I've spent the past few days in Bernal, a small town in the state of Queretaro, a few hundred kilometers northwest of Mexico City. It is the home to a large rock that came from outer space a long time ago and the Moreno family, among other people, quite a few animals and several less interesting geological formations.
I got to know the Morenos when they worked in the kitchen at Lakewinds Natural Foods. I remember the moment I realized that the people who worked in the kitchen were related -- Santiago and Manuel are brothers and Joel and Jose Luis are their cousins and Araseli is their sister and Jose is her husband.I remember hearing stories about Bernal (about the horses and the farms and that big, magical rock). I remember admiring their work ethic and how much they were giving up to make under $8 an hour.I also remember the day the management found out that they were illegal immigrants. many of them returned to Mexico, some of them stayed in Minneapolis. My directions to the town were simple: get on a bus, get off in Bernal and ask for Sabina Jiminez Moreno. I did these things and arrived safely at the birthplace of the Moreno family.Santiago and Mauel's father, Sr. Moreno used to farm -- the family has several acres of land outside of the pueblo, but it´s not worth it for him to farm anymore. He can´t compete with the larger farms that use expensive equipment to sow the fields, and he simply doesn´t have the capital to invest in new farm equipment. So, the mules are fed once a day but they do no work. They just stand there, in the unfarmed fields, aging and getting dusty. The cost of living in Bernal is relatively low, but the town (like much of Mexico) operates within this weird system where sometimes things are valued at a peso that is equal to 10 cents and sometimes things are valued at a peso that matches the US dollar. Wealth, at least in Bernal, is measured by how many of your sons are working in the states.Many of the women I met were empty-nesters: photographs line the living room walls, pictures of their sons who cannot return. The photographs are from years ago, before their songs became old enough to cross the border or rich enough to pay the Coyotes. Sra. Jiminez Moreno, the mother of Manuel and Santiago, visited the states five years ago to see her sons. When she told me about this, I imagined her getting on a plane in Mexico City and disembarking in a cold Minnesota, an airport-type reunion. Snow on the ground, maybe.The reunion was actually quite different.
Sra. Jiminez Moreno, who is in her late 60s, was smuggled across the border with a Coyote. Once she arrived in the California desert she was picked up by a friend of her daughter´s and then rode several busses to arrive in Minnesota. Sra. Moreno hasn´t left Bernal either before or after this venture, though she said she loved the snow.