Category Archives: Global Economy

Juan’s Story – The high cost of cheap prices

We came upon this taxi driver who started telling us of how, in order to build his family a house, he went to Texas to cut rock for housing facades, using a legal visa provided by his employer. Did this for three years, six days a week, 12 hours a day minimum.

Hope you like this video, which I did last week in Mexico.

Let me know what you think, either here on in the Youtube comment box. Please share it if you like it.

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Filed under Border, Business, Global Economy, Mexico, Migrants

Obama, Elkhart & the Dope of 24-Hour News

Elkhart, Indiana sounds like a town that needs to stop watching 24-hour news.

This Jackie Calmes story in the New York Times reports that the town once on its back, having lostIMG_0638 many jobs and about to lose thousands more should Chrysler have gone under in 2009, has rebounded from the depths of the Great Recession and now is near full employment (3.8% unemployment down from 23%).

This has a lot to do with Barack Obama’s auto bailout and stimulus package passed to resuscitate the ravaged economy he inherited upon taking office.

Obama visited this town as a candidate and as president and did not forget it, but instead helped save it. Yet support for him is weak in Elkhart, Indiana. Yet somehow they find something to support in Donald Trump, and can only fault the president.

The problem here goes pretty deep, I think. If nothing – not even solid political performance – is good enough for us any more, who are we then?  Has the great American ideal of accountability been taken to such absurd extremes? Will only perfection suffice?

It used to be common for people to have mixed allegiances, because their politics were born of their towns and the solutions people saw locally, which stretched quite naturally across party lines. Today we’ve grown into bubbles, even locally, obeying the stark divides in Washington and in the broadcast media. We view politics as some sports contest and we’re fans of one team or another. I’ll admit it: nothing the Dallas Cowboys do is going to make me their fan. But that’s not how politics, governing should be.

We  excoriate government, but government is our way of coming together, in community, to solve problems.

Why imitate our national political leaders who live captive to politics as sport? And what about some courtesy? How about saying thank you?

I’ve written a lot about my belief that our heroin and pain pill-addiction problem stems from years of destroying community in this country, leaving us without the social immune system to combat a drug as isolating as opiates. Elkhart is one place where that happened. Now it appears that this town is forming community again, becoming a place where people are working and putting their lives back together. I assume it’s not perfect and that much remains to be done.

But this attitude expressed by people in Elkhart now that things are better, to me, feels childish, feels unserious. Above all, it feels as if they’ve downed too much of the dope of alarm, frenzy and anger dealt by 24-hour cable news and talk radio, which traffic in all that and never heard of a solution to a problem, nor reported on one.

We luxuriate in complaining about politicians, yet won’t support those who follow through and who help create community out of destruction?

Seems to me that if we believe the alarmism of 24-hour cable news despite the evidence looking us in the face, then we’ve become infantile, hardly deserving of our world-power status, and we deserve the loonies we get.

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Filed under Dreamland, Global Economy, The Heroin Heartland

Pope Francis, Community and Heroin

I’m speaking at Notre Dame University today, the day that Pope Francis gave his beautiful talk to Congress.

What struck me about his speech was not just what he said, for we’ve heard some of that before, though it never gets old. But what struck me most was the way he said it: softly, slowly, building each idea logically on the last.

We live in an era of bombast. It is everywhere. It’s not just Donald Trump, who personifies it, in my opinion. It’s loud-mouthed, poorly spoken athletes on ESPN. It’s crank screechers on 24-hour news and talk raIMG_3652dio. Reality show bimbos. It’s the babble of unimportant breaking news that takes up so much space on newspaper websites. The constant yammer on Facebook about stuff that is really personal and ought to be kept that way. We never get a minute to ourselves, it seems.

Of course, our national politics is infected with it. Congress appears incapable of doing anything but taking one extreme or the other. Talking points – that’s an interesting concept. “Talk to us about X…” is another – just open your mouth and start talking, implying that thought doesn’t need to occur first.

Thus it was so therapeutic to walk along the quiet paths of the school’s campus and listen to Pope Francis use terms like “cooperation,” “union,” “community.” It was sweet to hear him talk about the monk Thomas Merton.

These themes – or the lack of them in our civic life – are integrally wrapped up in why we have so much heroin abuse in America today.

I believe we’ve spent decades destroying community, mocking and clawing at the girdings of government that provide the public assets and infrastructure that we took for granted and that make communal public life possible. We exalted the private sector, and accepted the free market as some infallible God and thus allowed, encouraged even, jobs to go overseas.

