Live Like an Illegal Immigrant!

Secrets of the Good Life from OCs Undocumented

Photo by Jeanne RiceYou've been laid off from your expense-account job, and that dream of a Newport Beach split-level with an ocean view has suddenly been reduced to a duplex along the banks of the once-mighty Santa Ana River. The economy is tanking, your high-tech stock is squat, and career options now consist of daily hits and calling about that greeter position at Wal-Mart.

When things were good, you read Fast Company and Wired and looked to people like Sumner Redstone and Jack Welch for guidance; you paid hundreds of dollars to sit in all-day "Winners!" seminars or $35 for poorly ghost-written, how-to-be-rich-and-successful books filled with big pictures, big type and big promises of a good life that now seems far out of your reach. . . . Or is it?

Lemme ask you: Would you like a brand-new car? How about free child care? Care to party hearty every weekend or have people better-looking than you fighting to take you out? Of course you would. But how, you ask, is it all possible?

Well, what if I told you that the good life is not only attainable but also being lived by tens of thousands of Orange County residents right now. What's more, they're willing to share their secrets of success for free.

Welcome to the world of Orange County's undocumented!

"Huh," you say. "You mean illegal immigrants? Why they're just those stooped farm workers and quiet old ladies who mop my bathroom floor."

Yes, but what if I told you that farm worker is the treasurer of his hometown benefit association, aggressively negotiating between the Mexican and American governments? Or that the maid tends an organic garden that produces enough to feed her family? What if I told you that undocumented workers get more for their food, clothing and entertainment dollar and live in the kind of tight-knit communities that are the envy of master planners everywhere?

You see, insurmountable odds have a way of bringing out the best in humans. And it is the poorest of the poor—eight million of whom are illegal immigrants living in the United States—who not only survive in tough times, but also thrive.

It's about sticking together, looking out for one another, seeing one another—as another member of the Joad clan put it—as part of one big soul.

The good news: you don't have to evade the INS to live the fabulous life of an undocumented worker.

Here are the secrets of current and former illegal immigrants living the good life with little or no money. Just follow this easy three-part program, and live the life you've only dreamed about. Just promise us the next time you see one of your mentors mowing your lawn or cleaning your bathroom, you'll stop and say thanks.


There was a time when you considered it slumming to eat anywhere that didn't have finger bowls and warm towels. Now you're eyeing dumpsters like hot food trays in a smorgasbord. Does it have to be like this? No. Consider Irma. When her husband was deported a couple of years ago back to their native El Salvador, she had to make the family's already meager cash stretch even further.

"I couldn't even afford to go shopping for food at places like Northgate or La Rioja," she says, referring to Mexican supermarkets that offer produce at vastly reduced prices.

Rather than approach the government or a social-service agency for assistance—and risk joining her husband in a San Salvador barrio—she scraped along on food donated by friends and family. Then, one day while shopping at a swap meet, Irma discovered a stand that sold supermarket food.

"There was everything: tortillas, diapers, granola bars," she recalls with wonder. "And the prices fit into my budget perfectly."

The prices would fit your current budget, too: 50¢ for a box of Lucky Charms, $1 for 10 cans of corn. "I think the food was stolen from grocery stores or something must have been wrong with it because the canned foods were always bent out of shape and packages that were supposed to be sealed were open," she says. "But the food was good; we never got sick because of it."

But if even cents on the dollar for your sustenance is too much, you might consider growing your own food.

"It's hard to grow crops because houses here in the States don't have much open space," says Julia, whose back yard is filled with delicious corn, sugarcane and cactus. "But it's better to grow your own food than to spend a bunch of money buying stuff that's covered in chemicals anyway."

You won't be limited to what you grow; Julia and her friends do almost no shopping by trading amongst one another the products that each grows. "One of my friends even raises chicken for our group," she says. "And we get our beef and milk from another friend in Riverside."

Lesson: Food is life, and a successful life requires a good deal of risk. Embrace that risk, swallow it whole—as long as it has no obvious signs of taint. Also, it couldn't hurt to have a Riverside meat connection.

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