Earning a Spot in the Devil’s Backyard

By Oscar Barajas, NewsTaco

I never figured that my father was quite the revolutionary or an agent for social change. He just did what he did, and would later state the morality at stake, as if it should have been obvious. I knew that he was a democrat with the exception of the 1980’s when the Reagan Revolution allowed him to fix the legal paperwork that gave him and my mother amnesty. My father was staunch about his pro-immigrant views. It was not because he was a tolerant man that felt that everyone deserved an opportunity, but rather because he had busted his hump for the railroad company in places like Yuma, Arizona. He felt that everyone needed to earn their keep. He figured that if he was in hell, he should not be the only one around the bonfire.

The railroad company had a wicked sense of humor. During the winters they would send him to work in exotic places like Nebraska, Michigan and Minnesota during the winter and other locations like Arizona, Wyoming and New Mexico during the summer. He would leave on a Sunday and come back as soon as his week was done. The company did not pay for plane rides, so a group of five or six of them would drive out the far reaches of the continental United States.

My father could more or less deal with the winters, but it was the summers that really cut into him. He would come home, and bring the heat with him. His work boots would be covered in tar and his lunchbox would burn upon impact. He would remind the family that he was doing it all for us and challenged any of us to do it for him. He would drink a beer and then unravel his work stories.

Arizona had to be my father’s most hated state. Most of the time they were tales about how younger, stronger, more “American” men were not able to perform his job. However, there were times when his stories became about helping his countrymen evade “La Migra.” INS would make their presence felt since the worksite was so close to the border. My father always made it a point to tell me how fortunate I was for being born here. He would tell me that sometimes they would find bodies in the freight cars. These were men, women and children who either ran out of water or had simply succumbed to the unforgiving heat. Once in a while they would find someone that was still alive. Whenever that would happen, the workers would all pitch in with a helmet here and a pair of work boots there. They would disguise the traveler as a fellow coworker as well as feed him and run a helmet for people to throw in a couple of bucks. Sometimes, the traveler would earn a ride to Los Angeles by helping my father and his coworkers fix pieces of the track that had been warped by the heat. My father said he preferred it because it made the work lighter and it was a first step for the traveler to start earning his keep. After all, the foreman never noticed. He never counted the amount of brown faces working shovels or pickaxes from his air conditioned trailer.

My father’s empathy was limited because he cheered on people who worked to live rather than lived to work. He wanted me to have a job, but he was convinced that I would never have to work. In the end, my father never respected those immigrants who thought the borders should be closed AFTER they arrived. Those people had not earned their spot in Hell yet, so who were they to decide?

[Photo by  chefranden]

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