We seemed to fear the public sphere. Parents hover over kids. Alarmed at some menace out in public, they accompany their kids everywhere they go. It all seems connected to a fear of pain, an idea that we can avoid pain, avoid danger.  As a country, meanwhile, we have acted as if consumption and the accumulation of stuff was the path to happiness.

We’ve built into our suburbs an isolation that we called prosperity. Added to that mix was the expansion of technology that connects us to the world but separates us from our next-door neighbor.

We wound up dangerously separate from each other – whether in poverty or in affluence.

Kids no longer play in the street. Parks are under-used.

Why then do we wonder that heroin is everywhere?

Heroin turns every addict into narcissistic, self-absorbed, solitary hyper-consumers. A life that finds opiates turns away from family and community and devotes itself entirely to self-gratification by buying and consuming one product – the drug that most makes being alone not just all right, but preferable. It is the final expression of values we have fostered for 35 years.

I believe more strongly than ever that the antidote to heroin is community – doing things with neighbors in public in a way that once came quite naturally.

That’s why I also loved Pope Francis’s speech. He seemed to be touching on the stuff that troubles us as a country most deeply  – and for which heroin is just the latest, though perhaps most potent, symptom.

And he did so quietly, softly – which I hope meant that people heard him more clearly.

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Filed under Dreamland, Drugs, Global Economy, Los Angeles

DREAMLAND … in two weeks

Two weeks from today, my third book, Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic (Bloomsbury Press), is officially Dreamland-HCBigreleased.

The story of this epidemic involves shoelaces, rebar, Levi’s 501s, cellphones, football, Walmart, American prosperity, with marketing, with Mexican poverty and social competition, and with the biggest swimming pool in the US and what happened when that was destroyed.

It’s about the marketing of prescription pills as a solution to pain of all kinds, and about a small town in Mexico where young men have devised a system for retailing heroin across America like it was pizza.

The tale took me from Appalachia to suburbs in Southern California, into one of the biggest drug-abuse stories of our time – and one of the quietest, and whitest as well.

Until April 21, you can buy the book presale, at a discount, at Amazon here … or at Barnes & Noble here.

It’s been a long haul, and I thank the many people I met and spoke to along the way as I put together this American saga.

Hope you like it.

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Filed under Border, Business, Drugs, Global Economy, Mexico, The Heroin Heartland

Kevin Costner Cutting Cabbage

It’s been a long time since Kevin Costner showed up in a worthwhile movie. Not nearly as long, though, as it’s been since a real Central Valley farming town appeared in one.

They both star in a movie that I saw recently at Walt Disney Studios called McFarland USA, which portrays a kind of unvarnished rural America that amounts to risk-taking I don’t associate with either Costner or Disney.McFARLAND

McFarland USA (in theaters later this month) is based on the true story of Jim White, a football coach who moves to the tiny Central Valley farming town in the 1980s and, instead, creates the McFarland High School cross country team with kids who work the field before coming to school, the children of longtime farmworkers.

The team becomes state champions – a feat the school has achieved nine times. McFarland USA is great tear-jerking sports filmmaking.

For Costner, this comes after a series of movies that seemed to me (though I’m no Hollywood insider) the last gasp of a major career (Draft Day), and may help resuscitate it.

He’s played this part many times. This time, though, he allows himself to be here in all his wrinkles, befuddled a good part of the movie in this foreign land with a U.S. zip code; he’s no longer quite the stud in control that he was during his heyday that began in rural America with Bull Durham in 1988.

Costner deals in fantasy, like every movie star. His has always been a certain kind of American (usually male) fantasy, and often about the nobility of white rural and/or small town America, in particular. Bull Durham, which launched him, had it in spades.

Problem is that part of America has been taking a pounding since at least Bull Durham (farm crisis, depopulation, Walmart). (The latest scourge, about which I’ve been writing, is a locust cloud of prescription pills and heroin.)

It’s the unblinking (within the genre’s limits) look at this rural America into which Costner is thrown that makes this flick worth the time. One place is a cabbage field, in which Costner stoops under the brutal Central Valley sun along with Mexican farmworkers. This is an unfamiliar country for the guy whose last appearance in modern rural America was in the far less complicated Field of Dreams Iowa in 1989.

