Legendary newspaper columnist and novelist (I Don’t Want to Go to Jail, p. 347, etc.) Breslin’s revealing and tragic saga of an illegal Mexican worker who perished in a 1999 New York City construction accident.
Eduardo Gutiérrez was born in 1978 into a family of bricklayers in the tiny town of San Matias, three hours from Mexico City. Sun-beaten and dirt-poor, San Matias was a place where one would be lucky to earn $20 a week, so its young men and women dreamed of emigration north to the US, a magical land whose $4 and $5/hour jobs cleaning, cooking, or hauling promised a bountiful future. In 1998, Eduardo made the arduous pilgrimage, paying $1,500 to an immigrant smuggler, known as a coyote, to spirit him across the border. Breslin examines the border-crossing system in detail, describing how the coyotes stash their clients in Mexican border-town hotel rooms until the moment appears right; they then smuggle their charges onto airplanes, force them to wade across rivers with perilous currents, or guide them through deserts where daytime temperatures soar to 120. In New York City, Eduardo lived in a cramped apartment with several other illegals, rarely venturing outside except to go to work, for fear of encountering police or immigration officers. Breslin depicts the illegal’s life as a lonely one, separated from loved ones, barely comprehending American life, with few opportunities for socializing. The author is scathing in his portrait of the Hassidic real-estate developers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn who—rather than employ qualified construction workers at $23/hour—hire men like Eduardo for just $7/hour. Shoddy building standards, backlogged city inspection agencies, and politicians afraid to antagonize the politically powerful Hasids, set the stage for the November 1999 building collapse that took Eduardo’s life. He and his fellow Mexicans knew that the structure on which they worked each day was dangerously unstable; and, predictably, those guilty escaped with minimal punishment. Breslin’s at his best offering crisp reportage about the rough-and-tumble politics of New York City; his writing gets a bit clunky in the sections set in Mexico, which tend to the novelistic. But Eduardo’s story itself is compelling enough to pull the story along.
A straightforward account of an illegal that comments eloquently on the human cost of globalization.