Friday, February 3, 2012

Paul Metcalf, Araminta and the Coyotes

Sin papeles, without papers, he engages with a coyote to guide him across the border and into the States. Crossing, he becomes a mojado, a wetback.

The coyote may be simply a passador, passing the mojado on, or he may be an enganchador, contracting the wetback's labor to a U.S. employer.

To the coyote, the mojado is a pollo—hence the coyote is a pollero.

Among the mojados there may be an alabrista—a wire-cutter—to cut a way through fences.

To the U.S. Border Patrol—la migra—they are all wets, mojados, pollos . . . and sometimes tonks, a remant of jargon from confrontation with Chinese Tongs.

Crossing over, the wetback may be subject to robbery and rape—by fellow wetbacks who have been robbed by gangs of anglo, chicano or Mexicans—by Mexican police who follow them across—and by their own coyotes, polleros turned pistoleros.

"Another coyote?" Si. "And I will be his pollo. And over there"—he gestured to the Border Patrol—they are cabrones—goats" (but in slang, cuckolds or bastards).

"We are all animals of one sort or another, verdad?"

*          *          *

You are strapped to the underside of the coyote's car . . . or you are braced by your legs across the rods, close to the brake line, on the underside of a freight car . . . you ride atop a 12' truck and come to a bridge with 13' clearance . . . frozen in a refrigerator truck . . . crushed behind crates in a boxcar . . . the coyote's junk car catches fire, the passengers escape, but you are locked in the trunk . . . your coyote hires an empty cement truck, you and the other pollos are loaded into the mixing tank, and as the coyote drives across the bridge, he throws the switch, to activate the mixer . . .

*          *          *

In August of 1978, the Immigration and Naturalization Service staged a raid on a tomato and cucumber farm in Maryland: " . . . dozens of illegal aliens were suddenly in flight. Some were reportedly jumping out of windows, sprinting from the delapidated buidlings that had once been a World War II prisoner-of-war camp through the mired roads toward the woods . . ." 

. . . woods through which, perhaps, Harriet Tubman had led her charges.

*          *          *

With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), it was no longer enough to deliver the slaves north of Mason and Dixon. To be safe, they must cross into Canada. 

"We had heard of Canada . . . simply as a country to which the wild goose and the swan repaired at the end of winter, to escape the heat of summer . . ."

"I could not forget all the horrid stories slaveholders tell about Canada. They assure the slave that, when they get hold of slaves in Canada, they make various uses of them. Sometimes they skin the head, and wear the wool on their coat collars—put them into the lead-mines, with both eyes out—the young slaves they eat . . ."

The first group to cross with Harriet Tubman "earned their bread by chopping wood in the snows of a Canadian forest—they were frost-bitten, hungry and naked."

*          *          *

On the Mexican side
of the Rio Grande:
"I wonder how many
have drowned in this?"
"No one knows what happens
to the ones trying to cross.
In the river,
we're neither here nor there . . .
so no one counts."

"The banks of the river harbored a world different from that of the dusty shacks behind us—one of greenery, cool breezes, and dancing shadows. Somehow, though, the murky waters of the Rio Grande beyond did not exude the epic quality that I had expected . . . it looked to tame and weedy, too mundane to serve as the great symbol of division between two cultures, two economies. Though apparently deep, it could not have been more than fifty yards across. And the U.S. side, grassy and treeless with a couple of junked cars visible: this is the promised land?"

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