FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Invisible Americans

by CLANCY SIGAL

I don’t speak Pashto, Farsi, Kurdish, Arabic or Urdu.  Yet since 9/11 I have lived mentally in their homelands of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq thousands of miles away.  Partly it’s because our troops with whom I identify are fighting in the “Stans” and Iraq, and partly because you never know when this whole area will explode into a war that engulfs us all, as Syria almost did.

At the same time I have only a very poor smattering of Spanish in the city of Los Angeles which is almost 50% Spanish speaking and just a few miles from the Mexican border.

In my neighborhood I’m surrounded by Spanish speaking Latinos who work as gardeners, maids, dry wall and bulldozing construction, nannies of Anglo children and checkers in my local Ralphs market.  Only on Cinco de Mayo or when my attention is drawn to a rash of gang killings are they truly visible to me.  There are whole stretches of Spanish-speaking LA, in Boyle Heights, San Fernando valley and parts of South Central and Watts, that are almost entirely Latino as you see when you drive past their iglesias and mercados.  My local Jewish delis are staffed by Latino chefs and counter help.

If these legal and illegal migrants are invisible, Mexico the country even more so.  The twin-city border metropolis of Tijuana-San Diego is an easy drive from LA where forty million people cross and recross this border every year.   Big time dope dealers buy mansions in Chula Vista on the U.S. side, and many American retirees relax down in Ensenada and elsewhere in Baja California.  Spanish language TV and radio (KXOS-FM 93.9 and KLAX-FM 97.9) command huge audiences in southern California, Arizona and the other border states.  And for Anglo readers like me the Los Angeles Times almost daily reports on Mexican politics, systemic corruption, personalities, violence etc.

Thus I know more about which drug cartels – “narcos” like Zetas and Knights Templar – control which Mexican districts than I have any understanding of the people I live around.

“¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!” (Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!) late president Porfirio Diaz is supposed to have lamented.beastmartinez

Even though Los Angeles is in many ways the “most northern Mexican city”, Mexico itself mentally seems light years away…except of course for the headline assassinations, beheadings, kidnappings, vigilantes, mass rapes etc.

The Beast, published by Verso and beautifully translated, is a first-person closeup journey by a Salvadorean journalist, Oscar Martinez, drawing me closer to a real Mexico and therefore to my own neighborhood full of hard working migrants from whom I’m separated by language and experience.

As most of us know, migrant riders of The Beast is not peculiar to LA.  We hire them at sub-wages all the way from Georgia and upstate New York to the Rockies and beyond.

Oscar Martinez is a new Jack London or Orwell risking his life several times over to ride on top of “The Beast”, the cargo train that daily brings hundreds of Central American poor migrants from Nicaragua through Honduras, Guatamala, El Salvador through the badlands of Mexico to the promised land of El Norte where few make it past extortionist police checkpoints, dope-and-human smugglers, and armed predators who murder and rape at will.  Migrant women accept that part of the necessary “fee” to travel will be a multiple rape and if lucky escaping with their lives.  Along this migrant trail there are many “bra trees” where the rapists hang their victims’ undergarments as trophies.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of these migrants illegally cross from Mexico into the United States.  (Last year the Border Patrol deported almost 100,000.)  In 2010, hundreds of migrants went missing or were killed in Mexico; more than 20,000 were kidnapped.   Gangs imprison them and demand ransom money from families back home and even if the money is handed over kill their hostages.

The migrants who ride on top and often fall off The Beast, to be decapitated or have limbs severed by the train’s iron wheels, are the same people or their close relatives who work in my neighborhood.

New arrivals are desperate to work as hotel maids and laborers, work they cannot find in their dysfunctional, hyper-violent home countries.  (Honduras probably has the world’s highest murder rate.)  Now, after reading Oscar Martinez’s amazing book, riding along with him on top of The Beast, month after month on the thousand-mile highway to heaven or an ugly anonymous death, it’s impossible any longer to step back from brownskinned neighbors who are so hungry for una vida mejor, a better life, for which they are willing to die in the desert or in a mass grave to get to what we take for granted.

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives

 

 

Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Black Sunset

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail