I was stressed out after sitting in the car for over two hours waiting to cross into the US. It was about the middle of December of 1983 and like always, I was apprehensive about the type of immigration official I would encounter this time around. Of course, the two hours of breathing automobile smog and jockeying for position in the never ending car line, not to mention the tiring clutch maneuvers to keep my Jeep in position was always highly stressful to me. Back then, the US border was guarded by two distinct federal agencies, US Customs and US Immigration and Naturalization, each with their own diverse sets of priorities. As a young Mexican male, crossing alone, it was almost always a task of utmost patience and swallowing my pride. I apprehensively hoped to be met by a US customs official, rather than the attitude-laden and smug immigration official.
You see, as a lone Mexican male I was profiled by both agents, one scrutinizing my papers looking for the single little thing that made me either a smuggler or a Mexican looking to enter the United States illegally. The US customs official, normally in a blue shirt, would look at my Jeep as if it were laden with drugs. The white-shirted immigration agent would take my passport and demand if it was really me depicted in the picture. I was under 18 years of age and to both officials I was the Mexican bogeyman they all feared.
For the immigration agent, it was not possible that I had a passport with the appropriate multiple-entry multiple exit visa on it. They were used to the “micas” or border crossing cards or declarations of US citizenship. My cropped haircut and demeanor just did not fit their stereotype of the typical Mexican young man crossing the border.
For the customs agent, I was also an enigma. I didn’t wear flashy jewelry nor did I wear the typical cowboy hat and huge belt buckles in front of a belt that matched the corresponding cowboy boots. My attire, a polo shirt with Levis jeans and penny loafers did not fit the primer-colored 4×4 Jeep that I was driving. My Jeep was not painted, but rather primer ready for painting on purpose because jockeying for position in long lines of stressed out crossers meant intimidating anyone that thought it wise to skip a few cars by cutting me off. To keep them at bay, required a careful balancing act of clutch and accelerator.
Unfortunately, you can’t count on other drivers to match your abilities and hence the primer was a necessity. However, as a pilot and not to mention a teenager with an attitude, the closest thing I could afford to “hair on fire” was my Jeep. It wasn’t the newest or the coolest, NAFTA did not exist at the time and cars were very expensive in Mexico, was a used Jeep with a custom V8 that I had decked out with headers and upgraded/colorful air filters and chrome parts. You didn’t know it by looking at the primer but once the hood was opened it was evident my Jeep was a one of a kind. But you could sure hear the engine as I approached the inspection booth.
It didn’t help that my custom speaker box occupied most of the back deck of the Jeep.
But, I knew the drill, I purposely designed the speaker box with transparent Plexiglas so that the inspectors could scrutinize the innards without resorting to the typical destructive inspections that customs agents loved to perform on young Mexican bogeymen. They delighted in making young Mexican men miserable, apparently to ward off the burden of having to sit on their asses shift in and shift out making us as miserable as possible.
It was so much fun for them, that even my Plexiglas wasn’t sufficient for some of them and thus I had built hinges in for easy access.
I was trying to avoid the destruction of something I took pride in, but it annoyed some of the customs agents. I had learned years back that it was better to answer questions in Spanish, even though I was fluent in English because even the Gringo agents with their quick-to-deploy into service English classes did not appreciate my willingness to make their lives easier by responding to them in English.
You see, to them if I spoke English then I must be doing something illegal. Either living illegally in the US or carrying drugs into the country. English-speaking mica carriers or US citizens living in Juárez was something they were accustomed to as most attended US schools. However, official passports holders who were minors was an enigma to them. And anything that did not fit their perfectly crafted stereo-typed profile must be no good was their thinking.
I hated to cross the US-Mexico border but it was close to Christmas and I wanted to see my family.
With all that I still preferred that customs agents over the immigration agents, or white shirts as I referred to them.
As bad as the blue shirts were, once they were satisfied that you had no contraband on you they sent you on your way. Not nicely, they simply waived you on through. Even from “secondary inspection” they would have me open the engine compartment and then scrutinize the storage areas of the Jeep. Some of them would comment on the engine, asking me what I had done and how much it cost me. The questions about cost were to determine whether the Jeep was really mine and thus I knew what it cost to put my engine together. If it wasn’t my Jeep, then I was likely a smuggler, driving someone else’s vehicle, was the thinking. Some even appreciated my Plexiglas enclosure while others gruffly ordered me it open it up, only to be furthered annoyed that they couldn’t tear it up to inspect for contraband.
