Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

In an Area Growing Too Fast, Anger Is Taken Out on the Weak : Migrant Workers: A Mexican is brutalized in northern San Diego County, the crossroads where racial tension and economic pressure meet.

February 19, 1990|JONATHAN FREEDMAN | Jonathan Freedman is a writer in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO — The Country Store is a homey, ranch-style market, liquor store and post office in the suburbanizing outback of North San Diego County. It's got a statue of a big chicken on the roof, and it's run by two big, 220-pound brothers. Dozens of migrant workers usually can be seen outside the store, waiting to be picked up for day jobs.

On the morning of Jan. 3, the Country Store was the scene of an eruption of hate against one of the migrants.

Police found the man tied up blindly in a field behind the store. His hands and legs were bound with silver duct tape. A brown paper sack was taped over his head, with no eye or air holes. A clown's face was drawn on the bag, along with the words "No mas aqui"-- "No more here."

Candido Galloso Salas, a 27-year-old undocumented field worker, told police he had been handcuffed for two hours, hit in the stomach and shoved against a railing. He didn't know why he had been grabbed and dragged to the rear of the store, but he went along because, at 5 foot, 6 inches and 115 pounds, he was nearly a foot shorter and 100 pounds lighter than his assailant.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Country Store hate incident is the ordinarily decent people who let it happen. The customers who saw a man handcuffed to the back railing and focused instead on the fresh vegetables. The employees who nodded their heads in silent acquiescence--or support. The Border Patrol officer who drove up to the rear of the store and asked what was going on, then left before the handcuffed victim could answer. The fearful migrants who let a compadre be manhandled, tied up and terrorized.

It is hard for Americans to imagine how a Mixtec from Oaxaca felt being trapped inside a bag with his wrists bound to his knees. Mixtecs suffer human-rights abuses on both sides of the border. In rural Mexico, when they put a bag over your head it usually means one thing: They're going to take you out to a lonely field, shoot you and dump you by the roadside.

It hasn't come to that in this country, we like to tell ourselves. But that's not what Robert Martinez sees when he visits victims of hate crimes. "They have found dozens of bodies in North County in shallow graves, some just thrown on the side of the road, others shot and killed," says Martinez, regional director of the American Friends Service Committee. Martinez has documented 14 hate crimes over the past year in North County.

The growing racial violence stems from a clash between immigrants and suburbanites. Undocumented field workers are alienated from U.S. society but connected to the land they make bloom. Suburbanites are U.S. citizens but often alienated from the soil.

Two worlds live side-by-side in Southern California apartheid. Pickups roaring down El Camino Real to $260,000 homes pass migrants walking on paths to their shanty encampments near the fields. The Country Store is a crossroads of suburban alienation and the alien nation.

The anger of an area growing too fast is taken out on the weakest, most vulnerable people--the people who work the fields and mow lawns. Everybody's slave labor.

And there's a lot to be angry about. The beautiful land is being trashed. Looking out from a high point, one can see the pattern of a tract development silhouetted against the pattern of a strawberry field. Everywhere, bulldozers are digging up tomatoes and planting houses.

When the Garden of Eden is despoiled, blame the gardener.

It's equally wrong simply to blame the native Californians.

Look at the strapping Country Store owner behind his desk, scared of losing the place in a civil suit filed by a migrant worker. It's not his fault, proprietor Rick Ryberg argues. He feels like a scapegoat of the media. Is he supposed to provide sanitation and housing for migrants? Why should his parking lot be used as a hiring hall, when the city of Carlsbad delays building a job center? You can feel the community's tension knotting his muscles.

Criminal charges against Ryberg were dropped, but his brother, Randy, and an independent butcher at the store, William E. Zimmerman, were arraigned Thursday on charges of false imprisonment by violence and interference with civil rights.

The Big Chicken is now a symbol of the fear that infests much of North County. Martinez documents a wave of white hate-monger attacks on migrants: Unidentified men drive up in trucks and club field hands walking home from a hard day's work picking fruit for Californians to stay healthy. A sniper shoots a Mexican in the back as he waits for a bus, paralyzing him from the waist down. Vigilante teen-agers in camouflage fatigues play "militia" and kill two men. A bully ties up a man, terrorizes and humiliates him, to stop others from loitering around the store. "No mas aqui!"

The people with courage are the immigrants who endure squalid and inhumane conditions, generally without complaint, to feed their families back in Mexico.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|