The view from our house is nothing short of sublime. We dine every evening to a fiery, impressionistic sunset over the Pacific and wake every morning to its idyllic glass surface. Often there is a powdery mist of marine layer that adds a hint of mystical calm, and sometimes we see a handful of arching dorsal fins of dolphins that glide just beyond the surf. The lazy stretch of urban Tijuana sprawl comes to rest on the hills against the holy barrier just an easy jogging distance to our south.
Everything moves slowly out on the ocean and on the beach, except when it doesn’t. Sometimes we see a fast-moving object in the distance that quickly comes into focus as a speeding jet ski. We have lived here long enough to know that what we are about to witness is an unlawful act. The jet ski will make a sudden turn to the shore, as if crossing a giant T, and when we see there are two riders in this distinctive trajectory and in this area, we know our country is about to receive its newest immigrant.
The coyote will slow his jet ski just enough in the low surf for a young adult to hop off into thigh-deep water and hustle onto shore, then pivot the souped-up craft 180 degrees and book it back out from the surf and then south. We’ve seen the retreating coyote endanger lives by cutting through a line of surfers and ducking between pilings of the pier at a perverted rate of speed. Sometimes he is chased by a high-speed patrol boat. Sometimes there are gunshots.
More often than not, the person dropped off is immediately swarmed by Customs and Border Patrol officers on 4×4’s who had been lying in wait like a pack of wolves. I am surprised by how rough their treatment is at times, man-handling the scruff of a person’s neck as if to say, there will be no questions here. Other times a group of officers out flank the person and calmly talk things over first.
Last week, another jet ski dropped a young man off right in front of our house. The man found his footing and jogged out from the water and onto drier sand. This time there was no swarm of officers. When he realized he was not going to be instantly arrested, he simply took his time. He became calm and relaxed in his demeanor and gait and casually walked onto the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave – the place where, if you just work hard, put your mind to it and pull yourself up by your bootstraps, why, by damn, you can accomplish anything!
Except that maybe for the swarthier among us, there is that pesky impediment in our Land of Opportunity of two-tiered order—of side glances and security cameras; of doors held open and space given on sidewalks; of traffic stops and TSA screening; of color infused into the scheme of things that was meant to remain colorless.
I thought about how if this young man were to remain in the U.S. with any hope of a fighting chance, indentured servitude was odds on what he was to face. Silver forked-tongued promises set the trap that end up in arduous 16-hour days that only just cover rent for a squalid room and no ladder to climb up and out.
When I told a family member about this episode, he asked, “Was he an illegal?” His tone was more derisive than I was prepared for.
No, he is not an illegal. He is a person. He could very well be a refugee fleeing violence the same way, six decades earlier, this same blood relative had also done but is now blind to his fair-skinned head start.
What was this new immigrant running from? One guess is forced recruitment into a blood-lustful drug gang. He is the right age, it would seem. If so, I wanted to tell him: I’m rooting for you! Even if you did get caught by CBP soon after stepping onto our Pavement of Freedom, you know you can plead your case for asylum, right? Would they believe you? Would you be granted access to an attorney or social worker?
I choke with sadness as I wonder about those he left behind. I wonder if they can breathe again. I picture his mother, up since the morning before, pacing. She rubs her hands until they crack and bleed. She is too nervous to cry. Her real tears will come once she finds out how he fared. I picture a sister. She is next. She is nearly an adolescent, soon to be targeted by the same gang to tragically become this age and hemisphere’s version of a “comfort woman.” Her jet ski ride needs to be arranged in a hurry. I’m sure he will do everything in his power to set it up. In his family he is the hero, after all. He has come ashore – to The Shore – and now stands straight with good posture and walks with confidence.
My friend, I’m rooting for you.
Tom Csanadi is a recently retired pediatrician, first generation American of Hungarian refugee parents, who is enjoying a peaceful life tending to his chickens on the beach, painting and playing music of many forms. He is currently enrolled in the UCSD Creative Writing program.