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Cochise Stronghold rises abruptly from the desert outside Tombstone, Ariz., a craggy nest of pink granite spires and domes. Rock-climbers like me flock to the area for its tall, coarse slabs, weird rock formations, epic sunsets and remote backcountry feel.

Although it’s never happened to me, many climbers I know have encountered tattered backpacks, energy bars with Spanish wrappers, clothing or migrants themselves, a group drawn similarly drawn to Cochise’s inaccessibility—but for obviously different reasons.

Increasingly, immigrants aren’t making it beyond secluded border areas like Cochise: New statistics released by the U.S. Border Patrol show that while fewer people are sneaking over the border than a decade ago, more are dying in the process. According to the National Foundation for American Policy, someone attempting to enter the U.S. illegally today is eight times more likely to die than approximately 10 years ago.

In the 1990s, stepped-up enforcement in border cities like San Diego and El Paso pushed immigration highways into remote parts of the desert, where, unprepared for the harsh environment or abandoned by their guides, many migrants died. (I highly recommend Luis Alberto Urrea’s fantastic book on this topic,The Devil’s Highway.) The problem has worsened as the Border Patrol has hired more officers and built more highway checkpoints between major cities, according to Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America, who analyzed the new data. In addition to staying out of cities, migrants are increasingly forced to walk further north of the border before being picked up to avoid roadside checkpoints.

For many years, Southern Arizona was the deadliest place to cross: In fiscal year 2005, nearly half of all migrant deaths occurred in Border Patrol’s Tucson sector. But the danger zone appears to have shifted to south Texas, where between October 2012 and February 2013 alone, 70 human bodies were found. (Here in California, the number of dead is actually decreasing—six known migrant deaths, total, occurred in fiscal year 2012 in the San Diego and El Centro sectors.)

Changing immigration demographics may partially explain the shift to south Texas. According to the Border Patrol, more non-Mexicans, mostly from Central America, are crossing, and because many hitch rides on freight trains that travel up the gulf coast, the Texas-Mexico border is most logical place to cross.

The crossing is becoming more violent, too, as increasingly remote human trafficking routes overlap with those of drug-smugglers. Sometimes, they’re one and the same: Meyer says human trafficking operations “are rarely mom-and-pop like before” because of how expensive and difficult the crossing has become, and are increasingly intertwined with drug operations. “Migrants are viewed much more as just merchandise,” she said, and smugglers, paid by the person and in a rush to avoid Border Patrol, frequently leave slow walkers behind.

In a March brief, Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy offers a solution: Create more legal avenues for foreigners to work in the U.S. on a permanent basis.

“The current visa categories for agriculture and nonagricultural work are considered cumbersome and are only for seasonal work, not the type of year-round jobs filled by most illegal immigrants in the United States,” he writes. Anderson points to the Bracero Program, which helped Mexican farm laborers work legally in the U.S. during the 1950s. “When in 1954 enforcement actions were combined with an increase in the use of the Bracero program, illegal entry, as measured by INS apprehensions at the border, fell by an astonishing 95 percent between 1953 and 1959,” he notes.

Yet talk of immigration reform, to date, has focused more on getting high-skilled, high-tech workers into the country. And the immigration bill in its current form leaves out any discussion of how to make crossing safer, Meyer said, although previous reform proposals included a provision on studying migrant deaths. She'd like to see not just study, but more water caches and funding for the Border Patrol’s search and rescue team.

“You have all these people with no idea about what (crossing the border) really means,” she said. “They’re all exposing themselves so innocently to something that can be so harsh.”

Emily Guerin is the assistant online editor at High Country News. This is cross-posted from High Country News, and the author is solely responsible for the content.

Published in Community Voices

Dear Mexican: I have always liked ranchera music. As of late, I have wanted to get deeper into the history, the culture and especially the songs and lyrics. The older I get, the more rancheras seem like poetry to me … sounds cursi, I know.

