Hector the Hustler

Hector says he quit working the streets and got a maquila job so he would have federal health insurance (all full-time employees in Mexico are entitled to free, socialized health care).

"I did it for the pregnancy and the baby," Hector says.
He still carries his worker's ID card, and breaks it out on request. Alevensa, it says. A small factory--about 200 employees--that produced acrylic windows. Hector says he made 38 pesos ($4.47) a day at first, but once the plant's American managers realized he spoke English, they made him night shift production supervisor.

"One week I was in training, the next week I managed 45 people, and my pay went up to 55 pesos [$6.47] a day," Hector says.

Hector worked five nights a week--5 p.m. to 3 a.m.--for seven or eight months. He quit soon after the baby was born.

"I was getting sick, from this alcohol we used to clean the windows. It was some factory alcohol, stronger than normal. I started to get all these bumps on my hands, and they kept getting more and more big, and spreading up my arm, so . . ." He shrugs. "I quit."

Anti-maquila activists say the plants routinely tell employees that any toxic solvent is "alcohol."

The backs of Hector's hands are speckled with dark scar tissue from the bumps. "See, it was bad, dude. Besides, the money was no good, I realized, I'm working so much. If I hustle for half as many hours, if the baby gets sick, I can pay a good doctor, instead of a doctor everybody sees."

Hector still supports his girlfriend and son, who's now 18 months old. And for at least another year, he'll stay a hustler. Here's the latest game: A Tucson cable pirate has offered him $100 for every cable box he can pay someone to smuggle out of General Instruments, the biggest maquiladora in Nogales. Hector's got a friend who works at GI and wants to cut a deal. Hector's thinking 70/30, Hector's favor.

So Hector, you can get pretty much anything, right?
"Yes, yes," Hector says impatiently, his usual reply to any such query.
Well, what could someone smuggle into Mexico that you could sell for a profit?

"Guns," Hector says. "Bullets are good, too.

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