I hated to land on a booth occupied by an Immigration and Naturalization agent. This organization was further divided into two, one welcoming immigrants, hence the naturalization part, and the other trying to exclude as many as possible. The vast majority of the time, I ended up on a booth occupied by the agents that think all Mexicans are up to no good, especially the male teenagers.
On this particular day, I ended up with my worst nightmare. This agent was the worst of the worst. Just his gruffly demand to take off my sunglasses even before I put the Jeep in neutral and handed over my passport was all I needed. He ended up on my passenger side, and as I reached to lower the window down even more, I swear he reacted like I was about to shoot him in the face. My hands were in plain sight, as I always do when I encounter any law enforcement, and to this day I believe he would have drawn his gun and likely have shot me before uttering a single word. Maybe the exercise of having to draw his gun was way too much for his much to fat body to handle. Regardless, I believe I am still alive today for because of the Grace of God.
He took my passport, didn’t even look at it and wrote something on a note pad and placed both on my car’s windshield. He then ordered me to drive to secondary and partially walked behind my Jeep until I pulled into a bay.
I was approached by customs agent, who took the note read it and then asked me if I had anything to declare. I responded that, no, I had nothing in my Jeep. He then looked in the back, commented about my speaker box and handed me my passport back and actually told me to have a good day. As I was getting ready to depart, I hear shouting and two agents running my way. The customs agent asked what was going on and they shouted back and forth as they continued to run towards me. The customs agent, that had released me only a few seconds before, asked me to turn off the engine and exit the vehicle. The immigration agent who had ordered me to secondary had arrived, out of breath because he was obviously overweight from sitting for too many years in an inspection booth eating God knows what.
I couldn’t help but just secretly laugh at the commotion that unfolded before me for the next five to ten minutes. No one was guarding me, if I had ill-intent I could have returned to my vehicle and been on I-10 before any of them could have reacted. Instead I watched dumbfounded at the agent, who abandoned his booth to keep me from leaving, arguing with a supervisor ordering him back to his booth. By then several immigration and customs officers were congregating around the commotion while I just sat there watching. After a few minutes of yelling back and forth, the agent, which I first encountered, walked back to his booth, obviously unhappy about it.
Another immigration agent approached followed by an entourage of blue and white shirts, and actually very politically asked me for my passport. He didn’t even open it up, he just asked if I was Mexican, to which I responded, in English, “Yes, sir, I am citizen of the Republic of Mexico.” I relished using that phrase to annoy certain people. He looked at me, smiled and turned around and showed my passport’s cover to the other agents and said, he’s Mexican.
They looked at me, kind of smiled and walked away. The agent with my passport, handed it back to me and seeing the look of puzzlement on my face, told me, “don’t you know, there’s a Libyan hit squad on the way here.” He told me I could leave without any further comment.
It was December of 1983 and rumors of a Libyan hit squad attempting to kill President Reagan was all over the news. Years later, it turns out that the “threat” was a hoax for political purposes. In a subsequent issue, I will share with you what I know about that hoax, I believe it will be interesting reading to some of you. However, the Libyan hoax was just another in a chapter of political subterfuge using Mexico and Mexicans as the biggest threat to the US.
In 1981, the refugees from El Salvador who were entering the US was just another chapter on the dangers that Mexico posed during the Cold War. By 1982, Mexico was a “Soviet objective” for the Soviets looking for a foothold to threaten the US. Never mind that Mexico played an integral part in the Cold War, especially Mexico City, helping the United States keep tabs on the Soviets. Never mind that the tasking of the Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS) [I’ll be sharing the interesting stories about the DFS in upcoming issues] had been altered to help the US against the Soviets and the spread of communism in Latin America. None of this mattered because the truth is just inconvenient to everyone that makes Mexico the political scapegoat for US problems. The DFS indirectly created the Chapo Guzman’s of Mexico, thanks to US tasking’s.
The biggest problem, though, is that the world’s problems always becomes the fault of Mexico when it comes to US interests. It is a two-faced façade, on one hand politicians love the inexpensive labor and trade with Mexico while on the other hand blaming Mexican immigrants for all of the problems the nation faces.
Like my experience in 1983, there are thousands of similar experiences faced by my countryman. Like that fat immigration agent, who thought I must be under Libyan control, Donald Trump has also profiled me and my brethren as rapists and murderers. We are neither, but that simple fact gets lost in the political rhetoric of special interests in the US.
A quick note: I purposely used this image because the depiction, depicts something I foresee coming up soon in the ongoing bogey man mentality. Stay tuned.