The Narc and the Smuggler in the Land of Plenty

A dying narcotics agent opens his files, and out pours Miguel, just one of a legion of Mexicans who embraced drug-running as their ticket to the American dream

Don Arturo has good days and bad days. He slowly grows weaker and the work on the files is more intermittent. There is so much to be done, all those voices in the file case and on the tapes, the cries of people who made history, refused to sit in the back of the bus, took the bull by the horns, the battle cries of Americans coming north into their country. He can never make sense out of all his files now, and that to me is their very value. People who want to make sense out of such material are the very ones who have kept it out of the newspapers. This demand for sense is really a demand for order and, in the end, always creates either silence or lies. The voices buried in the file cabinet all teach the same lesson: The emperor has no clothes.

Once Arturo went by Miguel's business--this was before Miguel had to vanish into another name and place--and some Mexicans were outside roasting a pig. Miguel then lived in a very nice home and in the night one of his fine dogs had gotten away and murdered a neighbor's pet pig. So he paid him for it, and hell, a man from the sierra does not like to waste good carne. The men roasting the pig on a spit were drinking beer, and Don Arturo and Miguel stood there watching them dream of fresh pork. Spring was in the air as the smoke curled off the fire and drifted through a paloverde tree. For a moment, everyone was back in the sierra, and crackling flesh became a statement of home.

Miguel said that it used to be guys would show up at his place who had just come through the wire and want work, any work. Now, he says, they show up and want bus fare so they can go rent a beeper and get on with the life. Of course, most people who come to the United States do not become drug dealers and naturally most of you reading this would not have anything to do with drugs. Miguel is just expressing the sourness all Americans feel toward new arrivals.

Still, that is what he said as the pig roasted in the fine morning air.
In many ways Don Arturo and Miguel were twins. Both lived in their heads as orphans, as boys tossed into the world on their own lookout. Both crossed lines and never got over the tension caused by that act. And both came to ground in the same place, Arizona.

Arturo Strong died on February 11, 1998, surrounded by friends and family and in his own bed. Until the last week of his life, he kept trying to peck away at this saga that had consumed him. He died bothered by the fact that he had not finished it, and I never told him the truth: that it was already finished. The very shaggy nature of the story is why the story is true. This reality cannot be killed by drug czars, national commissions or Just Say No campaigns. The poor will try to better themselves. The money in drugs will always recruit workers. Americans' need to deaden their fears and brighten their minds is unending. Miguel will keep coming to our home to give us what we want. Neither the silence of nations nor the hypocrisy of all of us will change this fact.

So we are left where we began. We can turn a deaf ear, but we refuse to turn down a line. And the river of blood and money rolls on.

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