Esta página no está disponible en español.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
We Are Mexican, We Are Puerto Rican: The Dream Is American
By DAN BARRY
July 30, 2003
WITH the weight of a day's labor in their step, they trudged along the baked Bronx pavement, through the evening heat. They turned down a concrete alley at one of those apartment buildings that loom over the Grand Concourse like man-eating Gargantuas and followed its path to the dank coolness of the utility room, where the meeting was to be held.
Water pipes and utility meters decorated their makeshift conference room, and the furniture was more discarded than distressed. But the setting did not matter as much as the agenda, which was:
We have been residents of New York City for many years, yet we are outsiders. We are skilled laborers, yet we have little to show for our toil. We are proud men, yet our employers take advantage.
We are Mexican. What now?
It is the defining question of the immigrant, one that echoes through the memory of this city. We are Irish; we are Italian; we are Polish; we are Puerto Rican; we are Korean; we are Jamaican. We are New Yorkers. What now?
As it did for others before them, the intimation of an answer is revealing itself to some Mexican immigrants in the borough's Bedford Park section. The answer may be in the chrysalis stage, but the men seem to sense the unfolding of wings. Something about banding together, pooling resources, working by and for themselves. Something like that.
People who come without governmental blessing to this city from Puebla, or Guerrero, or Veracruz, often expect to return to Mexico after a few years. But Brother Joel Magallan, the director of an outreach program for Mexicans in New York, Asociación Tepeyac, said that the rub of reality gradually erases those dreams, until all that remains is the naked question: "What am I going to do in Mexico?"
For a couple of years, the companion question what now? has vexed a few dozen Mexican men who belong to Our Lady of Mercy parish. Recently they began to meet outside the church to share desires that were like those of most other people: better lives for their children.
They realized that their days of sweating in garment district factories were behind them. Most of them were working in construction, with expertise in certain jobs. The resulting thought was, "We could build or fix up a house," one, Pedro Galaviz, explained. "I work inside. He works outside."
A few weeks ago, three dozen men agreed to start a construction business. Although they have not named the corporation or filed incorporation papers with the state, they have appointed corporate officers.
German Flores, the president, carries a piece of paper with the names and telephone numbers of his many partners. That they elected officers is a telling step, he said. "It means that we have gained enough trust among ourselves."
TRUST is the glue. As treasurer, Maximo Mendoza has been charged with collecting $25 each week from the members; he records payments in a spiral-bound book. He is also researching which bank is worthy of receiving the group's deposits, a decision that hinges in part on the conditions of loans that the men expect to take out once they have credit.
Mr. Mendoza had worked all day for a New Jersey construction company whose owner he has never met. Now he was talking enthusiastically about the future while sitting behind a discarded desk in a Bronx utility room, as a fan propped on a bucket stirred the tight air and two boys slurped juice boxes through straws. The boys, the sons of the group's vice president, Rodolfo Baez, listened in silence as adults around them gave voice to dreams.
"We have already had three meetings," said Mr. Mendoza, 30, who has lived in this city 13 years.
"I need something better for my family," said Jesus Valbuena, 25, who has nine years in this city.
"Now we're starting to work for ourselves: Mexicans!" said Mr. Galaviz, 34, who has eight years in this city.
It is possible that reality will rub away their enthusiasm. Robert C. Smith, a professor of sociology at Barnard College and an expert on the Mexican experience in New York, said that their venture requires "confianza": deep trust.
"There's a lot of things that could go wrong," he said. "What if the guy who's supposed to do the plumbing doesn't come through? You really have to trust each other."
So far, confianza remains intact in this corporation with no name. While two boys watched, each man reached into his pocket and pulled out $25.