TRANSLATION OF INTERVIEW BY ELVIA R. ARRIOLA OF SOFIA R.
Taken in Reynosa, Tamaulipas October 2000 MEXICO
1. SOFIA and her family are from Veracruz. They have lived at the border in Reynosa for 11 years.
2. She was already married when she came to the border.
3. She has been married 15 years.
4. Her husband was the first one to come to the border; then he sent for her and then she came with her mother.
5. Once she was working here she was able to send for her nieces and her nephews. So they could come and they could also bring their own parents.
6. Sofia is very grateful to God that all of her family is here together at the border.
7. They came Veracruz because there is very little work there and the work that does exist is very badly paid.
8. When she refers to work down in Verzcruz, she is referring to the gathering of the harvest, working as a field hand for othres. The only work available would have been to be a laborer.
Q - Did you also work in the fields? As a child? A. To tell you the truth I never did liking workinng in the fields. If I did have to go to work I would look down and see the ants in the dirt. She would think to herself "I don't want to do this kind of work." The other thing that was bad was working in the hot sun.
'There you would work from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. at night. I would get desperate and think to myself, how do I get out of this. And then I got married; my husband had the same kinds of feelings.
Q _ How old were you when you got married? A. I was f15 years old. Q _ How many children then do you have sincie you have been married since the age of 15? A. I have a boy that is 13, a girl that is 10, another boy that is 7 and the baby who is about 6 months, this coming Monday. When I came to the border my oldest boy was just two years old.
Q. So when you came here you came with your husband; what is his whole name? A - Sergio Avelino del Angel.
Q. Is your husband still with you today? A. Yes. At this moment he is actually sleeping because he works on the night shift at TRW. He is on what is called the 3d shirt.
Q. Did you work right away when you came to the border? A. No. I was here for almost one year before I began to work. We were supposed to stay with an aunt of his. We actually arrived under pretty good circumstances. We got a house on loan with dishes and furniture and all you needed.
Q. How? A. Through a friend and co-worker of my husband/s. At the time my husband was working for Zenith and he got to know a supervisor who was a very good person and she made it possible for us to find termporary housing.
Q. That seems like such a rare circumstance in contrast to others who come to the border looking for work. A. That is true. For us, we came only with our clothing. And the aunt who was supposed to help us didn't help us very much at all. She didn't give us much support. The aunt was having too many of her own problems, expecially with her husband. My husband told the supervisor this story and she went about to help us and found us a home to live in. We lived in it for about 6 months. During this time I began to buy my own dishes and things on layaway. I bought then from an "abonero," people who get you things that sometimes may come through connections through companies, or sometimes the products aren't considered because of "the water." (INTERVIEWER COULDN'T MAKE OUT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS COMMENT; IT MAY REFER TO THE FACT THAT THERE IS AN INFORMAL MARKET OF GOODS THAT COME FROM SOURCES WHERE THE MATERIAL MAY BE POSSIBLY CONTAMINATED--LIKE BOWLS AND PITCHERS THAT MAY HAVE BEEN USED IN THE FACTORIES WHERE THERE IS LITTLE CARE FOR THE WASTE BYPRODUCT.]
"Sometimes they say because of the water that these items are not safe. But I would have a little money left over and I would say, but I need these things. So I would pots or a battery or whatever I needed. During this same period I got pregnant with my daughter. Of course, being pregnant, around here they won't hire you. So I didn't begin to look for work until she was about 8 months old. The job I was able to get was at the TRW in TRW Electronics
Q. How much were you paid during that time? A. I earned approximately 82 pesos per week.
Q. I understand from a previous conversation with you that you worked for TRW for a total of about 9 years and that you were recently let go as part of a settlement. How much were you earning when you were let go in April, 2000? A. I was earning about $500 pesos per week.
Q. How did you get wage increases? A. Well, there are periodic increases. Sometimes it seems that it is at the urging of the unions and sometims because of the company. There appears to be some kind of "balancing" - one time one and then the other. At least that is what the union used to tell us when we would get wage increases.
Q. What do you mean by the "balance." A. I recall that sometimes there would be these papers that had to be signed that reflected the wage increase. The paper would say, your wages will now and this was accomplished because of the union's efforts. But at other times it seems that it was a reflection of the profits of the company. We would then be told that our wages would be going up.
Q. The wages of $500 that you earned, would you consioder that was enough to meet your living expenses? A. No. Q. why? A. well I could buy what I needed but I always had to limit myself as to how much. For example, I might be able to afford a kilo of beans but I would really want to buy two kilos but in order to make the money stretch for other things I had to not buy too many beans. Or the same with other things - one litter of this, or half a liter instead of a whole liter of that; I would do whatever I could to make the money and the food last. Also, it was hard when we lived in a "casa de carton."
