Buster was sitting over his calculator and a mound of paper, finishing up his days receipts, as the sun was setting on another fun day in Mahahual, at Buster’s on the Beach. The cruise ship tourist had all gone back to their floating hotel, and the town was again just a “little dinkin’ village with a divin’ problem.” Almost all the employees had left and the place was quiet, except for the Robert Earl Keen playing softly in the background, the clatter of calculator keys and the last dishes being put away in the kitchen. Doña Maria was always the last to leave, doing all the last little items the others left in their hurry to go home. She was the oldest person on Buster’s staff, just a few years younger than Buster, and sort of the “mother hen” of the operation. Buster always referred to his business as much like herding cats and if that were so, Doña Maria was the chief cat herder. Even Chef Pedro, Buster’s sometime eccentric and temperamental, but always genius chef, kept it between the lines when La Doña was around.
After she had put the last of the dishes away and was gathering her stuff to begin her walk home, one of Costa Maya’s sudden tropical rain storms began to roll through town. Maria sat her bags down on the table and decided to wait the storm out a few minutes, as storms this time of year seldom last much longer than that.
Doña Maria had worked for Buster for several years, yet he knew little of her except that she was a widow, had a teenage daughter that she lived alone with, and a son who lived someplace else and she visited often in the slow season. She was a very quiet lady, worked hard, and very much appreciated the respectful way Buster treated her, and made sure all his staff did as well. Too often she had, as a woman working in a macho world, had to endure harassment from co-workers, as well as the patrons themselves. With Buster, it was the opposite. He kept his distance from all his employees but he paid them better and treated them with more respect than any patron his workers had ever had.
As the rain poured, Maria looked at Buster and asked, “Is okay if I wait for no more rain?”
“Of course it is Maria,” replied Buster. “Pull up a chair and since I’m done too, I’ll get us something cold to drink while we wait. He grabbed a couple of cokes and handed one to Maria, touched bottles and said, “Salud”.
“Gracias,” she said smiling at Buster, who after almost 3 years, she had become comfortable enough to talk business with and even joke with from time to time. In those same three years, Buster had never once talked to her about anything else, except work. He knew nothing of this woman really, except that she was honest, came to work every day ready and set an example for all the others to follow. That was all he needed to know.
They chatted about the day and how Chef Pedro was so tired at the end of the day that he begged Maria to finish his work, so he could leave early. She told Buster she could not say no, because when he was tired, he reminded her of her own son.
“That’s right. You have a son. I keep forgetting,” said Buster. “I always think Paola is your only child.”
“No Paola is my baby. I have a son too. He is older and lives in the US.”
Buster remembered she had a son, but did not realize he lived in the US and was surprised to hear this, so he decided to find out more. What the heck, they still had plenty of soda and the rain looked like it was going to go a while longer.
“So where in the US does he live.”
“He live in Memphis Tensee. You go to Memphis Tensee Senior Buster,” she asked?
Buster smiled at her and told her, he had in fact. He told her all about his fun in Memphis and how there were lots of good blues and BBQ ribs there, and that he had enjoyed both there on several occasions.
“Como se llama tu hijo, Maria,” asked Buster.
“Se llama, Martin,” she replied with a smile in her “Spanglish”, the language she and Buster spoke to one another. “He is very good boy too, Senior Buster. He plumbero and have very pretty American wife, y dos hijos.”
“So how did your son get into the US Maria,” Buster asked? “Coyote?”
“No no, Senior Buster. “No, that very dangerous. No, I no let my Martin do that. Martin is American citizen. He legal.”
“And how did he manage that, if you don’t mind my asking.”
“It is very long story Senior Buster,” she said shyly. “Maybe you think it bad.”
“I’m sure I won’t think bad of you Maria. I think way too much of you to ever think bad of you, and no worry, you do not need to explain anything to me. I was just curious, and since it is still raining like hell out there, … and our cokes are empty. Would you like another?”
Doña Maria thought for a few seconds and then finally said with a smile, “Okay, quero una otra. Pero, solo una.”
Buster brought back another coke for Maria and this time a Montejo for himself. They sipped in the quiet for a few minutes and finally she said, “I eighteen when I pregnant with Martin. His father say he go to Mexico City to find work and I never see him again. He never come back.”
“Mi papa, he say I no welcome in his house, so I go. I was just a baby Senior Buster, and I having baby! I decide I want my baby to have a better life, so I go jump the border.”
