When I arrive to Puerto Vallarta, I stop on the main street along the malecón to check my bearings. Eric sent hostel recommendations the day before, and I need to plug those directions into my GPS. Not long into my stop, a young man from a restaurant across the street walks over to say hello. In perfect English, he compliments my helmet. He says his friend likes it and wants to know what it costs. Before long we are talking about so many different things that he invites me into the bar for a drink.
Hector is about 20 years old. He grew up in Denver, Colorado after his parents immigrated there from Mexico. He was just a baby when they crossed the border illegally. For 17 years, Hector called the United States home because it was the only home he knew. He went to school in Denver and made friends in Denver. He met a girl in high school, and together they made a daughter.
Unlike Hector, his daughter is a United States citizen, and so when the police caught Hector, they deported him and not his daughter. It will be ten years before he can even ask to re-enter the United States legally. His daughter will be in high school by that time.
His story becomes the story I hear many times during my time in Puerto Vallarta. Here, the English-speaking Mexicans who work restaurants and hospitality are frequently the same Mexicans who had lived in the United States for many years and were deported. Their one advantage is being bilingual. In a tourist city such as Puerto Vallarta, they can use this skill to earn a living.
Even with excellent English and an amiable personality, Hector only earns 65 pesos a day waiting tables and serving drinks. He supplements his $5-per-day wage with tips when business is good. But my country is making life for Hector even harder by bombarding the world with anti-Mexico propaganda. And so the fifty tables around me sit empty and Hector maybe earns 70 pesos today because a thirsty motorcycle traveler just happened to stop by his front door.
And at the hostel, I hear a similar story from Juan. He lived in the United States for decades but never achieved citizenship. Because he committed a crime as an illegal immigrant, he can never return to see his family. While Hector earns some money, Juan works for free at the hostel in exchange for a place to live. Neither man denies wanting to return — legally or illegally — and each says missing his family is the biggest motivation.
These are people who want to live and work just as the rest of us do, but my country is too self-important to let them do it. In fact, we spend $18-billion a year just to control the things and people crossing our borders. Numbers like this make me sick. Borders make me sick.
On a lighter note, I have these photos to share from my wonderful visit to Puerto Vallarta. Despite what my government and country people say, Mexico is beautiful and its people are wonderful.