The movie’s backdrop is its richest attribute: the orchards and streets of the Central Valley, home to some of our poorest towns – McFarland among them. “Are we in Mexico?” his daughter asks as the White family first drives through town.

Embracing this milieu allows the movie, and the star, a few other surreal scenes.

There’s Costner as a proud but stumbling father giving his daughter an impromptu quinceanera, a word he cannot pronounce. Another shows the kids training by running around the local prison – doesn’t every Valley town have one?

McFarland USA is Disney through and through. You’ll whiff Stand and Deliver, as well as Rudy and Hoosiers. It’s still effective filmmaking – I counted five tearing-ups – with a poor, stunningly photogenic, Central Valley town at its center.

We learn that all White’s runners go on to better lives, many, it seems, working for one level of government or another.

That’s not surprising any more.

The Central Valley has inspired thunderous works of art and activism on the plight of the oppressed – Grapes of Wrath, of course, the main example. But none ever stuck with the story long enough, I always thought. For, by and large, people don’t take it lying down for long. They struggle. They move on, they move up; in time, they’re allowed the luxury of forgetting where they came from.

Had Steinbeck followed the Joads, he’d have watched their kids become the next generation of cops and city councilmen along the 99 – and forget their manners when it came to the Mexican-Americans who moved up the highway to take their places in the fields.

I lived in Stockton from 1989 to 1992 – about the time McFarland USA is set. By then, the kids of those Mexican-Americans that Cesar Chavez organized in the 1960s had become cops, restaurant owners, and farmers themselves – and didn’t seem to care too much for the illegal northern Mexicans who worked the fields.

Those northern Mexicans who came to pick in the 1970s and 1980s were amnestied into America. Their kids are today the labor contractors and farmers (and cops). They’re trying to figure out the newest pickers – Mixtec and Triqui Indians from southern Mexico – who seem as foreign to them as his students seemed to Jim White when he showed up in McFarland fresh from a failed Idaho coaching job.

But all that is backstory to a movie that combines some classic sports melodrama with a look at a rural, small-town USA, and, with it, an icon of square white American manhood cutting cabbage in the sun.

Photo: McFarland USA

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Filed under California, Culture, Global Economy, Mexico, Migrants

An attorney speaks to Tijuana deportees

IMG_1665I just sat through a meeting of a Mexican immigration attorney in Tijuana at a shelter for recently deported men, as she explained President Obama’s recent remaking of immigration policy.

At the Casa del Migrante in east Tijuana, Esmeralda Flores wound her way through the intricacies of US immigration law. But the cold hard facts were, she said, “that none of you are eligible” for the temporary reprieve in deportations that the president announced.

Even if you crossed again tonight, it wouldn’t make any difference, she said.

About 30 men, rough and worn out, listened as she spoke. All had to be living in the U.S. as of November 20 – ironically Mexico’s Revolution Day holiday – to be eligible; and they weren’t.

Most of the men had lived for years in the United States. Most had learned to co-exist with their illegal status.

One I met was Filiberto Ruiz, who crossed at 15, and got his first job washing dishes in Oceanside without papers. He showed me, nevertheless, his real Social Security card and California driver’s license, all obtained without legal papers.

“For years, I didn’t need a green card,” he told me. “I preferred not to have one. I knew that sooner or later I’d be going to prison and then I’d lose all that money I’d spent getting a green card.”

Ruiz, now 50, was one of those who took advantage. He got involved in drugs, was deported several times, walking back in at the border crossing in each time. Then things got rough after 9/11 and he was caught one more time and sentenced to eight years in federal prison for illegal re-entry.

All of this – Ruiz, the men at the meeting, and the hundreds of thousands just like them, the president’s speech – are the fruit of Americans’ schizophrenia and double standards when it comes to immigration, particularly the low-wage sort from Mexico.

We have spent all our time enforcing immigration law at the border, where it’s politically sexy to do so. We’ve not enforced the law on Americans – people who hire illegal immigrants, from housewives to factory owners to sandwich shops and homeowners with pools that need cleaning.

So every working-class Mexican learned this fact: Cross the border and you could live and work without too much trouble; even brushes with the law were sometimes not enough to disqualify you from living and working illegally in America.IMG_1204

Father Pat Murphy, who runs the Casa del Migrante, told me of a family in San Diego who own a pool-cleaning business, a house, with kids in school, and 25 years in America – and are illegal.