Q. So, if you lived in a house that was loaned, how is it that you ended up in a casa de carton? A. Well, what actually happened is that we had to move out from the loaner house. So I began to talk to a friend about the possibilities of renting. I heard about this particular "solar" or plot of land: of maybe buying. The property cost $1,200. I had started working in July and it was December> by December I was entitled to my aguinaldo and I had a little bit of savings. So I asked my friend to help me entertain the possiblity with the owner to buy the property.
Q. How is it then that you were both buying the property and living in a casa de carton? A. Well it was very difficult for us. WE had to make a lot of sacrifice. The casa de carton was right on this very plot of land where we are sitting right now. So we did whatever we could back then to make it a home.
Q. How did you acquire the building materials for the house? A. It was very difficult for us but little by little we bought the property. I began to talk to a man who wold materials and I told him that I had a "solar" and could he get us building materials?
He had some wood and began to sell us on faith (on credit) some of the materials. He gave us what we needed and said either when you get the money you can pay me or you can begin to pay it off in payments. So I have to say that since I have been here in Reynosa people have always been there to help me.
Also, one of the things that helped me is that I was able to start a savings account. You could start it with just 20 pesos< which is the way I started mine.
Another way we managed is by my entering 'tandas."
Q. What is a tanda? A. A tanda is a systemo of people, usually women in the neighborhood, helping each other to put together some fast cash in large sums. It is usually done in a neighborhood or among people that you know well. It usually requires about 11 people and at the end of the week it is a new person's turn to gather the money.
Q. Can you explain a little more? A. Let us suppose you need some money, but you need it fast. And so there is a system in the tanda. You can get 10 other people and I'm the 11th. Everyone has an assigned number and so by the time you get the 11th person, and it is Saturday whoever got the first number is the first one to claim the sum, e.g., $500 pesos and you gathered 50 pesos from every person who entered the tanda. And at some point, you keep paying in your 50 pesos. You are both paying in or paying back. If your number came up earlier then you are probably paying back. If it comes in later you are saving up and it becomes a good system for buying something that requires a lot of money right away, like a deposit. The person who is starting the tanda may be asked, when is it going to start? And she might say, " I kind of need it now, and maybe we can get it going right now." So if you were the one going about trying to convince others to join you in the tanda, you keep going until you get the 10 people. With each person adding their 50 pesos the pot of money keeps growing and soon that money is going into your pocket, and you can use it for example for an emergency debt repayment, or a problem with a medical situation or whatver. It is a ssystem where everyone will get their money back.
Q [SOFIA CONTINUIED TO EXPLAIN THIS SYTEM TOTALLY BASED ON FAITH AND TRUST; AT THE END OF THE 10 WEEKS YOU HAVE NEITHER LOST BUT YOU HAVE GAINED.] YOU MIGHT HAVE GOTTEN A LOAN THAT YOU WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO PULL TOGETHER YOURSELF AT ONCE.] A. I used to like to participate in the tanda because it was a quick way to get things I needed. And so that is the way we would do it. Little by little building on, or saving. Or I would say to my husband, let's only buy two bags of corn to make tortillas; because we didn't the masa for the tortillas to go to waste. We would be thrifty and hold back on buying more than we needed; we woould only buy exactly what we needed and we needed the extra money to buy materials to build on to the house. So we might buy only two "masecas." In time we had our little house made of wood, but soon we began to say, we'll maybe now it is time to think about building on with better materials, stronger than the wood. After all, when one has come from Veracruz, to the border to find work, the idea is that one has come to improve one's situation. To make progress. And for us it is progress. Sometimes we didn't have anything. Sometims we didn't even have enough to eat. It was a very sad life.
Q. It appears that so many people who come to the border are from Veracruz. A. The majority of us who come here are of Veracruz. To give you an example, there was a big party at the factory and someone began to yell out, "Arriba Reynosa!" and then there was this big silence because no one was from Reynosa. But the minute they said "Arriba Veracruz, well everyone was yelling and screaming and whooping it up because so many of us were from Veracruz. And I will tell you why so many of us are from Veracruz; over there, you go out and you plant your corn and before you know it the heavy rains come and the corn is washed away.
Q. But are there still people who are still living there and are trying to make a living off the land? A. Absolutely. There are many. But they are people who have no means for getting out. And I will tell you that when they are being paid approximately $12 pesos per day, how can they possibly make it on that and we, who are making $50 pesos per day are barely able to make it! Imagine someone trying to support a family on $12 pesos perso day. So here, the system we have for making money has a saying that goes with it "A ver y comer." "We 'll see and then we'll eat. " Meaning, we'll see if we can buy eggs, but maybe we can only buy 3 eggs and we have to see how we will distribute those eggs among everyone.
Q. How much would it take to make a living wage in Reynosa? A. When I think about expenses for one person, I would say at least $1000 pesos per week.
