Alex Gonzalez washes cars, sells oranges by the freeway, and last night he pushed his hotdog cart from downtown to La Brea, hoping to make the $500 a month rent on his shitbox apartment in East L.A. Hoping to have enough to send down to Mexico to help out his family.
Look at the wide-angle photo of Wilshire. You see any gringos in the frame, trying to sell food to the masses?
For me, these spirited discussions weâ€™ve been having the last couple of weeks on immigration vis-Ã -vis macroeconomic theory, sociological underpinnings of the yearning for El Norte, racial hatred/fear and long-term demographic-driven political calculus are interesting.
But I am reminded of War and Peace. Besides being famously weighty and dense, Tolstoyâ€™s book is famous for marking a sea change in literature. Previously, books and stories had focused on kings & queens, gods & demons, Achilles & Hector. Tolstoy wrote about Napoleonâ€™s invasion of Russia
through the eyes of the farmers & grunts & shopkeepers & seamstresses. The lesson: history is made not by the princes, but by all The Little People. The ones who do the actual working and playing, fighting and dying.
I was walking away from the rally. The klieg lights were off, Anderson Cooper had made his escape, and the LAPD bike cops were lined up and looking expectant â€“ that look that The Man gets, to say â€œOK, youâ€™ve had your fun. Now itâ€™s time to go back to business as usual.â€
And there, in front of the Kinkoâ€™s on Wilshire, was Alex, his wife Maria and their son Marvin, engaged in the very activity that all the hoopla was about. Alex has been in and out of the U.S.for the last 16 years. Maria joined him in L.A.about four years ago. She hid for three days in the
Arizona desert, and was then stuffed into the back of a van with â€œa mountain of people.â€ They had to pay $4,000 for this service. She was terrified of being dumped off in the desert with no water, or sold into slavery. The coyotes, the human smugglers, have been taken over by violent hard cases, who use the immigrants and convenient mules to move their product. Better than the traditional "flesh suitcases," the immigrants coming to the U.S. in search of work actually pay for the honor of hauling a heavy backpack full of Wistrol or Deca through the Sonora. Maria has been working day and night since then to pay off the debt, selling vegetables, cleaning houses and doing day care.
It had been rumored that criminals, like the MS-13 gang were going to use the protest march as a cover for a massive crime spree along the Wilshire corridor. I asked Alex, â€œArenâ€™t you afraid that a riot might have broken out and you would have lost your cart, would have lost everything?â€
â€œSome weeks the police come and take my cart away no matter what,â€ he said. â€œOr they give you tickets for not having a license. I canâ€™t pay the tickets, so they threaten to deport me.
â€œThere were a lot of people marching. I figured for sure that some of them would get hungry. But mostly Iâ€™ve just been selling water to the gringos and cops. The Latinos were smart and brought their own food and water. We canâ€™t afford to not think ahead.â€
A group of marchers wandered over and bought hotdogs and posed for pictures, still wrapped in the American flags they had been waving throughout the day.
â€œWe just want to come to America and work hard and build ourselves a life,â€ Alex said. "It’s tough, but I don’t mind working."
The streets were emptying out now, the stages were pretty much torn down, and traffic was starting to trickle through. It was pushing 10 p.m., but Alex was still hoping to sell a couple of bacon-wrapped hotdogs to the stragglers.
â€œThis is a good spot,â€ he said, pointing to the Kinkos. â€œYou can tell the people in there have money, and some of them might want food later on.â€
Behind him â€“ may the God of Convenient Hollywood Similes strike me dead â€“ a spoiled-looking L.A. hipster was obsessively copying b&w glamour shots of movie stars and pasting them into the pages of his 4-inch-thick screenplay. Utterly oblivious to any of the people less than a foot away, separated by a thick pane of glass.
A phalanx of LAPD motorcycle cops thundered west, then turned around and headed back, drowning out the sizzling of the bacon. The streets were starting to take a bit of a spooky feel, and I advised Alex that it might not be a bad idea to fold it up for the night. The yuppies sweating over Act II inside the Kinkos would never dare touch the carb-laden sidewalk chow that late at night.
"Well, you never know," he admitted. "But I think I’ll stay. You have to make the money when you can in this country."
I’m not sure if the slogan on Alex’s t-shirt was meant to be an ironic statement, a heartfelt plea for understanding, or if it was just a shirt picked up from a secondhand store, and he was unaware of what it meant.
"Come to downtown on the weekend," Alex urged. "You’ll see all of us immigrants on the sidewalk, trying to make a living."