Luis’ home showing his mother’s 200 acre ranch along the river.

Luis Garcia is a legal resident of the United States who has lived here since 1979. He comes from a small farm near the town of Santo Tomas, also in the state of Chihuahua. He lives in Farmington, New Mexico and works in a small slaughter facility and on the adjoining ranch near Ignacio, Colorado.

“I started crossing the border before I was 16. I had to walk for two days in the hills around Juarez to sneak across the border. I would go to Anthony (a small town in Texas) to a ranch to care for their horses. Sometimes the ‘migra’ (immigration police) would catch me and send me back; but I would come right back.”

Mexican Immigration
Locker plant where Luis works.

After a painful divorce in Mexico, Luis received a legal work permit and went to work on a pipeline and later on a ranch in Evanston, Wyoming. Eventually he worked with a pipeline company near Farmington. He has been working as a butcher and a ranch hand near Ignacio for several years . He is married and has four children ranging in age from 13 to 21. Luis has lived here for 25 years but Mexico is still the home of his heart. He is proud that his children are able to speak Spanish as well as English. Every summer Luis returns to Mexico and leaves his children to stay with his parents. His children love Mexico because “alli la policia los deja libre.” (The police leave them alone.) He says that he has to be much stricter with them in Farmington but in Santo Tomas they can run free without getting into trouble.

Mexican Immigration
Luis with a side of beef inside the locker.

Luis loves the life in Mexico. “En Mexico vivo a gusto. Si traigo dinero o no lo traigo da lo mismo.” (In Mexico I live happily. It’s all the same if I have money or don’t have it.)

Luis says that if he went to live in Mexico he would not miss the life here. “As soon as my children don’t need me anymore, I’ll go back to Mexico.

Luis’ friend Enrique, however, likes living in the United States. He has been here since 1989. He works for a rancher and owns ¾ of an acre near Aztec, New Mexico. Enrique is from a small village named Carabajal Abajo and he says the life there “esta muy dura. Me gusta para aca.” (Life there is very hard. I like it here.)