But these days all that led to that appears to have changed. Tonight it fell to Esmeralda Flores to explain the truth to the 30 or so men who sat with her.

On a related note, Tijuana is a town of deportees: My taxi driver this evening was a deportee; so was the guy who changed the shower head in my hotel room.

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Filed under Border, Global Economy, Mexico, Migrants

New Deportees in Tijuana, in NatGeo

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This is my first story for National Geographic online  — on the large numbers of deportees who end up staying in Tijuana, the city that they and their parents first crossed through years ago with such optimism on the way to a better life.

images-1These men are everywhere in the city. You see them wandering, with ball caps and small backpacks. Most are undocumented in the country of their birth, as they’ve lost, or never had, birth certificates, Social Security cards and the like.

For Tijuana, though, the question is, how does a town that lived from the energy of people passing through to a better life absorb tens of thousands of men returning traumatized, depressed, beaten.

A timely topic given the president’s speech last night.

The piece contains fabulous photographs by Eros Hoagland. (The shots on this post are mine.)

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Filed under Border, Global Economy, Mexico, Migrants

Fashion District drug money laundering

L.A., and the Fashion District in particular, is the “epicenter” of narcodollar money laundering, mostly by Mexican drug cartels, said authorities at a press conference today.

They came together from the FBI, DEA, IRS and US Attorney’s office to announce a bunch of arrests in the Fashion District early Wednesday and describe a scheme through which dollars are laundered into pesos.download

In one location, they came upon boxes of cash that they expected would total $35 million when they were done counting, which they weren’t by midday. They seized another $19 million in bank accounts and $10 million at a house in Bel-Air – $65 million in all.

Among all that’s interesting in this topic is the fact that virtually all of this takes place within the immigrant economic ecosystem in L.A., which has long fascinated me as it basically involves almost no native-born Americans. In this case, mostly Chinese sewing-company owners were doing business with Mexican drug traffickers.

Apparently these exchanges with Fashion District businesses on behalf of drug traffickers has become a popular way of laundering money ever since 2010 when Mexico put strict controls on the quantities of dollars that could be deposited in its banking system without being reported.

Used to be traffickers would just pack stack of dollars into a car and drive home. Now putting that money somewhere isn’t as easy. Hence this new Black Market Peso Exchange scheme.

Basically, it works thus: traffickers in the US with ill-gotten bucks find a peso broker – someone whose job it is to search out companies already selling goods into Mexico. A trafficker delivers large quantities of these dollars to Fashion District companies to pay for massive deliveries of clothes down to Mexican clothing importers who are in the scam.

“The cash never crosses the border, but the goods do,” said Robert Dugdale, chief of the U.S. Attorney’s criminal division in L.A. The Fashion District firm sends the clothes to a clothing importer in Mexico. The clothes are sold for pesos and the pesos are given to the cartel traffickers, after the broker takes a cut for himself.

A lot of this appears to depend on Fashion District clothing companies with owners who are willing to say nothing when some guy shows up with a duffel bag of cash, using only a nickname as ID.

Homeland Security had previously sent out notices to 160 companies in the district, telling them of U.S. legal reporting requirements for cash. The selection of which companies were notified “was not random,” said Claude Arnold, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations here.

Apparently this scheme has sent floods of cash through the Fashion District. Be interesting to see after all this what happens to some of these companies.

One Fashion District company – Q.T. Fashions on 12th Street – allegedly laundered $140,000 in ransom money for the kidnapping of a cartel courier, a U.S. citizen, whose load of cocaine was confiscated by law enforcement. To get repaid, members of the Sinaloa Cartel kidnapped him, took him down to Mexico, tortured him and got the family to take the ransom money to QT Fashions, which allegedly got the cash down to Mexico. The hostage was eventually freed.

Photos: Stashes of cash; Source: US Attorney’s office

 

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Filed under Border, Business, Drugs, Global Economy, Los Angeles, Mexico, Southern California

Unaccompanied minors: How about some perspective

The Dept of Homeland Security today announced figures for youths apprehended alone at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The headline: The numbers of detained unaccompanied children dropped in half, to 5,500 in July.20140508_192715

Also fascinating in the DHS report: The monthly apprehension numbers show a huge leap in March and April, up to 7,000+ and reaching 10,000+ in each of May and June.

So most of those 57,000 kids that were reported detained since October actually came since March.

