May 22, 2006—While the President and the Senate contemplate new enforcement measures at our borders, and possibly amnesty for workers already here, Mexicans continue to fuel the bike economy with low-cost, dependable labor.
Typically the cycling industry works on very thin margins. It hardly has the advertising potential of the car industry, who through years and year of working on the American psyche, have managed to convince just about everyone that it is okay, good, and even advantageous to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of equipment that as soon as it leaves the showroom, loses half of its value.
Automobiles kill over 42,600 Americans a year, and injure more than 2.7 million, damage the environment, cause cancer, kill animals, and cost towns, cities, states and the federal government, billions of dollars in expenses every year. Speeding, the most prevalent reason leading to traffic accidents, is estimated to cost the government $40.4 billion dollars a year according to 2004 National Highway Transportation Safety statistics.
Both the car and the oil industry are rolling in dough, despite the misfortune and possible mismanagement of some like the Ford Motor Co., who in January announced another round of cuts of between 25,000 and 30,000 jobs in their North American operations.
The Iraq War alone waged to retain our control over oil resources has already cost us more than 1900 deaths of innocent young men who will never again be able to ride a bike, and $282 billion dollars, an amount equivalent to providing free health care to 169 million children for a year, according to the National Priorities Project.
The war in Afghanistan, reputedly engaged to fight previous CIA employee, Osama Bin Laden, and Al Queda, has so far cost us over $252 billion. (According to Wikipedia, on the morning of September 11, 2001, George Bush Senior, was meeting with Osama bin Laden's brother, Shafig bin Laden, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Washington, on Carlyle Group business.)
Meanwhile, cycling companies continue to struggle along with narrow margins defining their business both vertically and horizontally. There are no spectacular rises and falls in cycling businesses, and no one is getting rich: here no CEO is being rewarded with a billion dollar salary for poor performance. No, this business is about love of the sport, not money. Right down to the struggling bike stores. The best thing that ever happened to bike stores was high oil prices, and the Internet.
But let’s get real, labor in the New York – New Jersey region is not cheap. And the lower salaries also demand more from workers—that they remain dependable and show up for work everyday, and work on Saturdays and Sundays. Which is why many bike shops hire workers who may or may not be legal.
In the northeast, there are so many Hispanic workers, and so many of them are legally here, that workers are rarely questioned as they might be in the more conservative, Texas and Arizona state towns. Here, people realize—including Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who instituted a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy citywide, that immigrants fuel our economy and we would be lost without them.
I ran into one such immigrant recently who I had met while visiting Mexico a couple of years ago. He described a recent trip from his hometown in middle Mexico through the parched desert near Nogales, Texas. He is i his late 30’s and left a wife and two children at home, taking an extreme risk to make a living in the cycling industry here. After all, in Mexico he raced his bicycle for years, though never quite making it to the national level, even as a master he continued to compete. He lives, loves, and breathes bicycles. But salaries in Mexico are about $15 per day, or $3,900 a year, not enough to feed his family. Here because he can make about $10 per hour, he spent four days traveling in the desert by foot, carrying several gallons of water, walking only two hours in the dark of night, and sitting still for the other 22 hours with a black sack over his head hiding in the bushes, while border guards passed within 2 feet of him.
“It was the worst, scariest thing that I have ever done in my life,” he told me. “I never, ever want to do that again.” He also paid his handlers—coyotes—more than $2,500 just to get him to that place, and he and all of his fellow companions were robbed at gunpoint of all their money just as they crossed the border—by other Mexicans preying on the defenseless.
Because of the hot, difficult conditions, ‘some people didn’t make it,” he said.
Our cycling friend is lucky—he made it, and he has legal family here, and a job waiting for him. The same job a young American refused to take because the pay was too low, the hours too long.
One thing we all need to remember: we are all immigrants. With the minor exception of 1.5 percent of the population who can count themselves as Native American Indians, the rest of us were never even invited here.
So, let’s here it for immigrant cyclists, cycling to support an environmentally sound policy, and a little compassion. After all, would you want to be shipped back to your country of origin, and your reentry blocked by troops and a big wall? Those 4.1 million Native Americans wouldn’t mind having the country all to themselves agai