Diary of an Undocumented Immigrant.
By Ramón “Tianguis” Perez. Translated by Dick J. Reavis. Houston: Arte Publico Press, 1991. 237 pages. Buy this book from Amazon.com
Reviewed by Brad Luckingham, Professor of History, Arizona State University. Author of The Urban Southwest, 1982 and Phoenix, 1989.
Written by Ramón “Tianguis” Perez, and translated by Dick J. Reavis, this book is the true story of an undocumented immigrant worker and the times he experienced on both sides of the border during the 1980s. It is destined to be a valuable primary document. A personal account, Perez takes you with him as he travels from his village deep in Mexico to Houston, Texas. He goes there as a mojado, or wetback, often directed by coyotes or other guides. Residents of his village have been going to the United States for generations, since bracero days in the 1940s. After making money, many returned to the village; others returned for visits, and some never returned.
Finding living quarters in a Mexican neighborhood in Houston, and avoiding agents of La Migra, the Immigration and Naturalization Services, Perez looks unsuccessfully for work. His lack of proficiency in English does not help, but he perseveres. Churches and other understanding agencies offer basic aid, and he finally lands a job in a grocery store. Houston for him, however, is a “hopeless city” and he moves on to San Antonio.
What little money Perez has left gets him to San Antonio’s westside where he finds a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant, and later as a clean-up man in a print shop. His account is full of the daily life encountered by undocumented workers in cities of the Southwest; economic and social endeavors are clearly covered. Interaction with other elements of the population show the progress and problems faced by them. The consumer experiences and gender relationships of undocumented workers are included in interesting ways. Also illustrated often is their nostalgia for the villages they left behind in Mexico.
The variety of work undertaken by undocumented workers is indicated as Perez moves from place to place, from job to job. From San Antonio he goes to Los Angeles where he works in a car wash, and visits friends from his village in Mexico. They reminisce, and form an organization dedicated to keeping in touch with village authorities and residents. During the harvest season, Perez finds work in the grape vineyards near Stockton in northern California and the cherry groves in Oregon.
Acquiring enough tools during his stay in the United States to open a carpentry shop in his village in Mexico, Perez returns home, but only after paying a mordida or bribe to customs inspectors at the Mexico City airport to keep his tools. Finally, with tools intact, he arrives at his village in the state of Oaxaca, declaring “The inconveniences of a wetback’s life last only until he gets home again” (p. 237).
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