She went on to tell Buster of how when she was just 18, she paid a drunk and evil looking man $5 to float her across a dark stretch of the Rio Grand River in the middle of the night. She did not even know how to swim. The man told her to remove all her clothes and put them into a plastic bag so she would have dry clothes when she reached the other side. The scared young lady, 7 months pregnant did as she was told and held on for her life as the drunken old fool swam her to the other side.
“Holy crap,” said Buster, “You floated the Rio Grand, in the middle of the night, 7 months pregnant? Wow, that is kinda amazing Maria.”
“I make it across the river that night with the help of God only. I hold the tire and tell God, ‘ take me because I want my baby to live good life.’” She paused and sipped her coke, never taking her focus away from that spot by the river. “It dark and late. The water, Senior Buster, it was sooooo cold. You ever think you gonna die Senior Buster? Really, like you really gonna die?”
“Yea, a couple times on some bad tacos and cheap tequila,” he laughed. Maria just looked at him with a confused and serious face. “No, I don’t think I actually have Maria.”
“I thought I gonna die that night. You ever no have any place in the world to go to Senior Buster? You ever had that?”
“No, I don’t think I have ever experienced that either Maria.”
“ I have no place in the world to go to that night Senior Buster, except to get my baby a better life. So I did.”
“I sleep that night in big trash contanador in Brownsville Texas. I so scared Senior Buster but I know God with me. I cry like little baby all that night,” she laughed with her big smile. “But in morning, God send mi un angle. He send Teresa. She see me, the fat little pregnant girl, climb from the trash container and help me.”
She told of how this daughter of an illegal immigrant from many years before took her to her home, fed her and allowed her to stay until her son was born. Teresa’s brother, Martin, signed the documents at the hospital as the father and a week after Maria left the hospital with baby Martin and his US birth certificate, she and her son returned to Mexico.
“So why did you not stay in the US,” asked Buster.
“I no want to live in the US. Soy Mexicana! It is who I am, una Mexicana,” she said with a proud smile. “No. One week after he born, we come back to Mexico.”
“So Martin was raised in Mexico.”
“Si. I want my son to be Mexican but I know, Mexico not have all we need. The US is a wonderful country and has mucho … como se dese, oportunidad?”
“Opportunity,” Buster said with a smile.
“Si. That all I want for my boy. I no have family or papa for the boy and I no sure I can get for him. I get him what I can when I have 18 years and $57. I get him opportunity if he want it. Teresa and Martin help me keep Martin’s papers right always. He live with them for school for some years too, when bad times here. His English is perfecto. He finish school here in Mexico, we decide it best he go to US and work, so he did.”
“Do you think he will ever move back to Mexico,” asked Buster?
Dona Maria thought for what seemed like several seconds and finally said, “I think he will one day. He is Mexican but his life is in the US now. His family is American. I want my son to come home but I want him to get better life. He no get that here.”
They sat in silence for some time, both watching the rain come to a halt and drifting in different directions. Dona Maria thought of Martin, his beautiful wife and their boys playing in the park around the corner from their home in Memphis and how nice it would be to join them in the summer again.
Buster on the other hand could not stop wondering how most Americans take for granted all that Dona Maria, the Mexican, valued so much. She valued it so much, she was willing to risk her own life, to make sure her child had an opportunity to live a quality one. He had met a lot of brave people in his life, but this little Mexican lady might have been the bravest he had ever met. Could he have had the courage to do what she had done? He wasn’t sure about that. What he was sure of was that when he was 18, taking advantage of the incredible opportunities Americans have in the US, was not something he really ever considered. Again, he took it for granted, like most Americans he assumed. He just wished more people could hear her story and perhaps, just maybe, they would appreciate their wonderful country and all the opportunity it holds for its people.
What Maria did was illegal and wrong, Buster knew that. The US, a land of immigrants, is not intended to be a place for people wanting to work for more pay than they can get back home. The US is not the world’s employment agency. But the expenses she had cost the US having that baby there were minimal and he guessed, in the big picture of wasteful and stupid government spending, probably not that much for what it got in return, a fine young and appreciative American to add to the melting pot. Seemed to be money well spent in Buster’s mind. If the government is going to waste money, it should at least do it on the side of humanity. Taking tired, poor and most importantly, desperate people, and making them Americans is what we have always done and will hopefully continue to do.
Buster knew Martin was not coming back to Mexico. He like so many other immigrants went to start a new life, which he did, and not to get a job. He sensed Maria probably knew that too and as much as she wanted her son with her, she was most happy knowing he had found a new and happy life in the US with … como se dese, un oportunidad!
God bless him and God bless America for giving it to him.