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Life's the Same in a Labor Camp With or Without Papers

While there are differences in the experiences of people without papers and guest workers, some basic aspects of life are the same.

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It's been five years since I've been able to go home. I came without any papers, just crossing the border in the mountains. When I think about my friends with papers, I wish I'd had the chance. But the truth is, I couldn't come that way.

There always used to be times when you could go back to Mexico. But it's too difficult now. To begin with, it costs about $5,000 now to cross the border coming back. And the border has become very dangerous. It's not like it was before. If you leave, you're not sure you'll be able to get back, even walking through the mountains.

So I've been trapped here for five years. But I tried to take advantage of it, and not think too much about going back. I work here in the grapes and the apples. I knew about the work here from my wife's brothers. Years ago, a lot of people came here from Leon. Now I'm the only one. Lots of those other folks left, and I was the only one who stayed.

This year it's been harder. I've hardly worked on the ranch this year -- just a couple of months. I looked for other work, but there wasn't a lot. In January and February, I went to the day labor center near here, and got work pruning apple trees. I'm very grateful to them.

Even when there wasn't work on the ranch here, we could work other places and still live in the camp. They never charged us rent. When they have work, they expect you to work for them. You're living in their housing. Some of the jobs are paid by piece-rate. When they pay by the hour, it's about $9.85 per hour.

Sometimes, if we're working, we eat meat every day. But when you're not working, you eat tortillas and salt. That's the normal thing. Before coming here, when I was living in Mexico, we didn't eat meat very often.

When you're here, you're always thinking about Mexico. This is going to be my last year. I've decided to stay in Mexico, and to try not to think about coming here anymore. I've put some money into a house and a little land. I'll go back to work in those shoe factories. I still know how to do all the work there. We'll suffer economically, but I hope we'll be OK. Who knows?

Here everything is just work. It's all very serious. Mexico feels more free. Living here, it's not your country.

My oldest son is studying psychology, and will go to the university in Leon. He has a good future because he studies, and I support him. I hope for a good future for my other kids too, and I'm hoping that they'll have a future in Mexico. I don't want them to leave. With more education, I hope they won't have to.

RODRIGO HUERTA:

I'm 21 -- not married yet. I come from Tlazezalco in Michoacan, where my father works in the fields. My grandfather has some land, and so his sons rent from him.

My father worked in the U.S. many years ago, in the 80s, before I was born. He just worked one year and never went back. Then my brother went to Atlanta eight years ago.

I actually never planned to come here. I always said, I'm not going. But now look. Here I am.I have a dream -- to build a house, get married, and have a family. I have someone in mind, but you can't rush it. She told me to go, so I'm hoping she'll wait for me.

 
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