Terry Davis


[Excerpt] When Manuel Ortega was sixteen, in 1993, the time arrived that his family had long been dreading. The pesticide-ridden land from which they eked out a living in Mexico could no longer maintain them all, and some of them had to leave. Manuel, his father, and two of his brothers headed north across the border to find a living in the United States.

Manuel (not his real name) and his father went to Milwaukee, while his two brothers went to California. They found sporadic employment as farm workers, dishwashers and busboys, sending home as much money as they could to Manuel's mother and brother, who had stayed on the land. Later, one of his brothers joined them in Milwaukee. Early in 1994, Manuel got hired at a Milwaukee factory, Aluminum Casting & Engineering Company. His brother Jose soon followed.

Like many Mexicans, the Ortegas suffered a personal crisis parallel to the general economic crisis gripping Mexico in the '90s. Even before the devaluation of the peso, even at the height of Mexico's "economic miracle," campesinos (small-farmers) were forced northward by economic necessity to seek work in the States. And like the Ortegas, they face a new set of problems here: separation from their families, a cold climate, the Immigration Service, unfamiliar language and customs, racism, violence, poverty-stricken urban neighborhoods, and degrading and exploitative work. Relying at first on guidance from friends and relatives who arrived before them, sometimes living two and three to a room to make ends meet they cautiously feel their way in the new environment. Many, like Manuel Ortega, miss their life back home and wish it were possible to find work there, but nonetheless face life up north with cheer and humor.