Wetbacks: the Video
Something Viewed On Public Access TV After Waking Up On the Couch at 2:00 AM
The voice of the cameraman drones as his lens pans the crowd and comes to rest on a heavy-set woman with short blonde hair. She wears a Halston blouse splotched with roses, and is carrying a sign which reads: "Pat Buchanan says Wetbacks go home!" She is angry. Her nose wrinkles with the intensity of her emotion:
"They won't let us? That's ridiculous!" she shouts to the camera. "Pat Buchanan'll be at the border any minute, an' we wanted to lend him our support, but they won't even let us get close! We have to watch from up here. I'm telling you...if we were illegals we could get as close to that border as we wanted. That's right, if we were wetbacks, we sure could!" She takes a step toward the lens and asks: "What is wrong with this picture, folks?"
In the hills above Tijuana, on the U.S. side, a contingent of cars queues along what can barely be called a road. The line of glistening Cadillacs, Mercedes, Volvos, and Acuras winds the hillside, rising and falling with its contours, bumpers hovering close to the earth, as though in danger of being absorbed by it. Symbols of wealth and power in another place, they are anomalous here, with clumps of desert grass splayed beneath their tires.
Their owners mill in three-piece suits along the rim of a canyon, as anomalous as their cars. Yet they move and speak with confidence, as though they have a right to be anywhere they want.
The woman in the rose-splotched blouse takes a breath to say more, but the camera suddenly swings to the left to catch the forms of five figures who have just emerged from the canyon. They top the rim as though they have just risen from the center of the earth. The camera holds them as they race toward the crowd. Their tennis shoes take wide strides, like distance runners. In fact, there is much to compare them with distance runners: The seriousness of their stride, their single mindedness, their intensity.
"Look at 'em!" people from the crowd shout incredulously, "Here come some wetbacks now!"
"Wetbacks! Hey, wetbacks! Jeezus!"
The runners' feet pound the dust as they approach. They pass the crowd without even looking at it, their faces expressionless. The crowd watches them wend their way down the road like ghost runners, and suddenly a man in a suit calls after them, "What's up, pollos, pollos? Pollos?--bock, bock, bockkkkkk!"
The cameraman whispers into his microphone, "That's what they're called in Spanish," he explains, repeating what the people around him are saying, "pollos...it means chickens."
Soon the entire contingent takes up the cry, "Hey, pollos!"
The runners keep their faces to the north, never breaking rhythm. They run as if they have been warned: "No matter what, look straight ahead, toward el Norte, and keep running. If you look back, you're dead." And so they run.
They run in blue jeans, cotton plaid shirts, and cloth jackets. They run with thick, dark hair flowing in the wind. They run in t-shirts advertising American products.
A California Highway Patrol car arrives. One of the men in suits watches it lurch over the potholes, then turns and asks the man next to him, "Will they arrest 'em, the police?"
"Are you kidding!" his friend replies.
"What do you mean?"
"No one can touch 'em but Immigration."
"No shit? Jeezus!"
The camera watches the runners reach the bottom of the hill, then scatter through the line of parked cars, and disperse into the sage that grows up the face of the next canyon. The camera stays with them until they disappear, then returns to the crowd from whose center it has viewed everything.
There are more voices:
"The Hi-Po's can't even touch 'em?" one man asks.
"Can you believe it?" answers the woman in the rose-splotched blouse. "They were so free and easy, didn't even care that we were watching...."
"Yeah! Hell," says the man, "they could'a stopped to lift a few hubcaps on their way, if they'd wanted to."
"Damn straight!" the woman agrees. "There's no one to stop 'em!"
The camera swings again. Another five runners have come up over the ridge.
"God damn, here come some more!"
A strange exuberance rises amidst the group, as they realize their role here, as accidental witnesses to a highly immoral, yet cockamamie, phenomenon. Their voices crack as they start shouting, "Hot damn! Look at 'em come!"
"Hey pollos!" they call.
"Bock, bock, bock, bock," they chant the mocking chicken sound again and again.
And the runners? They just keep on running.