The suddenness of that surge reflected in the DHS figures adds credence to the idea that this was the result of rumors – spread by a Honduran television reporter, according a US official I spoke with – that the time to leave was now or never given pending legal changes in the U.S. So people began bolting.

But it’s remarkable that the situation on the ground – both harrowing violence and civic disintegration in Central America, dependence on jobs in the U.S., and the huge numbers of immigrants here — is such that rumors would spark a migration fever like that.

I find the whole furor to be surreal in another way. The surge in apprehended minors is really a sign of how well the immigration system is working. Certainly, total apprehensions, which are barometers of the the size of the flow of people trying to cross, are well down these days.

Years ago, when total apprehensions were always over a million annually, thousands of kids — most of them teenagers between 13 and 17 – came to the United States illegally and many of them were alone. But they were lost in the hundreds of thousands of adults who were also crossing.

But with those numbers down (well below 500,000 a year), the kids stand out more. It’s possible too that coyotes are seeing these kids as their last, or maybe a far more important, revenue stream and spreading rumors too. Desperate measures, perhaps reflecting a serious crisis among our friends in the human-smuggling industry.

Not to say that it’s a good thing that thousands of kids are streaming north, but it helps to keep some perspective.

Here are the DHS apprehension figures since January, 2014:

Unaccompanied children Adults with children
January 3,706 2,286
February 4,846 3,282
March 7,176 5,754
April 7,702 6,511
May 10,579 12,774
June 10,628 16,330
July 5,508 7,410

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Filed under Border, Global Economy, Mexico, Migrants

The Bracero Treaty changed America

imagesThis month marks the signing of the Bracero Treaty between the U.S. and Mexico.

The 72nd anniversary – not a sexy number, I guess. But the moment seems relevant given the crisis of unaccompanied kids flowing up from Central America, in especially large numbers over the last couple months.

The furor, the appearance of the kids themselves, are part of the complicated perversity that now surrounds the immigration issue, where Americans want and don’t want immigrant laborers. It all began with the Bracero Treaty.

The treaty was signed in 1942, allowing Mexican guest workers to be contracted to work the fields of the United States, harvesting the food that the country and its military needed while men were fighting World War II.

Mexican laborers from isolated villages were contracted to work in Utah, Arkansas, Washington, Nebraska and, of course, much of California. There’s a lot that accompanies the story. (Here’s a preview to a documentary.  There’s an historical archive here.)

But the important thing here is that the treaty began the transformation of America in many ways. First, it began the transition of agriculture, particularly in California, away from white, native-born labor to eventually an entirely Mexican, and then Mexican Indian, labor force today.

(In the early 1960s, Cesar Chavez, just then organizing farmworkers, was a main opponent of the treaty, and lobbied hard to end it. He was equally a fierce opponent of illegal Mexican labor.)

Our desire for cheap, plentiful labor trumped our dedication to the rule of law – a recurring theme through the next decades. So, crucially, the first large flows of illegal immigrants came at the same time as the two million legal laborers contracted under the treaty over its 22 years.

That, in turn, began the custom of migrating illegally that took hold in many Mexican states – Jalisco, Zacatecas, images-1Michoacan and others – and has become a business for many.

Eventually, years after the treaty finally ended in 1964, its legacy would continue as  construction and home improvement, meatpacking, gardening and landscaping, and many more, grew to depend on Latino immigrant labor. (Here’s a story I did on a gardener from Durango who died trimming a palm tree in L.A.)

The Bracero Treaty also began turning many parts of Mexico (and later Central America) into dependents of the U.S. economy. The first channels of immigration from certain villages to towns in the U.S. began with the treaty. That continues today. Some Mexican towns eventually just emptied almost entirely, a collection now of large, beautiful, unused houses built with immigrant dollars.

For a couple great stories about braceros, check out Tell Your True Tale: East Los Angeles, a book of stories from writers from East LA. Two of them are about braceros.

Here’s a link to one of them on my Tell Your True Tale storytelling website: Cardboard Box Dreams by Celia Viramontes.

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Filed under Border, Global Economy, Mexico, Migrants, Tell Your True Tale

The New Kabuki Theater, aka The World Cup

cropped-719px-WC-2014-Brasil.svg_.pngSo now it appears the Uruguayan yahoo name of Luis Suarez actually bit another player in 2010.

I confess that I hadn’t heard that.

I only saw that during yesterday’s game against Italy, the poor Suarez tried to bite Giorgio Chiellini, in what to me looked like an attempted headbutt on the Italian.