Do you know of a good book or two or a website that I can read or check out? I went to my local library, and they didn’t have a very good selection. And Borders or Barnes and Noble? Forget it … so por favor and gracias, if you could.

Houston Honey

Dear Wabette: Of course Borders doesn’t stock any books on rancheras—Borders doesn’t exist anymore (and borders don’t exist, period, but that’s neither ni aquí no allá). Most research on Mexican music concentrates on corridos, our ballad form that celebrates bad men, events and horses … but actual scholarly treatises on ranchera? Few and far between, alas—and nonexistent in English.

Your best bet is Jose Alfredo Jiménez: Cancionero Completo, a songbook that contains all of the compositions of the ranchera titan, whose hit parade makes the collected works of Gershwin, Porter, Leiber-Stoller, the Brill Building and Woody Guthrie seem as voluminous as the output of Paper Lace. The libro also contains a great introductory essay by Mexican intellectual Carlos Monsiváis that puts Jiménez in his proper context. As great as Cancionero Completo is, however, don’t bother buying it: A used copy of is currently priced at $54 on Amazon.com, and while the book showcases the Robert Burns-esque bravado and orgullo that was the Jiménez style, it ain’t worth that price in this day and age, when you can just gather all of the lyrics online.

Then again, if you’re willing to buy the book, I’m more than happy to sell my copy to you: I do need to finish off the down payment on my burro …

Dear Mexican: Upon first seeing me, as a 2-week old baby, my aunt Estrella screamed “¡Ay, que gringo!” But if you gotta call me a gabacho, so be it. I do have Mexican family (through marriage), and my brother (white like me) is currently down in Mexico City courting a beautiful Mexi nugget he met while attending college in Malaga, Spain. I get along well with many Mexicans, legal and illegal, but I hate that they aren't paying “the man” like I have to. Sure, I'm a little jealous, but I'd be all for Mexicans being awarded citizenship simply for walking over the border … as long as they paid their dues.

I pay taxes that fund shit like keeping white trash from getting jobs—jobs they could get if I wasn't already paying for them to survive on junk food, and if some undocumented border-jumping beaner wasn't working for cheaper (and not helping me pay the dumb taxes to keep the trailer trash alive). I say assimilate; document; pay taxes; and welcome.

I'm writing an essay on wetbacks (fuck PC terms) and their effect on our country for better AND worse. I'd never heard of you until I read about 30 of your emails and responses on the net today. I'd like to know: What's your opinion on the crossing over and its effect economically rather than socially?

White Sox Winner!

Dear Gabacho: The only opinion I have is on your language. “Beaner”? “Border-jumping”? “Wetback?” All these insults are SO 1950s. Don’t you know the current verboten insult toward Mexicans is “illegal” or “illegal immigrant”?

And as for your concern about the undocumented paying their way, dontcha worry about that: The recent proposed amnesty bill crafted by a bunch of political pendejos is more punitive than habañero salsa marching through your alimentary canal toward your culo.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

Dear Mexican: You mentioned in the past that your dad is against illegal immigration, but that's a voice you never hear. Why aren't the legal immigrants and legal aliens “vocally outraged” about the illegals who drive down wages, drive up housing prices, use government services, give all immigrants a bad name, and are on the verge of getting amnesty after cutting in line? The illegal immigrant has very little effect on my life, but seems to have a huge impact on the legal immigrant.

My Best Friend is Half-Mexican

Dear Gabacho: You don’t hear the voices of legal immigrants in the illegal-immigration debate? Republicans trot those tokens out all the time—look at Marco Rubio. Plus, I can disprove every single point of yours—just buy my book for details!

Finally? You say illegal immigration “has very little effect” on your life, yet you took the time to rant, and used legal immigrants as your cover to do so. That’s like saying you’re concerned for the Mexican janitor when complaining to management about how smelly your co-worker’s caca stinks.

I'm an American girl who works at a diner with a lot of very attractive young Mexican men. Most are from the countryside, and only two claim to have been to a large city before moving here. I was constantly cat-called, whistled at and winked at by everyone (including the boy whose attention I've been trying to get) until one of our cooks (and his friend) told everyone to stay off, and that “Ella es MI novia.”

He showers me with unwanted gifts and continuously tries to walk me home from work, even though he lives in the other direction. I've been firm, but he still won’t back down. He tells me that he's the only man from Mexico who I'll meet who won't ever cheat on me or try to control me (I am very independent), that any other man from Mexico would not see a problem with sleeping around, and that it is romantic to continue to court and wait for a young woman, even if she says no, so I should stop trying to stop him. He also sees no problem with our 11-year age gap.

My Spanish is quite good, but my understanding of the culture is minimal at best. I understand that the culture is still very macho, especially in the countryside, so I've tried to learn more about it. Everything I look up or hear is about how all Mexican men cheat, even though I know this is not true.

Could you please explain this culture gap? Is it truly acceptable to cheat on one’s special other? Why is it romantic to drive a woman crazy?

Lost in the Gap

Dear Gabacha: What your describing is the culture of pretender, the Mexican courtship ritual in which the man is supposed to suffer at the cold shoulder (connected to the heaving bosoms) of his beloved, as best exemplified in the song “Tu Enamorado” or the Maria Félix-Pedro Armendariz classic Enamorada.

Just roll with it! And be glad he hasn’t brought back another Mexican courtship ritual—kidnapping.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

Dear Mexican: Can you please tell me something? How do you think it’s fair that all the people who come to our country and stay get treated far better than some of the people who have busted their butt all their lives here? Tell me, how is that fair?! You people take all the white man’s jobs and leave us wondering how to support our families, and you people have NEVER heard of the condom, because if you have noticed—I sure have—your trashy kind are taking over. And you would think that if you go to another country, you would respect the people enough to learn the language spoken, which here in the United States of America is ENGLISH! Please go back where you should be, and stop taking all the benefits white people deserve. You all disgust me.

South Carolina Taco Eater

Dear Gabacha: This is what I love about ustedes Know Nothings: Your aggressive ignorance of facts.

A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center revealed that the birthrate for Mexican women is falling sharply, for both Chicanas and mexicanas. And while the birthrate for those mujeres is still higher than the birthrate for gabachas, it’s expected, not so much because Mexicans are naturally fecund, but because immigrants in general tend to have more kiddies than native-born Americans. Don’t believe me? The Pew Research Center also revealed that the percentage of children with foreign-born mothers is as high as it was at the turn of the 20th century, the last time trashy, non-English-speaking immigrants came to this country to save the States from native-born pendejas like yourself.

I checked out of the Newport Beach Public Library a 2012 film titled For Greater Glory merely because my favorite actor (Peter O’Toole) was in it. I was pleasantly surprised to find myself watching a well-told tale of a dramatic piece of Mexican history—La Cristiada—I’d never heard of. It seemed a pretty cut-and-dry instance of good versus evil: President Plutarco Calles in the 1920s brutally repressed Mexican Catholics from practicing their Catholicism.

What surprised me was to then visit the IMDb message board for the movie and find some Mexicans who had viewed the film vehemently taking the side of President Calles. Are Mexicans not so hyper-Catholic as I imagine?

Bewildered WASP

Dear Gabacho: Just because one doesn’t side with the Cristeros doesn’t mean that one can’t be a good Catholic. (And, yes, custodians of Shakespeare: I just used three negatives in a language where double-negatives are a no-no!) And, as typical of Hollywood when it comes to Mexican tales, For Greater Glory grossly simplifies the Cristeros revolt—but instead of me preaching, I’ll direct you to a withering critique offered by Rudy Acuña, the legendary godfather of Chicano studies who’s still at it in his golden years. (He also just put the smackdown on the Mexican’s pal, Ruben Navarrette, and his bizarre attack on undocumented students.) You can find the profe’s piece here, and his summation is one that I agree with: Calles was enforcing the secularization mandates of the Mexican Revolution, which sought not to stop people from expressing their faith, but rather take away the meddling might of the Catholic Church—you know, that whole chingadera about the separation of church and state.

The Catholic Church, like today in the United States when it comes to Obamacare, took Calles’ enforcement of the Mexican Constitution as an existential attack on Mother Church, and the two sides butchered each other. Los Cristeros are still hailed as martyrs in Catholic Mexico, while historians nowadays consider Calles’ attack on Mexican Catholics as a continuation of the country’s constant conflict between the Church and its natives. But if you think Calles was a butcher, you should’ve seen what the padres did to the indigenous folks back in the days—simple facts that Cristeros fans never want to acknowledge, because those priests made Calles look like Blessed John Paul II.

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

(Editor's Note: This week, we welcome Gustavo Arellano's Ask a Mexican to the Independent. If you want a primer on the column, find a citizen-encyclopedia-writeup here.)

Dear Mexican: In President Bush's State of the Union address, he reiterated a need for a guest-worker program. What is your opinion of such a program? The program seems like mierda that screws people over in the long run to me, but what do I know?

Una Guerita Por Un Mundo Sin Muros :-)

Dear Gabachita for a World Without Border Walls: Sorry I'm answering your question—what, five years later? ¿Siete?

The sad part about my laziness is that the question remains relevant, and what Republicans once dismissed as Aztlanista claptrap from the mouth of Dubya (who will remain the best GOP friend to Mexis we'll ever have—mark my palabras) is now the gospel they're preaching after the disaster that was their outreach efforts to Latinos during the 2012 presidential election. It's been absolutamente HILARIOUS to see Republicans wake up and smell the tacos more than a decade after Latinos became a political force, to see them lamely prop up Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as a presidential candidate (the only position he's worthy of is being Secretary of Coños), to see gabacho pundits ask themselves what Latino voters want without having a Latino on their panels or asking said voters, and—most laughably—to watch them introduce the idea of resurrecting the guest-worker program.

Conservatives love the idea of having Mexicans work cheaply but not being able to become citizens, but it's an idea that'll fail as badly as it did the first time around, from the 1940s until the 1960s. For the last time, America: Mexicans are not just workers; they're humans who'll notice living conditions are better here and will want to stay here—how ya gonna keep 'em down on the rancho after they've seen Paree? A border fence? P-shaw.

While it's true some Mexicans might want to only work here and go back to Mexico, demographics and history show otherwise. "Immigration reform" without some sort of amnesty is like a burrito without the tortilla—and who the fuck besides calorie-conscious hipsters wants that?

I was with some cousins for a week in Lindsay, a major orange-picking city in Central California. They own a mini-market, and I'd go help them every day, and got to know some customers. Many of the Mexican customers would come in and yell "Agooshtoo" or "wey" to me and my cousins, and we'd yell it back, and they would smile and get their beer. When they would leave, they would say "a rato," and we'd yell it back. I asked my cousins, but they didn't really know much except that the first two were probably curse words. Any help?

Gabacho From Gilroy

Dear Gabacho "Wey" is easy—they're saying güey, which, as I wrote so long ago in one of the first ¡Ask a Mexican! columns, is the "ass" of Mexican Spanish, even though it derives from the word for "ox." But it's not a fighting word, and you and your primos should be honored—Mexi men use güey as a form of endearment among each other, à la the American English "fucker" and "man." If they really wanted to insult you, they'd call you puto, pendejo, baboso or—better yet—pinche puto pendejo baboso.

"Agooshtoo" sounds like a gusto (to be at ease), but it very well could be from an indigenous language like Mixtec or Triqui, since the Central Valley is home to tens of thousands of folks from Oaxaca. "A rato" is the elided form of al rato, which means "later"—in this case, they're telling ustedes güeyes that they'll be back in a bit for more beer.

Now that I answered your pregunta, do me a favor, and leave some cerveza on credit for my güeyes so they can be agusto, por favor!

Ask the Mexican at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or ask him a video question at youtube.com/askamexicano!

Published in Ask a Mexican

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