(Photo: España, from Mariquita's scrapbook.)
The Christmas miracle on the road to Oaxaca
By Andy Griffin
Until the Aswan Dam plugged her up, the Nile River flooded every year, spreading her chocolate waters across the land of Egypt, depositing the rich sediment of eroded topsoil from the heart of Africa to fuel another year's productivity in the fields.
As regular as the Nile's rising waters, a seasonal flow of migrant Mexican farm workers heads south from the States, going home for the Christmas holidays. Like the Nile, they carry with them a load of riches to deposit from one end of Mexico to the other. Pick-up trucks and TV sets, kitchen appliances and talking baby dolls, chainsaws, mattresses and blow driers -- anything that is more expensive to obtain in Mexico than here, will end up riding the river of people back home.
This yearly tide of travelers has spawned a parasite class of thieves, extortionists, and pick-pockets, who line the highways home. Crooks are crooks the world over, but among the various rateros who afflict the homecoming Mexican farm workers, the most reprehensible element is the corrupted law enforcement officers of their own government.
Crooked cops and customs police invent a multitude of spontaneous impuestos, multas and cuotas to put an official seal on their bribery and highway robbery. For migrant farm workers, the border between Mexico and the U.S., where they pass the under the scrutiny of their own customs officials, may be the highest hurdle to cross on the race home, but it is hardly the last. Any fly-speck village can be the scene of a crude hold-up, and any innocent action on the road may be a pretext for detention, if some cop thinks he needs more money or a new toaster.
Our tractor driver España discussed his upcoming trip before he loaded up his two pick-up trucks with his sisters and his accumulated wealth of household items and tools.
At lunch break, underneath the shade of the elderberry trees, everyone had stories to trade about the trips home they'd made in years past. I heard the joy of homecoming, mixed with trepidation for what may be lost. Everybody on the crew had a war story about a trip home, but maybe because he was the one going home next, España's tale of a previous return was the best.
Eight years ago, when he'd last returned to Oaxaca, España had a little Datsun pickup truck.
"Oh yes," everybody remembered. "Small, brown, a little beat-up, but with a decent motor."
Eight years ago he was returning without much money, because it had cost him so much to live back when he was migrant, always moving from ranch to ranch.
"Oh yes," murmured the other guys like a Greek chorus, as they ate their tacos, and drank their soup. "Not much money, but still more than if you'd stayed in Oaxaca..."
España was on his way home, still in Sonora crossing the desert, just south of San Luis Rio Colorado, when a highway patrolman pulled him over.
At this point there was a general rumble, heads nodded, and someone stopped chewing long enough to pronounce the verdict: "Pinche parasito."
The officer approached the pickup truck, eyeing the vehicle's California license plates from behind his insect-eye, aviator sunglasses. He bent over to speak through the window. "Señor Indio," he announced, "You have been driving in a manner threatening to the safety of the Republic. "The fine will be $200 dollars."
The taco eaters scoffed with contempt.
There was a roar of outrage. José passed around a paper plate of pickled jalepenos
España waited for a minute before resuming his narrative. "So I told the patrolman. 'Señor Policeman, I don't have $200. I have barely enough cash to buy the gasoline to get me to Oaxaca City.'" The officer listened with a stone face. He straightened up, pulled a wallet from his pants pocket -- a wallet gorged with money -- and pulled out a crisp twenty dollar bill.
"Señor Oaxaquito," said the officer, "Better that I give you some money," and handed España the bank note.
Everybody cried out in disbelief, "Impossible! Incredible! A miracle!"
"Ho-ho-ho," Don Gerardo, our field driver, said. "España must have met the Mexican Santa Claus."