With that, the irrepressible Suarez fell, grasping his poor aching head, and front teeth, which are huge, by the way, as if he himself had been headbutted.

Never, it turned out, was there a better case for instant replay as this sad Uruguayan was somehow allowed to remain in the game. Uruguay, then with 11 players to Italy’s 10, scored moments later.

I don’t have documentation, but I suspect the ridiculous Suarez was later embraced by wife or girlfriend, friends and teammates back in the locker room, instead of ridiculed for this shameless behavior.

The bloated and absurd organization known as FIFA, which just scheduled a summer World Cup in a country with 120 degree heat, is investigating. So I’m quite relieved.

The best Kabuki theater in the world continues in the World Cup, contaminating what is a beautiful display of athletic ability.stock-photo-dental-implant-176798672

Just as hockey is marred by fighting, soccer is irrevocably contaminated with this constant fakery, flopping, and telenovela histrionics. Are soccer players f-ing mamas boys? Weenies? Merest little tap and they go down, writhing in some imaginary pain. Some are beginning to writhe before they hit the ground. It’s a disgrace. I am proud that I have not seen one American do that kind of crap – Not One.

THIS JUST IN: Luis Suarez actually bit two opposing players prior to the incident in the Italian game, I’ve now learned. Amazing he’s still playing at all.

but perhaps we understand better this Buzzfeed piece on how much fans would have won betting on whether Luis Suarez would have bit someone.

And the Washington Post on why athletes bite (emotion trumping reason), a question that hadn’t come up since Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield.

 

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Filed under Culture, Global Economy, Sports

Saudi Arabia expelling illegal immigrants

I’m fascinated by what’s going on in Saudi Arabia right now.Saudi Arabia map.png

The kingdom of Saud apparently is suffering from unemployment. Many immigrants from the region are there illegally, and working. Tons of folks — 300,000 Sudanese alone, and thousands of Yemenis.

So the Saudis are giving them the boot — 28,000 in three days. Police killed an Ethiopian fellow who resisted arrest.

I’m getting all this from al-bab.com, a blog billing itself as “an open door to the Arab world” — which is well worth reading. Terrific blog.

Yemen, SA’s neighbor and closest cheap labor source, is worrying that remittances will drop, according to al-bab.com.

Immigrant street sweepers in one Saudi town struck in protest and Saudi officials took up their brooms in a symbolic act. Meanwhile, sweepers have been issued IDs to avoid them getting scooped up and sent home.

Yemen, meanwhile, has been expelling northern Africans, Ethiopians mainly, al-bab.com reports. These folks apparently going through Yemen headed to Saudi Arabia but couldn’t get in, so they stayed. Now Yemen is sending them home.

It’s all so reminiscent.

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El Super workers are demanding…now that illegal immigration has slowed

Workers at the Southern California supermarket chain, El Super, are protesting conditions there — in what could be the beginning of an upheaval in the Southern California grocery industry.

Up to now, nonunion immigrant supermarkets have been a low-cost place to shop for food — with prices based at least partly, I’ve always suspected, on an especially compliant workforce.

I shop often at El Super, Northgate Gonzalez, El Tapatio, and many others — far more than I go to Ralph’s. I find the produce especially good quality and cheap.

All are owned by immigrants (or folks in Mexico, in El Super’s case). They are staffed by Latino immigrants and target the Latino immigrant consumer. They see cactus leaves (nopales), tortillas, dried black beans, chorizo and often feel just like supermarkets in Mexico.

Many are in spaces once occupied by Ralph’s, Von’s, Alpha Beta and other non-immigrant supermarket chains — buildings many of them moved into after the other businesses were burned out during the 1992 Rodney King riots.

For consumers who’ve known where to go and what to buy, these markets I’ve long thought were a benefit of living in Southern California — same as cheap flooring installation.

I’ve never heard of any of them being struck. But that was then — during years of seemingly unending flow of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America into the region.

I suspect the El Super protests have something to do with the dramatic slowing in the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants into the US in the last few years. Not to mention, the record numbers of  deportations in the last few years.

A smaller supply of workers means those who have jobs gain confidence in their ability to demand better treatment.

The gravest threat to an illegal immigrant without much education or English is a lot of immigrants with the same limited skill set.

