Shivering in the Sun: Cipriano's Land
In order to reach the village of El Gusano in the Mexican state of Guanajuato one must take the interstate to an unmarked dirt road and then travel down it for 15 kilometers. When it's dry the ride is uneventful, if bumpy and slow going, however when it rains the village can be nearly impossible to reach.
El Gusano (it means The Worm—nobody I spoke with could say how it became known as that) had about 70 families scattered within its borders. Boxy cement one story buildings blended into the austere desert landscape. With so few people still living there you might not see a soul when passing through the town that seemed to be shaped from the hard, arid land itself.
El Gusano reminded me of villages I had seen in Africa that had been nearly all abandoned because of something else: HIV/AIDS. El Gusano was decimated because of economics. Because there were so few options there for young men, the majority of them left for the United States or sought factory jobs in Mexico’s northern regions. El Gusano like rural areas in Africa was mainly populated by the elderly, women and children who were left behind. The sight of young men or even middle aged men was a rarity.
During the time I spent there I was drawn to one man and his family: Cipriano Paris. Cipriano was a gentle quiet man who moved back to Mexico after working as a roofer in Texas with his brothers. When he was in Texas he grew homesick. He missed his wife, parents and extended family. He moved back to be with them and started a family of his own on the hard and unforgiving land that he knew from birth.
With the money made from constructing other people’s homes across the border Cipriano was able to return home and build a larger home for his family. After he returned to El Gusano Cipriano worked diligently and long hours on his farm, however he was constantly afraid of not being able to provide for his family. If the land dried up completely or his debt became too large he would have to consider joining his brothers in Texas once again.
Before making the long trek north, many men vow to return to make their lives with wives, girlfriends and families in El Gusano, however most do not return. Across the border a new life, obligations, expectations and desires take over. No matter how much one would like to be back with family in Mexico, once in the United States it's very costly and complicated to return. For the undocumented to make it back to their family one must sneak back across the border, a perilous enterprise that many simply cannot afford to risk. Instead of risking their future in the U.S., those who left their families behind send remittances, money earned abroad, home. Wire transfers have a much easier time of making it across the border than a migrant trying to evade the border patrol or National Guardsmen who, as of this writing, were quoted as saying, “They’re lucky we aren’t executing them.”
During my stay I slept in a remittance house, a house constructed by money sent from abroad by a migrant who intended to return but didn’t. Although it was one of the most well-off houses in the village, nobody lived in it. In the living room there was a sofa and couple of plush arm chairs. In various corners boxes where piled up containing dresses, calendars, shoes, sewing kits, children's scissors, colored paper and glue. The bedroom was furnished with a neatly made bed that had two pillows tucked underneath a comforter. On top of the tucked away pillows where three decorative purple heart shaped pillows. There was nothing on the walls except for a few emerging cracks. There were no rugs to cover the spotless glossy tiled floor, nothing at all to suggest that anyone had ever lived there and, if the empty town is any indication, there’s nothing to suggest that anyone ever will.