My friend Gene is our neighborhood’s sentinel for well-being, and a master collector of the stories of people who dare to cross all of the different borders that intersect along the Rio Grande in south Texas.
Gene notices, over and again, that life’s goodness is invariably disguised, and in that way, he is a quite the detective.
I sat on the front porch this morning, reading the Sunday paper and watching a military helicopter cross back and forth through my home’s air space. Gene rolled up on his bike, and tossed me a copy of the Sunday Matamoros newspaper, El Bravo. “Good reading, there,” he says, and then tells me that the other night, while taking what he calls his moonlight bike ride, that he had run across a group of Mexican nationals walking toward the bus station.
“Where are you going?,” he shouted at them.
“Florida!” they said.
“What for?” he asked, and they said, “Para trabajar en el perejil (to work in the parsley fields)“.
Gene, misunderstanding “perejil” for “perro” said, “You guys are going to Florida to take care of dogs?” and the group laughs as one, “Perejil, no perros! (Parsley, not dogs),” they shout, laughing as they continue on their way.
Gene points out to me that the farmworkers didn’t even know the name of the town to which they are heading, that they are going to be working under the hot Florida sun squatting over a weedy plant that is essentially a garnish–and that that seemed liked a good deal to them.
The men were coming from northern Veracruz, a Mexican state so rich in natural resources, with endless deposits of gas and oil as well as a world-class agribusiness, that it could be its own independent nation.
Things have become so bad there, though, that families are having trouble feeding their children. So these men are leaving behind all those that they love–wives, children, grandchildren, parents and friends, and heading off for Florida, for a place where folks easily confuse perejil and perros.
Gene steps off the porch and heads on home. “People,” he said, “are incredible.”
As his bike turns the corner, the black helicopter comes roaring out of the east, seeking those who would stoop to harvest the garnish we place on our dinner plates.
I return to the Sunday paper, first pausing, however, to offer a prayer for those laughing, courageous fellows. They have earned at least that, I think.