That’s why so many Latino immigrants have left L.A. over the years for places like Kentucky, Tennessee, Minnesota, etc etc. They weren’t escaping the migra. They were escaping others just like themselves, who bid down wages and forced up rents.

Now there are fewer of them.

So … might we see immigrant workers at more companies objecting to their treatment by their immigrant owners? Perhaps in other industries — home improvement, for example?

I’d say chances are good.

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Filed under California, Global Economy, Los Angeles, Migrants, Southern California

Mexico’s gypsies, traveling movies & the blond-haired Roma girl

Europe is abuzz with the discovery of a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl named Maria, found among Roma gypsies in Greece and presumed to have been abducted. At least those with custody of her are not her biological parents.

So far, however, her DNA has not matched with any missing girl in Europe.

I’ve watched this with interest.

I had an encounter with the Roma several years ago in an isolated village in Mexico. Roma came to Mexico in the 1920s and there are about 16,000 of them, though they’re all but invisible.

“Gypsies have been ‘de-historified’; they do not appear in the history of Mexico,” David Lagunas, of the National School of Anthropology and History, told Inter Press Service. “We know very little about them.”

I had no idea they existed. But they remain a fairly coherent group, still speaking Roma and wandering through the country — the ones I met did anyway.

This was several years ago — 2002 I believe. I was a freelancer in Mexico. The O.C. Register called and asked if I’d go to a village in Puebla where a boy was to be buried. He had been shot to death by Huntington Beach Police and the family was sending his body back. That was a whole other story.

But while I was in the village, waiting for his burial the next day, I heard a loudspeaker announcing something I couldn’t understand. A few minutes later, I saw a ramshackle truck, filled with chairs and tables and barely hanging together.

Then it stopped and ten or twelve people piled out. They were the Brandy family — three generations of Roma gypsies.  I went over to talk to them, wondering who on earth they could be and what they were doing in town.

They spoke Spanish and Roma. Turned out, they spent their lives touring the most isolated villages, showing movies and charging 15 or 20 pesos. Many Roma people did that much of the year in Mexico, they said.

For some villages, impromptu Roma theater was welcome entertainment, though the Brandys allowed that with cable TV, VCRs and DVDs the numbers of these villages was dwindling.

I watched as the Brandys cordoned off a lot with high sheets so no one could see in. Inside, they set up a projector, put out chairs and benches they had in their truck, and as night fell, they charged admission and put on the worst monster movie I’d ever seen.

I hate all monster movies, but this was the worst. It featured, I remember, building-sized snakes. I remember a desultory crowd of 15 or so enduring this flick.

I didn’t stick around long.

I wanted desperately to go off with them the next day, but the Register needed a story and so I remained. The Brandys didn’t have telephones or maybe they told me that so I wouldn’t tag along.

Either way, I never forgot them.

Photo: Maria (IBTimes)

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Filed under Culture, Global Economy, Mexico, Migrants, Storytelling

Here’s what you know about the 740

The response to the video by RWR, the Portsmouth, Ohio rap group, has been extraordinary.

So I sifted through the comments for some excerpts that tell the story of a small American town that is beaten down and rising up.

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“…I’m 60 yes old….have lived here since I was 9. I cry when I see what had become of the town I grew up in. I remember a downtown that was filled with stores and restaurants. Christmas shopping was magical. Shoulder to shoulder, bellsIMG_4113 ringing… You could find anything you wanted! There were no Kmarts, Walmarts or malls. …”

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“…We never locked doors and never had to worry. Now we live behind closed locked doors with alarms on them. The working class is worried about keeping what they have while the others steal to get what we work for. Kids being raised by grandparents because of the drugs here….”

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“Drugs have been prominent as early as Dr.Lily and Dr.Proctor. With a steady and fast decline ever sense then. With businesses shutting down. No work around the area….”

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“…Watched the girl next door go from straight A’s to prison in just two years from the first O/C. watched my son’s friend go from valedictorian to living in his own filth, without any utilities. … At one point the estimate was that of every 10 adults in Scioto county, 7 were addicted to oxycontin. think about this. you go to the store, the clerk is high. you take your dog to a vet, you see the pinprick pupils. you stop at the post office, you see the obvious proof of addiction, it is … as if someone crop dusted the county. with opiate.”IMG_0637 - Version 2

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“… knew our town was on trouble when people young and old were lined up down Chillicothe (the main street in Portsmouth) to see the pain pill doctor. Or maybe it was when I bought pills from friends Grandmother. Or how about when I saw a former high school cheerleader walking the stro….’

