Oct 2, 2007
I live nine block from the Mexican border in a small Southeastern Arizona city, and I’m continually amazed about the things I learn about the border.
A morning last week I was walking my dogs in the desert near the international line, because I was not in the mood to addle up a mule, nor did I have the time.
I met a solo border crosser, and this is rare, because they normally cross in groups.
I started to talk to this 28-year-old man in Spanish.
He told me he lives in Agua Prieta, but for the last five years he has been working on a ranch just outside of Douglas.
I was intrigued. I ask, “How many times have you been stopped by the Border Patrol.”
He laughs heartily and says, “Never. When you cross by yourself, and know what you are doing it is almost impossible for them to catch you.”
I still don’t know whether I believe him. “What about the fence.”
He laughs again and says, “It’s a joke.”
We hike together for a while and I ask, “Can’t you find work in Agua Prieta?”
He smiles and says, “Sure. I’m a licensed veterinarian in Mexico. There are 83 veterinarians in AP, and unless you have your own business or have family or political connections you don’t make jack.”
I snort, and know it’s all too true because I’ve met veterinarians who drive cabs, doctors who sell tacos, and lawyers and engineers who wait tables in Mexico.
The vet continues, “I only make fifty dollars a day working here as a cowboy, and it’s twice what I would make working as a veterinarian in Mexico.”
I ask which ranch he works .. he lips away on the route he takes, keeping his eyes peeled for migra.
He gives me the name of the ranch and I know the owner.
I go out and talk to Bill and ask about Doctor Carlos. Bill is tall and lanky and been a rancher all of his life and gone to college.
He says with earnest warmth in his voice, “Carlos is the best hand I’ve ever had on the ranch. I thought I knew a little something about cattle, horses and ranching, but I’ve learned plenty from him.”
Bill look nervously up at t he cloudless sky, worrying about the little grass he has because of the drought, and says, “He’s totally dependable and honest. He doesn’t drink, takes initiative on his own, and when he says he’s going to be somewhere at such and such a time–he is there.”
“What he don’t know about animals and ranching ain’t worth knowing. He shoes, ropes, cuts, dehorns, doctors horses and cattle, nurses doggied calves, vaccinates, brands, mends fences, services windmills. In short everything.
“Still,” I say, “Can’t you get someone from this side to work for you?”
“Hell,” he says, fire flashing in his pale faded blue eyes that have seen too much desert sun, “You knew William. He wasn’t worth a shit and I kept him on for years, because he was reliable. He was just a greenhorn who thought he was a cowboy.”
He spits, “I ended up doing twice the work I’m doing now. I’ve finally gotten ahead on paperwork, and I never thought that would happen.”
Bill looks away at t he mountain behind the ranch house. “If I managed to get a real cowboy from here, I couldn’t afford to pay him. I’m just barely hanging onto the ranch as it is.”
“Besides, if I could actually find a real cowboy, he would probably be drunk most of the time, or chase off all the time.”
I thank Bill for the information, and commensurate with him about the state of ranching.
I went to a get together with friends on Sunday evening. There was a couple there from Connecticut who had bought forty acres out here which they planned to retire on.
She is a nurse, a nurse with a BS and about five other abbreviations behind her name. She’s been nursing for 35 years, but she is not a doctor.
I made a comment that they are paying nurses a lot better these days.
She made a sour face and snorted, “A new nurse only starts out at fifty dollars an hour.”
After I left the get together I thought about my grandparents and how I came to be here.
One grandmother, who was deceased before I was born, was the oldest of twenty-two children and came over from Ireland and worked in bondage for three years in a hotel in Filly to pay for the trip.
Both my mother’s parents, who were also dead before I was born, were from an area of Eastern Germany that borders on Poland.
The only grandparent I met was my paternal grandfather who had ranched most of his life in Montana. He was an old coot in his eighties when I met him, and he ultimately died of his own cooking.
I think of Doctor Carlos, wonder why he can’t come to the USA legally, and my uneducated grandparents who could.