cc4194c3-63a4-4ffa-8783-a9c78d50ed37.grid-6x2   You can’t get good help on the border anymore.  Homeland Security put an end to that. Before they cracked down there was a mutually beneficial and cooperative arrangement between the folks residing on the two different of the river. I use the term ‘reside’ because the reality down here is that folks have been ‘living’ on both sides of the river with little distinction for centuries. The river has always been more of an amusing natural barrier in the middle of communities than it has been a national boundary. And the way that it felt down here, when suddenly the U.S. government was taking issue with everyone wading in the river, was that somehow it now mattered on which side of that little body of water you most often slept. Prior to homeland security, as recently as the late 2000s, the towns on both sides had lifeblood born out if their interdependence. After H.S. neither side could really survive well without the other.

Diana and Dan, who live on land that runs to the river,  needed help with repairs to fences on their property. In the old days getting help would have been as easy as walking to the river, crossing over and knocking on a door. Most of the hands resided on the Mexican side while most of the commerce was on the U.S. side. The general reason for this is that the U.S. side had far better infrastructure i.e. good roads and electricity while the Mexican side had land that was generally more accessible to the traditional small subsistence farmers. Families going back for generations had been on the same lands. For the Mexicans the U.S. side offered additional work and easy access to provisions. For Americans the Mexican side offered a solid supply of labor. (This was not, by the way, necessarily and Anglo/Mexican division as one might assume. Presidio county is about 95%  Hispanic and surnames straddle the river.)  But this age old system collapsed practically overnight when homeland security got in the mix.

So Dan and Diana still needed help with fences. Diana used to call on a fellow named Manuel when she needed help. He had resided in Boranchas, a few hundred yards across the river. But not anymore. She couldn’t be sure where he had gone but it couldn’t have been far. He was probably in Ojinaga, Mex, a town now straining under the influx of outlying communities emptying out and moving to town out of desperation. So off to O.J. we went.



The system for finding help was a little more complicated but not insurmountable. We drove to his neighborhood where Diana remembered Manuel visiting on occasion and we just started asking around as to whether anyone had seen him. 3770614

Either no one had or the two white chicks inquiring were suspicious. So we left a hand written note at a little corner store and asked the folks there to please pass the note on should anyone see or hear of Manuel. Then we bought our groceries and went home. About a week later there was a light knocking on the back door of Diana’s house. Only Dan was home at the time and he told the Mexican who had knocked to go wait by the barn. When Diana and I got home Dan informed her that Manuel was down by the corrals. The note that we had left at the corner store in O.J. 37 miles away had made its way up river, being passed from hand to hand, until it found Manuel who was then living in the Mexican town of Los Conchos some 20 miles north of O.J. and 17 miles south of Ruidosa.

Manuel then walked the  of the 17 miles with his two children, his wife, and his little brother and they were all now waiting, hidden from the highway so as not to be spotted by the border patrol.Border Patrol In Montana

Diana couldn’t believe it and we all headed down to barn as quickly as possible. After all, they had now been waiting for a few hours for us to return. We came around the corner and Manuel and Diana hugged like old friends who hadn’t seen one another in a while. They all eyed me with suspicion until Diana let them know that I was amiga. Manuel introduced us to his wife and kids and his brother with lots of smiles and more hugs and only after sighs of relief did we begin to negotiate work for pay. It would amount to a weeks worth of work for both men at $40 a day. The kids looked hungry so one of us ran in the house a returned with whatever could be found.

We tried to figure out a safe place for the whole family to stay but ended up agreeing that the only safe place was to camp by the river, which they did.  Getting caught by the B. P. would have meant a very expensive fine for us and a trip in the back of a paddy wagon to the legal crossing in O.J. for Manuel and his family who would then have to walk the 20 miles back to their home empty handed.

Every day for a week the men worked their butts off and the wife and kids waited at their campsite. Every day the men made $35 a day more than they would have made in Mexico; that is if they could find work. Every day we all kept a low profile and avoided contact with the B.P. Diana gathered things for the family to take back with them like clothes for the kids. I couldn’t help but notice the expressions of the children. They were barely 7 or 8 years old, a little girl and a little boy and yet their demeanor was that of very old people. They didn’t smile. They didn’t play. They were dead serious and seemed to have an awareness that this was likely as good as it would get for them. I offered them work at my place as well and would gladly have kept them on for at least another week but my place was considered too exposed and they passed on the offer. So when the work was completed at Dan and Diana’s, goodbyes were said and Manuel and his family waded back across the river to begin the trek home.

Published in: on December 8, 2012 at 11:59 am  Comments Off on FLASHBACK TO RUIDOSA  
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