On a recent night, I was out on the beach, pickling my ginger a bit with an oversized bottle of High Life, when I saw two men walking towards me across the sand. I had just stashed the bubbly when they got to me and asked for a cigarette in Spanish. I said I didn't have one -- in Spanish.
That was okay, apparently, because the taller of the two said, "I'll sit down here, okay?" and plopped himself down on the beach chair next to me. The other guy slowly sprawled himself on his back on the sand. Apparently they weren't drunk - they were just really, really tired.
What the hell, I thought, and scooted over, retrieved the bottle, and passed it.
Their names were Octavio and Rixi, they said, and they're illegal immigrants, migrant laborers; Rixi's from Honduras, and Octavio is from Nicaragua. They have family there, and they came here - like a whole hell of a lot of people - to make some money doing shitty work before going back to their families.
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Octavio told me a great story about how he got here. He snuck from Guatemala to Oaxaca by boat, stashed in the compartment below deck. He said the waves made his intestines (or some internal organ) fly up into his throat, and he began to fear his demise. "Yo soy valiente, yo soy hombre," he explained. "But on that boat, I cried and prayed to God." From Oaxaca, he caught a ride on a bus, jumping out and hiding behind the tires whenever the Mexican authorities stopped for inspection.
He finally made it to the US border, walked two nights across the desert into the United States. From there, he caught a Greyhound to Miami, but here's the twist: He rode underneath, in the luggage compartment! What a crazy guy!
Miami's treated Octavio none too well, he says. He and Rixi got a job doing construction for a few days and were never paid. They've had better luck here and there, but overall, it's been hard times; when I asked where they were sleeping that night, Octavio gestured vaguely at the beach. So, conservatives fear not: soon enough, Octavio will leave our country and relinquish our precious poverty-wage construction and dishwashing jobs to the college-educated young men who deserve them.
Octavio and I chatted about various things as we passed the beer (Rixi had fallen asleep): baseball (Octavio's a big fan), Gloria Estefan (Octavio's a big fan), and metaphysics - "We are connected to the sea," Octavio mused, "because our bodies are ninety per cent water." And after a while, we shook hands, Octavio roused Rixi, and we and ventured in opposite directions down the beach. On one side of us was Ocean Drive; on the other, it was water, water, water. --Isaiah Thompson