Q. But that would be double of what you earn right now. A. Yes. One of the reasons why my husband and I were able to raise ourselves up from our poverty so quickly is that I was also working with him. I also had my mother's help with my children. I didn't have to pay for childcare. But there are many people who have to find someone to care for their children. Whereas all I had to do was to find money to feel my children and my mother. So imagine someoneo trying to make it onlly on $500 pesos, or imagine one mother all by herself. That is why sometimes my whole paycheck didn't come into the house at all. It would go to savings, to tandas, to building and we would survive on my husband paycheck for the living expenses. And then the expenses began to change as they children got older. Now, supposedly one of the benefits of working for TRW is that they are supposed to help us out childcare. I never saw anything like that nor among my co-workers.
Q. Are all your children in school? A. Yes they are.
Q. Do you have any desire or expectation that your children should get a full education or aspire to a kind of work and education that would keep them out of working in the maquiladoras? A. Well the older one, he is in secondoary school; I tell him; I sit him down and I explain that we have had to struggle and suffer. I try to encourage him to think about making some kind of contribution. So far he seems not to have an opinion as to whether he will work in the factories or not. I try to expalin to him for example, how we feel a lot of pressure in the maquiladoras. I tell him how we are pushed around and told "you're not working fast enough; you're not meeting the production quota,"
Q. What kind of work were you doing when you had to meet a certain production? A - I was doing assembly in the connector and socket for seat belts. I was doing this at TRW. I had to produce cables at TRW Electronics. I had to produce about 50 per hour.
Q. Can you explain? A . Imagine youself standing near a conveyor that is sending out pieces of cable that are coming by and it sends out the specific number that you have to put together. The worker right before you is just making sure the parts are coming through without getting tangled. I would then grab and walk them over to a machine and that machine ties them together; it makes the circuit ends. Once it has the terminqal points then it is passed on to the section on housing for the terminals. When it leaves the housing section, you move it to the tubing section and you need to make sure all the wires together and they are inside the tubing. And then it moves on from there to another section where it will receive another terminal connector. So my job was essentially to make sure that I was putting on certain terminal connectors, the same kind you might see behind a VCT; like I would put a kind of Locking connector, so that you can't move it in one direction or the other.
Q. So when Veronica Quiroz was referring to the fact that your little boy's injury in his chest may have been connected to your work, what did she mean by that? A- Well one of the things that is a pressure on the job is that we have to put the cables together very fast. I could wait for the materials to come through or I could walk overo to where they were coming out of and grab them myself. And since we are in hurry to meet the production and I was pregnant during the time that I worled on that job and carried those items, that the weight of them may have affected him inside of my womb. Because there at the company when you are a working mother, and are pregnant; they supposedly change your tasks not to affect you. They say it willnot affect us.
An example of the kind of work they would give pregnant workers was that of using those industrial mops with the carts., They would tell us that this kind of work would not hurt. But I always wondered if that was true or not. But then they have you bend in these awkward ways and the whole length of the factories; I would see these women getting down on their knees.
I will tell you then when I got that assignment of using the industrial mop, there was always a discussion between me and my supervisor.
Q. So when you worked at TRW, did you always do the same job and were you always working in the section involving the cable connectors? A. I worked for about 6-7 years in the electronics division.
Q. What were your typical working hours? A. I would go in about 7 a.m. and get out about 5:40 p.m.; Q. _ Approximately 9.5- 10 hours. A. Yes; unless we were asked to do overtime. And then we didn't get home until 7 or 8 o'clock at night.
Q During the time you worked for them did you do the same kind of work? A . Yes; I also did it very fast because I would be working, working working to make the production.
Q _ How did you feel at the end of the day? A. I would feel very exhausted; my neck would be in so much pain. - Periodically, every few months, I would have to get vitamin injections into my back because the pain felt as if someone were beating me up. So after about 6-7 years I took some vacation, and they had some layoffs for lowered production. I came back and they seemed to have moved people to new sections so I tried to see if I could work in a new division. The changes had been while I was on vacation. I approached a former co-worker who told me that she thought my job had been given to someone else and that I had been moved to the stitching section. That they referred to the job as the job for the person on vacation. So all by myself I went over to the electronics division and I told them that I was the person returning from vacation and that the job was probably being held for me. They told me to go ahead and stay. Then it turned out that there was another woman who was on vacation. When she got back I was supposed to go back to my earlier division but I didn't want that. I wanted to stay in the new place which was in the stitching and I was allowed to stay. I kind of enjoyed working there as opposed to the cable section because everyday there was something new to do. The variety made it more interesting. In that division they primarily made seat belts. I worked in the area where they call it plaing the belt in the boot. Or sometimes I would have to go into a completely different section; the repairs section where I would be checking for some damage or I would have to check for quality.
Q _ Is that what they primarily work in the last job you had? Making seat belts? A. Yes. Q _ Do you know what kind of destination the cable connection job had? A. I only know that they went from there to the northern plant. I don't know how they were used. In the other department we primarily did seat belts.?
Q _ How long did you work there? A About two years.
Q _Is this is the job you were performing before you were let go in April with the severance package of approximately $16,000 pesos? A. Yes