COYOTES: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens by Ted Conover

COYOTES: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens

Email this review


In 1983, Conover delivered an agreeably fresh-faced account of life among American railroad tramps (Rolling Nowhere); here, he offers an equally enthusiastic if more savvy chronicle of a year spent with Mexicans who sneak across the Rio Grande in search of jobs in ""El Norte."" Conover's sympathies lie with these ""wetbacks""--no surprise since he shared with them both the terrors of border-crossing and the agonies of migrant work. He opens with a brisk rendition of his first crossing--a frightening odyssey front central Mexico up to Laredo spent in the company of a young wetback, Alonso, and in constant fear of his life at the hands of coyotes (smugglers of wetbacks; Conover poses as a gringo on the lam, but ""this was the sort of situation in which, if you made one false step, you could die""). After harassment by Mexican cops (a $4.00 bribe shakes them off) and a midnight paddle on an inflatable raft over the Rio Grande, the two arrive in Texas--only for Alonso to be arrested soon after. Undaunted, Conover links up with other migrants, sharing their dirt-floored shacks, their meager food, their 18-hour days picking oranges, trying to meet the intra-US coyotes who ferry hapless Mexicans from job to job (he does, but also serves as an unpaid coyote himself--in a hilarious episode, ushering a band of migrants on their first plane ride, to L.A.; and driving several more across country to Florida). Then it's back to Mexico, where he lives for a spell in a shockingly poor town (a hiatus of heat and dust that eloquently explains the exodus north), concluding with a last harrowing run, this time across a brutal desert, up and into the promised land. A loaded account (Conover pays only a nod to American workers displaced by Mexicans); but mostly intriguing, sometimes gripping, reporting--and a golden key to understanding the migrant influx.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Vintage/Random House