A LONG AND DUSTY LINE
Originally Published the Week of May 4, 2012 in Western Outdoor News
Having lived down here for quite sometime now, it always gives me pause to see how much of the country is reliant on manual labor. There’s nothing wrong with it.
I come from a long line of manual laborers who came over to Hawaii to work the pineapple and sugarcane fields or to Central Caliornia to pick tomatoes. Dad used to take me out to the fields to show me what it was like and tell me, “Stay in school so you don’t have to make your living hunched over in the sun.” As I grew up, I learned to even despise pulling weeds in the yard, let alone chopping sugar cane stock or packing tomato crates.
Here, in Mexico, unskilled labor is inexpensive and folks need the work. And there’s a lot of folks here.
For instance, after a rain storm, the “broom army” materializes. Using nothing more high-tech than garden-variety-kitchen brooms provided by the government, scores of folks hand sweeping the streets. No machines. Basic sweat-of-brow technology.
Along the highways, you may have seen them. Long lonely stretches of desert road. Sometimes there’s a line of them. Sometimes there’s one solitary guy that makes me wonder “Did you apply for this job?” “Are you being punished for this?” Are you low-man on the seniority list?”
But there he is. With a shovel. Dirty pants. Usually a soiled t-shirt sometimes pulled up and tucked under the chest so that their tummys are exposed. A kerchief wrapped around his faces to ward off the dust. Tennis shoes or old torn up work-boots that look like Hernando Cortez himself brought them over from Spain. A baseball hat of some type worn “Foreign Legion” style with a t-shirt tucked and hanging down the back.
No gloves. No supervisor. No support truck with an orange Igloo of water. No “roach-coach” catering truck nearby. No handy porta-potty close either. No warning cones or vests. Cars come dangerously close since Mexican roads have little or no shoulders. Cows might watch from the scrub. Probably wondering the same thing…”What the heck are you doing out here?”
But there they are, one shovel of dirt at a time. It’s hard to tell what the project is. Move dirt from here to there? Shovel the dust off the highway? Each car or breeze that passes only blows the dust right back. Can’t you just phone it in and say you did the job? Collect some pesos and go home? Who would know the difference?
Often you see “gangs” of these worker standing like sardines in a stakebed truck. Shoulder-to-shoulder. No sitting. Obviously, not union.
Day-after-day…same guys or just one guy. Same stretch of road. Heat numbing. Mind numbing.
Sometimes, I do see them nap under whatever shade a cactus or other scrub can give them. Nothing special. Lie down. Tilt hat over eyes. Siesta. Who keeps track of time?
What got me writing about this subject is a recent visit to the old mission here in La Paz. Visiting the historic sites that dot the California, Baja and Mexican landscape is one of my favorite things.
Whether it’s Mission San Gabriel or San Diego or Santa Barbara or the Baja missions in Loreto or San Ignacio or, as I said here in La Paz, I never tire of walking into them and spending a few moments. Or touching the old adobe or walking the paths and tiles.
There’s something about touching a bit of history. It’s not a re-creation like going to Universal Studios or Disneyland. This is the same water trough where the Spanish soldiers watered their horses. Here’s the breezeway between the rectory and the church where some padre’s sandaled feet used to walk 300 years ago. And here’s the cemetery that holds so many stories.
If you get a chance to visit or ever have. Be quite for a moment and sit still and the history will honestly talk to you!
But, the last time I was in, I was doing just that and it occurred to me. There’s A LOT of wood in here. Huge thick wooden beams criss-cross and support the massive ceilings. Massive wooden doors. Solid hard wood benches and the ornate altar and crucifix and so many other items.
Y’know, Mexico doesn’t exactly have a lot of trees.
And the huge bells and ornaments. The masterpiece stained glass windows and tile work.
They didn’t just hop down to Home Depot to get these in the 1600 and 1700’s.
I’m sure the Jesuit padres and the Spanish conquistadores did hard work, but I don’t envision, Sargeant Garcia and Friar Antonio making bricks or dragging huge chunks of lumber over the mountains. They didn’t dig those irrigation aquaducts for the fields or paint the mission ceilings either.
Nope…they were built by some every-day Joe and Mary. Born with a native name that was probably taken from them at their Christian baptismal and given names like Jose and Maria.
And these are the folks who did the work. Who busted their backs often in the name of the spirit of Christianity and the promise of eternal salvation. Only IF they learned to wear a pair of pants and help build the church. Toil the fields. Build a wagon road. Sweep up after the soldiers and padres.
They built quite an empire. Same folks are still working. Still toiling in that hot Baja sun. Willing to work. Needing to work. I look at the guys on the side of the road as we speed by and wonder if they come from that long dusty line of laboral history. One shovel at a time.
Jonathan Roldan has been writing the Baja Column in Western Outdoor News since 2004. Along with his wife, Jill, they own and run the Tailhunter International Fishing Fleet in La Paz, Baja, Mexico www.tailhunter-international.com. They also run their Tailhunter Restaurant Bar on the famous La Paz malecon waterfront. If you’d like to contact him directly, his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org or drop by the restaurant to say hi!
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