Live Like an Illegal Immigrant!

Secrets of the Good Life from OCs Undocumented

The cost?

"I always try to give her at least $50, but she always refuses," Alicia says.

Lesson: It takes a village—and a short-tempered relation.

The love of huge gas-guzzlers is not unique to you and your kind. You share it with your average illegal immigrant. For reasons known only to cultural anthropologists (status anxiety) and Freudian psychologists (compensation), many undocumented young men save their cash diligently over the years only to splurge it on a troca del año (brand-new truck) or SUV. These illegal immigrants have been influenced by the SUV-driving elite in the belief that image is everything.

"Look, I work my ass off all week and have to share a bed with another man who I don't even like at night," says Jorge, a 26-year-old native of Zacatecas who owns a 2001 Dodge Ram with a 10-CD changer. "So if I'm going to be suffering up here, at least when I go back home [to Mexico] or if I go to parties during the weekend, I'll have something to show off."

To save money to pay for the truck, Jorge works two nearly full-time jobs in addition to weekends cutting grass and cleaning pools in Placentia. After saving diligently over five years, Jorge put down $15,000 to buy the truck (a friend with papers had to buy it for him) and now guards it zealously.

"I have no insurance, not even a driver's license," he says. "If a cop ever stops me, my truck is screwed."

Lesson: The most important thing in life is . . . a 10-CD changer?! Sweeeeeet!

You can't even afford the $2 ATM fee to access your life savings, and your IRA is down the drain. Do what illegal immigrants have done for years: buy tomato cans. You see, until Wells Fargo recently changed its policy, illegal immigrants were unable to open bank accounts, so . . .

"We couldn't save our money at a bank, but we had to keep it somewhere safe," says Angela. "So I'd go to the old Hunt-Wesson cannery in Fullerton, request an empty can, and slit a small hole in it. I'd leave it with the rest of the food so if anyone robbed our house, they wouldn't even know all that money was there."

After years of making weekly deposits of $50 with every check, she and her husband saved a sizable nest egg. "We were able to pay our daughter's entire quinceañera with it (about $9,000)."

Lesson: Remember all that money you lost on Enron stock? You were investing in something called "electricity futures." At least you can touch a tomato can.

Photo by David Bacon
Take a cue from illegal immigrants, whose political policy is extraordinarily libertarian.

"I don't care for the politics of this country because they're going to screw over everyone somehow, regardless of the party or immigrant status," says Benjamín, a 46-year-old native of Michoacán.

What have Benjamín and countless other individuals done to improve their lives in this country and the motherland? Prove to the Mexican and American governments that they are indispensable to the well-being of both nations. The governments need them, not the other way around.

Benjamín is an active member of his rancho's benefit association, holding quarterly dances to raise funds for the tiny hamlet's modest infrastructural needs. The rest of the time, he washes dishes in a Garden Grove hotel, a member of the silent service-sector economy that keeps this nation rolling and is addicted to illegal immigrants.

"Both countries need us, even if they hate to admit it," Benjamín says with a hint of bitterness. He's right. Because of hometown associations like the one to which Benjamín belongs, Mexican politicians actively court the Mexican-immigrant vote. And before Sept. 11, President George W. Bush openly talked of granting amnesty to the United States' most invaluable workers.

All this attention paid to people who don't truly belong to either country? Meanwhile, your Member of Congress won't give you the time of day.

Lesson: "Show your government that it is unnecessary, and take care of yourself," Benjamín says. "Then they'll come back to you like the pendejos they are."


"I almost never shop at malls for clothes," boasts María. Instead, she frequents weekend yard sales and swap meets for many-times-used-but-still-wearable clothes for her family; an entire week's wardrobe can be bought here for less than $50. "If I really want to get fancy, I'll go to la segunda [thrift stores]," she says.

Don't wince in disgust at the prospect of buying already-worn clothes; María says you'd be surprised at what you can find. "One time, I was looking for clothes for my kids and found a beautiful dress that cost me $20. I thought it was expensive at the time, but when I wore it to a party, my daughter's friend saw it and said that she saw the exact same dress for several hundred dollars up in Beverly Hills!"

Like Maria, Lucas has only disdain for those who pay retail.

"Anyone who buys CDs or stereos from big stores deserves to be ripped off for their stupidity," says Lucas. He's a part-time DJ who got all his equipment and most of his 500-plus CD collection from years of haggling with vendors at the swap meet.

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