Hasta la vista, Félix. Bienvenido, Guadalupe

Though his attempt about three months ago to cross the border to get work in the U.S. ended disastrously, somehow I sensed it would not be long before Félix, who’s worked for us for 12 years, would make another run soon to the Golden North. When you’ve lived most of your life in a poverty-stricken rural town in Mexico, the temptation of big money, and fast, is well-nigh irresistible. 

And so he did about two weeks ago, this time successfully. On Thursday we spoke briefly on the phone, and he announced his safe arrival in McKinney, Texas, a sprawling town near Dallas and an informal beehive of undocumented migrants, many from Sosnavar, Félix’s hometown about a mile from our ranch. Some call McKinney “central de mojados,” or “wetback central.” A tacky, but I understand accurate moniker. 

It turns out he’d been planning, for as long as month, to go north again but never leaked a word to me. After he turned up MIA, I called his wife Ysela, who tremulously, and quite ridiculously, told me Félix “had taken the bus to San Miguel to fetch some medications.” I’m sure they were not honesty pills. 

Such inane, and unnecessary, lying on the part of Félix and his family after working for us for such a long time left me bummed, perhaps mostly sore that I had been made a fool of. 

After all, during his working years with us we shared his wedding, birth of his three children, numerous birthdays, and nurse him through regular bouts of binge drinking, a car accident while drunk (with his five-year-old boy on the front seat), bonuses for a variety of projects, including partially building a bathroom for his house, which still lacks indoor plumbing as far as I know. 

Stew and I kept the relationship going despite warnings from friends, such as Carl, an old-time expat who ran a construction company employing quite a number of locals. I don’t remember how we got onto this topic, but once, over dinner, Carl said that well-meaning Americans too frequently stumbled into the morass of “adopting” Mexican employees and their families, and attempting to solve their problems according to their own foreign perspectives. Mexico is what it is, Carl said, and it’s a fool’s errand for expats to play amateur social workers.  

Indeed, Stew and I might have fallen into that trap with upsetting results. I was bummed indeed by Félix’s abrupt departure.  Stew was far more visceral when he heard the news, letting out a thunderous expletive that begins with an “m” and rhymes with “trucker.” 

Lying about matters big and small, we were told when we first moved to Mexico, is sort of a national sport, a joke sometimes played at the expense of naïve gringos.  You can ask a Mexican passerby for directions, but it’s advisable to verify the information with a second person, or a third, because the first one likely just made something up just to enjoy the sight of you driving around the block five times, cursing.  

Don’t believe a word of it. 

A study by Consulta Minofsky, a highly regarded Mexico City survey firm, a few years ago plumbed this curious phenomenon in a study called “La mentira cotidiana: una aceptada costumbre,” or “Our Daily Lying, an Accepted Custom.” It found that Mexican men fire off an average of four lies a day, while women were marginally more honest, at only three fibs daily. 

About 62 percent of the 1,000 Mexicans surveyed said they lie mostly to their friends; 35 percent to their partners; 33.1 percent to their colleagues; 24.4 percent to their bosses (that would be Stew and I in Félix’s case); and 24 percent to their parents. Both men and women said they lie generally to get out of an embarrassing jam or to avoid problems—or simply just for the hell of it.  

Of course, I thought, these results could be questioned: What if the respondents lied to the people doing the surveys? And how do Mexicans compare to other nationalities? Could be that Finns are the world champion bullshitters and they just look sober. 

As with so many lies used to get out of a jam, Félix’s lying was really unnecessary. Although he had a sweet deal here by Mexican standards, I’m well aware that the going hourly rate in McKinney and most other parts of the U.S. for unskilled labor is now between $17 and $20 dollars an hour, far more than similarly qualified men could dream of earning in Mexico. 

He could have laid out his financial predicaments to me and perhaps we could have agreed on a six-month leave, or at least an honest understanding of what he was doing. As it is now, I don’t know if or when he’ll come back, though I expect to see him in the largest pickup he can afford to buy, and pay me a hi-how-are-you visit—while asking if some sort of work is still available. I’ll think about it then, and twice. Maybe three times.

Meanwhile, we’ve found Guadalupe Gallegos, 24, also of Sosnavar, a wisp of a guy, weighing no more than the proverbial 100 pounds soaking wet, who’s already worked for us for a few weeks and looks like a good replacement. He’s spent a year in McKinney, where he bought a Ford 150 V-8 pickup, that makes him look even more diminutive, like a white-haired Miami matron behind the wheel of a Cadillac Escalade.  

His truck also has a small Bible affixed to the dashboard. I take that as a good omen.

We were planning to go on travel in five weeks, which means Lupe—his nickname—will have to go through some fast training. Also we’ll have to find either a night watchman or a house sitter to look after the place after hours. It’s upsetting, as all changes are, but we’ve discovered we also have several options.

Right now, I hope that Lupe’s small Bible is an indication he’s a good Christian, rather one of the 24.4 percent of Mexicans prone to dissembling to their bosses. Or that the Minofsky survey completely miscast these interesting folks.

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