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“…I got pregnant I was unable to stop so my son was taken from me n I went to treatment immediately after five weeks of treatment my father was shot and killed robbing theCarry out…”

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“…You can’t leave the house alone without fear of coming up missing to never be heard from again….”

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“…You got to survive the 740 is what the hell I know….”

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“…My daughter is an addict in early recovery. She was in the top 10 of her graduating class, and on the dean’s list at SSU…until the dope got to her. She went from pain pills, to heroin, to meth. … She got busted and sent to jail. … Maybe I never paid enough attention, maybe I was just to busy trying to work to survive. Maybe I just didn’t want to believe that things were so bad in our town….”

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“…I’ve only been free from prison since May 31st,2013 and I know I can’t go back to living in Portsmouth….”

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“…I noticed an out-of-towner at a coffee shop and asked what brought her to town. She was on a boat trip down (and back) the entire length of the Ohio River. In all her trip preparations, no one had ever mentioned Portsmouth. She had pot lucks and stops scheduled in towns all along the river, but stopped in Portsmouth by accident, to pick up supplies. She added a couple of days to her itinerary to look around. “What happened here?” she asked. “This was a real city once,” she said. “All the buildings are taller than a lot of places I’ve stopped. But it seems like a ghost town.”

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“…7-4-0 reminds me of my hometown, Elkhart, Indiana (574). Elkhart was built on the pharmaceutical, band instrument, and musical instrument manufacturing industries. Because of the mobile home industry, it tags along with the fortunes of Detroit. Don’t know about heroin, but backpack meth and home meth labs (one blew up across the street from the high school) are everywhere….”

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“…WTH do I know about the 740? I was born and raised here I watched it go from a quiet little town, where you didn’t have to be afraid to go out at night, or lock your doors, to a poverty sticken, low job rate, drug capitol. Portsmouth is starting to fight back finally …”IMG_4083

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“…went to prison cause I couldn’t stay clean my mom did a lot by raising my oldest most of her life,sometimes it’s like a never ending battle,but we do have recovery in our town,an once again back in treatment…”

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“…am a mother who use to addict to pain pills been to prison twice and finally went to treatment in the 740 which changed my life for ever.Now I have been working full time for 5 years going back to school to finish my degree and have overcome a lot trying to stay clean and sober it is possible in the 740…”

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“…I’m currently involved with a group of people who are looking to start a worker cooperative in the city as a IMG_0659 - Version 2means of providing work and education for the unemployed. …”

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“…here are 2 options: be the change you want to see, or change your surroundings & the people you spend your time with!…”

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“…I am finishing my Master’s in natural resources and environmental science so I can publish research on this post industrial town and its resulting drug addiction….”

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“…we are recovering like crazy down here in little ole Portsmouth!!! I also know one of the men in the video, watched him grow into adulthood and become a GREAT man, a father, and a caretaker despite all of the hurdles that he faced, and he really did beat the odds…”

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“…I personally have overcome my past, and will not let the downfalls of MY hometown get me down or pull me back! I did it and so can you Portsmouth!!!! All you need is a lil inspiration, and thats what these men are!!!…”

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“…I really dont like rap i usually listen to country but i loved this song n so proud of them….”

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“…What I know about the 740 is good people are doing something about it….”IMG_3327 - Version 2

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“…The people here need to save our “740″. No one is going to do it for us….”

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“…I’m still here and I recently just got out of rehab….”

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“…No longer does this have to be a “junkies town”, or “drug infested” … she is inching herself back to be the home I grew up in. A place where doors are left unlocked at night. A place where its okay to send your children to the store. … It doesn’t come easy. It will get better though. (progress not perfection) I’m an addict. My story and the stories of many of my fellow addicts are similar to the story of our city. We can/do Recover. Today I am proud, honored, and happy to say that I am living in the solution and not in the problem….with that I pass….”

–Θ–

So that’s Portsmouth’s story, folks. Share it if you like it.

Tell me yours. Leave it in Comments.

And follow me: On Twitter.  On Facebook.

Here’s my website: www.samquinones.com

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More posts from True Tales: A Reporter’s Blog:

Here’s what I know about the 7-4-0

Where have you seen the 740?

I who am your Mother … The Virgin of Guadalupe

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Filed under Culture, Drugs, Global Economy, The Heroin Heartland